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23 February 2022 - 23 February 2022

4:00PM - 5:00PM

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This is the image alt text Professor Noortje Marres

Professor Noortje Marres, University of Warwick, will deliver the seminar 'The test society: two challenges for sociology' as part of the Sociology research seminar series.

From Covid home testing kits to Facebook fact-checks and CAPTCHA's "I am not a robot”, testing seems to be the technology du jour, and this has prompted some to declare that we now live in a test society. What should be the objectives of the sociology of testing in this context? A key contribution of social studies of testing to date has been their insistence that testing presents as much a social intervention as a technical or epistemic operation: these studies have shown that a physical test, such as a pregnancy test, may do double duty as a test of social relations (Robinson, 2020; Linhardt, 2008). In this talk, I will argue that emerging testing infrastructures pose a challenge to this key sociological insight: the social capacities of testing can today no longer be taken for granted. Using real-world testing of Artificial Intelligence technologies in transport settings as a test case (sic), I will show how the creation of so-called test environments in society calls into question two core assumptions that have underpinned social studies of testing: 1) the "logic of the proxy," the idea that testing is about extending insights from the laboratory to society and 2) the idea that what goes on in society is inherently, "always already," social, which I refer to as "social naturalism”. Many of the forms of social life enacted in these environments are profoundly artificial, to the point that we need to consider the fundamental possibility that the accomplishments of sociality, and of test-ability (as a condition for knowledge about society), may fail in these settings. I will argue that adopting an ecological perspective (Star, 1989) is our best bet in addressing these challenges, provided it is accompanied by commitments to both methodological scepticism and social experimentalism.

Noortje Marres is Professor in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies at the University of Warwick. Her work contributes to the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology and Society (STS) and investigates issues at the intersection of innovation, publics, the environment and everyday life. She studied Sociology and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Amsterdam and has published two monographs: Material participation: technology, the environment and everyday publics (2012) and Digital Sociology: the re-invention of social research (2017). Together with David Stark she recently edited a special issue on the new sociology of testing for the British Journal of Sociology (Marres and Stark, 2020). Noortje is currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Siegen and the PI for the ESRC-funded, international project Shaping AI: Controversy and Closure in Research, Policy and Media.

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