Weekly group helps STS profs/grad students refine papers

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
Mon, 11/28/2016

Every Monday, faculty and grad students in the Department of Science and Technology Studies gather in a conference room to share lunch and more. Sometimes they listen to a presentation on information that grad students need to know related to research or other department matters. But most Mondays, they gather to offer suggestions and feedback to each other on their research.

“The faculty are very generous with their time and very willing to take apart a paper, but in a generative way,” said Jeffrey Mathias, a second-year grad student in the field of science and technology studies who organizes the weekly meetings of the Science Studies Research Group (SSRG) with Shoshana Deutsh, another second-year grad student.

“It’s helpful to hear what the graduate students and faculty are interested in and up to,” Deutsh said.

On a recent Monday, Malte Ziewitz, assistant professor and Mills Family Faculty Fellow, presented a paper he’s working on focused on ethics among search engine optimization (SEO) consultants, who help companies rank higher in internet searches.

Ziewitz asked the 20 or so attendees at the SSRG to help him think of ways to make the paper more relevant to readers and to journals where he will submit. The data he used for the paper comes from his 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork with SEO consultants in the UK from 2010-2012.

"The people I worked with were always at risk of stepping over the fine and ever-shifting line between legitimate optimization and illegitimate manipulation," Ziewitz said.

“Rather than framing this as a problem of eradicating ‘bias’ or preventing ‘gaming.’ I show how SEO consultants artfully arrange themselves to maintain the ethical ambivalence that makes them possible in the first place,” Ziewitz writes in his draft.

Members of the SSRG made various suggestions, from the need to explain the more technical terms in the paper to ideas about how to compare SEO ethics to those in other “auxiliary” industries that allow a main industry to function or whether to frame the issue as one of individual ethics or ethics of a corporation or an industry.

"I really like these seminars because they give you something very precious: a sense of how a paper lands in other people's minds,” Ziewitz said. “For a writer, this is the best feedback you can get."

Professors Phoebe Sengers and Jessica Ratcliff at the weekly research group seminar