Wiebe Bijker’s Valedictory Lecture and Liber Amoricum

Wiebe Bijker’s Valedictory Lecture and Liber Amoricum

Yesterday, our colleague Wiebe Bijker gave his valedictory lecture, titled ‘Constructing Worlds: Reflections on science, technology and democracy”. Wiebe is not only one of the founding fathers of Science Technology and Society studies (STS), he’s also one our faculty’s most loved teachers. If it wasn’t for Wiebe’s support when I was thinking of doing the research master Cultures of Art, Science & Technology, I wouldn’t be the academic I am today. Luckily, Wiebe will not disappear completely from the Faculty.

After a full-day symposium with some of the ‘giants’ from STS (Harry Collins, who gave a ‘grumpy muppet’ talk, John Law, Knut Sørensen, Rosalind Williams & Shiv Visvanathan), Wiebe gave his valedictory lecture in the St. Jan’s Church in Maastricht. In his lecture, Wiebe tried to formulate an answer to the question of social-constructivism vs post-truth. For Wiebe, while the workings of science and tech are the outcome of social processes, the knowledge that results from these processes is of a special kind. Science is different from experience knowledge, it is not just an opinion, nor are there alternative facts. Scientific statements are special, because they are the outcome of all kinds of (social) mechanisms: peer-review, conferences, research institutes such as the Dutch NWO.

Wiebe also pointed out, that the role of the STS-scholar is not just deconstructing from a distance. By explicating the social processes between stakeholders of a societal and scientific issue, and how a technological solution or issue means something different for different social groups, the STS-scholar also intervenes. Making unheard voices visible for others, linking different problem diagnosis to different solutions. For this reason, Wiebe urges that science-society collaborations, but also high quality science journalism, should be stimulated. It is this civil society aspect that needs to cherished, against ‘alternative facts’-thinking.

At the end, Wiebe proposed ‘bold modesty’ as working attitude towards stakeholders for scholars in STS: being self-confident about your expertise, while staying sensitive and open for people with a different (scholarly) background.

As a gift, colleagues from the faculty made a Liber Amoricum. The format is a book that explains STS to “your 17-year old daughter”. Edited by Harro van Lente, Tsjalling Swierstra, Sally Wyatt, and Ragna Zeiss, it contains around 50 contributions. I wrote an article on the history of metaphors in the brain sciences: ‘Je Brein als een Waterklok: metaforen in de wetenschap’.

See an interview with Wiebe in English and in Dutch (Observant, University’s magazine).