COLA Connections Newsletter: Fall 2016

STS Professor Awarded 4S Prize for Best Article

The Society for Social Studies and Science – 4S – is the major professional society in North America for people in science and technology studies. Every year, this society gives out an award for the best article that field. This year, the prize was awarded to our very own Kristoffer Whitney, Assistant Professor in the Department of Science, Technology & Society, for his paper Domesticating Nature? Surveillance and Conservation of Migratory Shorebirds in the ‘Atlantic Flyway.’ Professor Whitney is a 1998 alumnus from RIT, with both a Master’s degree and a PhD in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania.

What is most of your research centered around?

Most of my work is centered on understanding interactions between environmental science and environmental policy. My article comes out of a project that is looking at a very specific, controversial endangered species that was recently listed as threatened – the migratory shorebird- and the interactions between the shorebird and an east coast fishery. I spent a lot of time trying to understand how it is we know what we know about these birds and their food sources, and how what we know, or what we think we know, translates into effective management policy.

Could you give us some details on your paper?

The paper looks at the implications of surveillance for nature. There is a camp of scholars who consider surveillance technology as having sort of a domineering, and almost domesticating effect on nature. So if you track migratory animals too closely or too invasively, you are in essence making them into livestock or pets. You’re exerting influence and power over them, rather than just letting them be. Then there is another camp that says sometimes that can true, but some of these technologies for wildlife surveillance, when used with care, can actually make wildlife almost partners in your research. You give them a voice, allow them to share their natural history with us. When we study nature, animals or wildlife, our goal should be to do so with care, respect and giving them a chance to be a sort of participant in the study, rather than subjects in the study.

In what ways do you hope your research makes in impact?

I guess any researcher hopes that in some way, their work changes things and makes the world a better place. One way I see that happening is through teaching. When you talk about a topic in class, you’re speaking from experience where you have put in the time and done the research, so you can pass what you know along to your students. One of the other ways is publishing research. That gets your ideas out there where something could change as a result of your work. In the case of my paper, specifically, I hope that by taking the role and agency of non-human animals seriously that somewhere down the road, my work will help people think about how they can care for nature in new and unexpected ways.

Any advice for student researchers?

First of all, find a research topic near and dear to your heart. If you don’t really care about a topic, you will not have the perseverance to see a long-term research project through to its conclusion. Secondly, don’t think of research as a completely individualized endeavor. It happens in intellectual and social networks. Find people who can advise you, who you can ask questions of, who you can run ideas and drafts by, who you can just talk to about how difficult it is, or how well it’s going. That is what gets you through and concludes a research project successfully, I think. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten through grad school without my fellow students as much as any faculty advisor.


Editor’s Note: The 4S prize was to be awarded to Professor Whitney in Barcelona this past September; however, he was unable to attend the ceremony because he and his wife were expecting their second child around that time. We would like to congratulate Professor Whitney for both the award, as well as the new baby!