Technological and Political Ontologies

Ph.D. course: Technological and Political Ontologies (5 ECTS) Organizers: Andreas Laumand Christensen, James Maguire & Anne-Kathrine Nielsen, IT University of Copenhagen.

Course description

In recent years, science and technology studies (STS), anthropology and related social scientific fields have taken increasing interest in turning ‘ontology’ into a topic for empirical study (see, e.g., Mol, 2003; Barry, 2005; Henare, Holbraad, & Wastell, 2007). The ontological re-orientation in STS turns on such notions as performativity, nonhuman agency, and the resultant questioning of politics, ethics, and power (see, e.g., Bennett, 2010; Braun & Whatmore, 2010; Coole & Frost, 2010). Recent object-centred or materially informed accounts of organisations, practices and societies, for example, bear witness to what can be characterised as a budding ‘non- or posthumanist’ STS disposition (see, e.g., Jensen 2004, 2010, Marres, 2005). Socio-material entanglements, assemblages or arrangements have become almost standard units of analysis in this regard, as a means for articulating the potency of technological objects and more- or other-than-human agents in the fabric of contemporary sociotechnical, scientific, and political life. From smart phones to stem cells, the performative argument is that ‘stuff’ of all kinds makes us what we are. This means taking the constitutive powers of nonhumans – both technological and natural – into account in our analyses of social practices, whatever they are. But how do we do this? This PhD course aims to explore that question by engaging the conceptual, methodological, political, or ethical implications of current social scientific turn(s) to ontology.

Within and around STS, ‘ontology’ is usually treated in the plural. Ontologies are said to be fluid and unstable (Law, 1996) or multiple and emergent (Mol, 2003). For example, such studies challenge the idea that the human and the nonhuman, the natural and the artificial, the micro and the macro are clearly separable entities with distinct and unambiguous properties. Indeed, distinctions, like that between nature and culture, are seen as outcomes or effects of particular forms of ontological politics; namely that based on Western naturalism. In turn, this raises questions, for example about the relationships between scientific knowledge, social action and political institutions.

This PhD course seeks to explore in detail the implications of studying technological and political ontologies. It looks to engage with a wide range of empirical contexts, for example, to do with the governance of technology or nature, the (cosmo-)politics of social responsibility, and the role of expertise in political and economic life. The course welcomes students interested in addressing these (and related kinds of) questions with ontological approaches from STS, sociology, anthropology and related fields.


The course is of particular interest to PhD students in science and technology studies, sociology, anthropology and political science, but participation of people with other social scientific backgrounds is also welcome.

Confirmed speakers

Andrew Barry (University of Oxford)

Marisol de la Cadena (University of California, Davis)

Anders Blok (University of Copenhagen)

Brit Ross Winthereik (IT University of Copenhagen)


The course comprises a mixture of lectures and discussion sessions involving participants and speakers. Discussions focus on papers submitted by participants and are based on student presentations with feedback from other participants and speakers. Morning and afternoon sessions will each hold a lecture given by invited speakers followed by dialogues in which students are expected to participate actively.


Participants are expected to have read a sample of texts distributed well in advance of the course. Each participant is asked to submit an approximately ten-page paper by 31st September, 2013.


Participation in the course is free. The course will comprise approximately 20 students. These will be selected on the basis of submitted abstracts of no more than 400 words. Participants will receive a notification about acceptance of participation by 1st July, 2013.

Please submit your abstract to Andreas Christensen ( by 15th June, 2013. Abstracts should contain a brief description of your proposed paper, describing how it relates to the course theme(s) and briefly outlining the central issues you are facing in working with this matter. Since the course is interdisciplinary, the abstract should also contain basic information about your approach and disciplinary context.

Important dates

Submit abstract by: 15th June, 2013

Notification of acceptance: 1st July, 2013

Submit paper by: 31st September, 2013

Course dates: 29-31 October, 2013


The course takes place at the IT University of Copenhagen, Rued Langgaardsvej 7, DK-2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark (

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