MUSTS researchers publish reflections on virtual conferencing in times of covid-19

Conference participants and keynote speaker at ESRI 2020, ©Michael Fuchs.
Their STS-informed analyses draw lessons on the futures of (virtual) conferencing.

MUSTS researchers have an active interest in the history and sociology of academic conferences. Consider, for instance, the HERA project that Geert Somsen and Georgiana Kotsou are involved in, and work by Alexandra Supper on conference presentations. But recently, the nature and necessity of academic conferencing has been on the minds of most other colleagues too.


After spending their summer months in virtual conferences — as a participant, ethnographer and co-organiser respectively — MUSTS members Dani Shanley, Mareike Smolka and Lea Beiermann have reflected back on the new ways of confer-ring, engaging, conversing and interacting that such conferences prompted. Their analyses are now published.


In her contribution to the recent EASST Review, Dani Shanley regrets the lost opportunities for communing that annual meetings such as the planned 4S/EASST conference in Prague would bring. But in an auto-ethnography of the physicality of virtual conferencing, she finds instead opportunities to explore unconventional ways of participating and meaning making outside of the conference venue.


Mareike Smolka’s contribution to the Conference-inference blog explores how the affordances of digital conferencing environments affect forms of academic community-building. In her auto-ethnography of three conferences in contemplative studies that form part of her fieldwork, she finds that online conferencing are leveling some existing hierarchies and barriers as well as raising new ones. Such effects call for careful attention to how our new online environments mediate and enable conferring.


Lea Beiermann co-authored a publication in the British Journal for the History of Science, on her involvement in the organisation of the British Society for History of Science’s Global Digital History of Science Festival (the website is well worth a visit, as recordings and transcripts are available for most sessions). The authors carefully outline their motivations for putting on a fully digital event (which reach far beyond the current health crisis), detail the approach they took (also technically) and draw lessons on how such digital events may succeed to draw in new communities.