Tomsk State University
Department of History

634051 Russia, Tomsk, 34, Lenin Ave., room 30

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Science as a form of life: a summer school on the anthropology of science and big technical systems in Bulgaria

From June 22nd to July 1st, 2015, a summer school ‘The anthropology of science and big technical systems: identity of scientists and engineers’, organized by the Department of Applied and Institutional Sociology (Plovdiv University n.a. Paisius of Hilendar) with support from the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) and the TSU Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research (LSAR), was held in Bulgaria. Twelve students – LSAR assistants – took part in this event which over its 15-year history has for the first time become international. Organizers of the school, both on the Russian and Bulgarian side, were Ivan Tchalakov, chair of the Department of Applied and Institutional Sociology and TSU PAST Centre fellow; Irina Popravko, TSU LSAR leading research fellow, and Tihomir Mitev, chief assistant of the Department of Applied and Institutional Sociology.

Tihomir Mitev Irina Popravko and Ivan Tchalakov
(photo by Yana Pchelintseva)

The school main objective was to immerse participants into a relatively new (especially for Russian anthropologists) field that is the world of scientists and engineers. The Western tradition of studying science, laboratory life, technologies, and engineering practices has quite a long history though (starting from the end of 1970s). The starting point here is usually considered to be the work by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar ‘Laboratory life: the construction of scientific facts’ (1979).

The objects for observation chosen in 2015 were the National astronomical observatory ‘Rozhen’ (science as a form of life) and the dam Dospat (a big technical system). Tomsk students studied together with their Bulgarian fellow students. The fieldwork was carried out in groups of two persons from each side. In total, there were 5 groups formed, each of which had its own object of research. The groups collected information on the everyday life of the observatory, specificities of work of the observatory engineers who operate telescopes, interaction of the astronomers with objects of their research (the Sun, clusters of stars), as well as with tools they use to carry out their research (telescopes, data processing systems). This information was gathered using preliminarily prepared materials – in-depth interview guides, descriptions of artifacts, and documents for semiotic analysis.

Ivan Tchalakov Astronomer Nikola Petrov

The school started with and culminated in a methodological seminar in which Ivan Tchalakov explained how exactly objects observed in the field should be approached and how to analyze the collected material using ANT analytical categories: it was important to see the relationships between ‘humans’ (astronomers, engineers), ‘non-humans’ (telescopes, data processing and analysis devices) and hybrids (telescopes, spectroscopes, filters, etc.) that form particular ‘heterogeneous pairs’ (astronomer Nikola, his Sun and a small telescope-coronagraph, astronomer Grigor, his clusters of stars and the Schmidt telescope).

The big telescope. A view from outside                    The big telescope. A view from inside
The dam Dospat School participants at the Dospat dam

 Upon the completion of the school, all the participants were awarded certificates of attendance. During the months to follow, a lot of work is to be done to process the field material, write theses (for Bulgarian students) and anthropological essays (for Tomsk students) and defend these at a student research conference in autumn 2015. With support from the EASST best student papers will be published in a collection in English.

A group of school participants from Tomsk Polina Koshkaryova, Anton Sadyrin, Fyodor Smetanin
with their certificates

The immersion into the Bulgarian political and ethnographic environment perfectly complemented the scientific part of the school programme. Invited lecturer, professor of the New Bulgarian University (Sofia) and Indiana University Bloomington (USA) Randall Baker gave a talk on his concept of the Bulgarian national character and view of Bulgaria’s role and place in the political arena of Europe throughout the history of the state (living on the edge).

The participants also got the opportunity to learn about the ethnography of the Bulgarian Rhodopes in the Regional museum of history ‘Stoyu Shishkov’ in the city of Smolyan.

The exhibition in the Smolyan museum Anna Tikhonova at the Smolyan museum

School participants on their impressions of the trip

Artyom Teterin, LSAR assistant, 1st year student:
At the Rozhen National astronomical observatory we interviewed Grigor Nikolov who work there and study clusters of stars. Grigor got interested in astronomy at school. He graduated the University of Sofia majoring in mathematics and astrophysics. After that he started to work at the Rozhen observatory. Among other, Grigor told us about how he sees joint work with his colleagues which he believes is very productive because in his opinion they can share experience, exchange ideas and information. Grigor also mentioned his publications as a result of his striving to achieve greater success in studying the universe’.  

Ivan Tyukhtenev, LSAR assistant, 1st year student continuing Artyom’s talk:
‘We were lucky to have interviewed Grigor when he was working (and hopefully we did not distract him from work a lot), and so during breaks we could just observe what Grigor was doing. At his colleague’s request he was checking whether the spectrograph had any unwanted noise. He was doing this for two hours gradually reducing and raising temperature of the telescope and saving images from it onto his computer. When the conversation got stuck, Grigor would enliven it coming up with some amusing images of stars on the internet and explaining to us the principles of spectroscope and telescope operation’.

Astronomer Grigor Nikolov Artyom Teterin and Ivan Tyukhtenev
with Grigor Nikolov 

Fyodor Smetanin, LSAR assistant, 3rd year student:
‘I worked together with Anton Sadyrin, Elena and Gergana. We did research on astronomers and technical systems for the study of comets’.

Alexey Tarasov and Kseniya Popova, LSAR assistants, 1st year students:
‘The results of the interviews we took are the collection of extensive material on our research topic, well-established contacts with  research community members, fieldwork experience, accomplishment of our research objectives, as well as interaction and cultural exchange with the Bulgarian students’.  

Anna Tikhonova and Elena Chernyakova, LSAR assistants, 2nd year students:
‘One of the most important questions asked by each of the students was what role ‘technical tools’ play in scientists’ work. One could say that all the school participants could see ‘the kitchen of restaurant’ only that instead of the kitchen there was an office, an astronomer and a telescope, and instead of restaurant – the observatory building. Vivid memories, fieldwork experience and new acquaintances – that is what we took away with us from the trip. And we feel the need to share with others the delight we took in what we saw and felt. To say that it was great, perfect and amazing does not quite express the whole spectrum of the feelings felt by each of the participants’.

Nikola Petrov and Alexey Tarasov Anna Tikhonova and Elena Chernyakova
in the city of Smolyan

Seil Djanyzakova, LSAR assistant, 3rd year student:
‘Katya Lukyanova and I worked together with Bulgarian students Plamena and Gulben. We were comfortable as both we and the girls stayed in a building belonging to the observatory. From the very start we encountered the language barrier problem communicating with the Bulgarian fellow students but in a while we came up with our own mixture of languages including Russian, Bulgarian and English. It was hard but funny.. []. One evening we went to see an amateur telescope: we looked at the moon, stars, Saturn but it was difficult to see star luminescence and constellations because of the density of the clouds. I held and waved an astronomer laser point used to point the stars in the sky. Astronomy jedi. It was unforgettable and amazing’.

Polina Koshkaryova, LSAR assistant, 4th year student:
‘My main task in this field research was to take video of the interviews and that was what I focused on. Our informants talked in Bulgarian for the most part which made the task quite complicated. And what I understood was that despite the language barrier we managed to grasp emotions of astronomers during the interview when it came to the old equipment. Daniel – an operator who had once worked on an old computer and now switched to a new one – remembered with warmth and humour the times when he used to operate old control systems. He showed us some hand-drawn schemes once used for data processing. The old equipment evoked our informant’s sense of nostalgia. On the whole, I have most positive impressions of the fieldwork. It was a totally new experience for me. I would like to emphasize the beauty of the places we worked and lived in, we truly managed to combine work and pleasure’.

 Katya Lukyanova, Seil Djanyzakova
and Anya Tikhonova in Plovdiv
Polina Koshkaryova taking video

Venislava Petrova, 3rd year student, Plovdiv University:
‘The most interesting moments to me were related to working in mixed Russian–Bulgarian groups. At first I was quite pessimistic about the language barrier issue (although I have once studied Russian), their way of learning and perceiving certain information (the Russian students specialize in anthropology whereas the Bulgarians are students of sociology – translator’s note). But then it all went OK and we were pleased to work as a team’ (translated from Bulgarian by Irina Popravko). 

Anton Sadyrin, LSAR assistant, 3rd year student:
‘Thank you to LSAR and particularly to Irina V. Nam and Irina G. Popravko as well as to the head of the Plovdiv anthropological summer school, professor of the University of Plovdiv Ivan Tchalakov for this opportunity to combine study and pleasure and make one more step further on the way to becoming an ANTHROPOLOGIST’.  

The University of Plovdiv is a unique institution in the former ‘Soviet bloc’ space where research in anthropology and sociology of science, technologies and innovations has been regularly conducted since 2000. In this sense, Tomsk students were incredibly lucky to have participated in the summer school. It is also worth noting that the school which has for the first time become international, despite the ‘lost in translation’ kind of difficulties we encountered, has been a success. The organizers plan to hold this event annually and invite world leading researchers within STS to participate.

A film about the summer school ‘The anthropology of science and big technical systems: identity of scientists and engineers’

Camera, script, and voice  - Polina Koshkaryova, editing – Nikolay Konovalov, good supporter – Irina Popravko

Irina Popravko, LSAR leading research fellow

Also actively participated: LSAR assistants Polina Koshkaryova, Albina Rasskazchikova, Anton Sadyrin, Fyodor Smetanin, Seil Djanyzakova, Ekaterina Lukyanova, Anna Tikhonova, Elena Chernyakova, Artyom Teterin, Ivan Tyukhtenev, Alexey Tarasov and Kseniya Popova.

The project "Man in a Changing World. Identity and Social Adaptation: Past and Present" is funded by the Russian Government
(grant #14.В25.31.0009)
© Laboratory for Social and Anthropoligical Research, 2013

The website is translated into English by LSAR Fellow Elena M. Karageorgii, e-mail: karageorgiy-elena@ya.ru visits: 77109

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