This forum was conceived with diverse emotions—excitement and uneasiness, inspiration and confusion. Its fertilization occurred when John Law received the 2015 Bernal Prize in recognition of his distinguished contribution to the field of STS. He delivered a twenty-five-minute talk during the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) meeting in Denver on a snowy November day. We had held the EASTS editorial board meeting the previous day, and Law had joined us as an advisory committee member. The editorial board took the opportunity to congratulate him and told him we looked forward to the presentation of the award. In his acceptance speech, Law, a founder of actor-network theory (ANT), told the audience that instead of reviewing what he had done in the past, he preferred to move forward, so he presented his latest innovation: an experiment using “non-Western” concepts as STS analytical tools. The talk was based on his collaboration with Wen-yuan Lin, a UK-trained Taiwanese STS scholar and a former PhD student of Law's who is now on the EASTS editorial board. The data Law presented included those collected during Law's recent visits to Taiwan. It was quite exciting to see a major ANT figure address the postcoloniality that classic ANT has seldom dealt with, and to do so during a lifetime achievement event.
Law's talk basically followed the structure of Law and Lin's paper “Provincializing STS: Postcoloniality, Symmetry, and Method,” included in this issue. Law first set out the long-standing problem of applying Western theory to non-Western cases. To illustrate concerns about the current analytical-institutional complex, one of the slides showed coauthor Lin's self-revelation of the separation of his head (Western theory) and his body (located in Taiwan). Academic institutions in Taiwan were used to highlight the dependence on Euro-America for development and evaluation of making knowledge. The proposed solution was based on the principle of symmetry and reversion—mobilizing non-Western terms and concepts to be applied to Western cases. “Snapshots” of Taiwan, such as contemporary practices of Chinese medicine and religious rituals, illustrated the need to develop better analytical tools. Classical publications of Chinese medicine and warfare—published more than two thousand years ago—were introduced as possible analytic resources. The “experiment in action” that was presented used the Chinese concept of shi to analyze the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth outbreak from an ANT perspective. (How precisely it was analyzed is a topic for another paper.) A so-called Chinese-inflected STS was presented as one possibility for increasing the plurality of STS concepts.
As this inspiring talk went on, a sense of ambivalence emerged—in my mind at least. Why were EASTS and other non-English STS works seldom mentioned? Why was EASTS presented only as sharing the problem rather than offering solutions? Why was Taiwan so often contrasted with the West? And why was Taiwan located within Chinese-inflected STS, not East Asian STS? Wasn't the Taiwanese practice of Chinese medicine, as much scholarly work has revealed, both a living tradition and a hybrid influenced by imperial China, Japanese colonization, Euro-America, and communist China? Didn't the concept of shi, like yin and yang, have diverse meanings in different historical and social contexts? How could we use it without losing those contexts? Instead of being beheaded, would I rather use the multiheaded goddess Guanyin to portray the excitement of exploring the hybridity and complexity of doing Taiwanese STS, of which much excitement comes from working with EASTS?
After the award speech, we listened to heated discussions among the 4S participants. We were told the speech had immediately been posted on Law's website, heterogeneities.net. Although most EASTS editorial board members had not had the chance to give Law and Lin feedback before the speech, we circulated the paper and started to engage with it. In later correspondence, including e-mails with Law and Lin and face-to-face discussions with Lin in Taiwan, we addressed all of the issues and concerns and discussed them with the authors. Because the conception of this forum took place during the 4S meeting in Denver, we suggested we continue the discussion the next at the 4S meeting in Barcelona. Unfortunately, neither Law nor Lin planned to attend.
We then decided to hold a virtual forum through EASTS, publishing Law and Lin's revised paper and inviting discussants. Law and Lin kindly agreed; they revised the paper, clarified important concerns, and addressed questions. The current editor-in-chief, Wen-Hua Kuo, expended a great deal of effort inviting four panelists—Warwick Anderson, Ruey-Lin Chen, Judith Farquhar, and Atsuro Morita—to respond to Law and Lin's work. With numerous respondents from the editorial board, and with all of the panelists, we are excited to see that the discussion presented here has further broadened the scale of the 4S award speech and has raised additional points and directed new challenges.
EASTS's overall aim is to serve as a stimulant to encourage diverse ways of doing STS. The forum presented here shows serious engagements within the STS community. The best kind of appreciation is to read, reflect, respond, and regenerate. EASTS very much welcomes this kind of forum, which has the potential to facilitate yet another new conception of STS innovation. We hope you find this forum generative.