The Institute for Social Studies of Information (ISSI) at Siegen University

Siegen University is widely recognized as a leading German center for Science and Technology Studies (STS), also known as the Social Studies of Science. In particular, Erhard Schüttpelz pioneered the application of STS concepts such as actor network theory, symmetrical explanations, and boundary objects to media studies. STS is one of the world’s most vibrant interdisciplinary movements, centered on the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S). Its meeting draw thousands of participants in fields from sociology to management studies.

The Institute for Social Studies of Information (ISSI) leverages this expertise within the Siegen iSchool, to apply the same approaches to the study of information phenomena. This aligns well with the school’s overall focus on the analysis of technologically mediated work practices in social contexts. Members of ISSI have a particular commitment to the integration of historical and ethnographic methods and insights into the iSchool.

Thomas Haigh and Sebastian Giessmann are organizing a series of workshops and books around the concept of the “Early Digital,” a frame that integrates history of computing traditions with concerns from STS and media studies. We believe that historicizing the concept of “the digital” and looking closely at changes and continuities in practice around the historical adoption of information technologies is vital to understanding the processes of digitization underway in contemporary society. The first of these books, Exploring the Early Digital, is under contract with Springer. The second, based on workshops held in 2017 in Siegen and at the University of Pennsylvania and in 2018 at the Computer History Museum, has the working title Transforming the Early Digital and its targeted at the MIT Press series Inside Technology.

ISSI’s other main commitment is to practice theory, with particular focus on ethnomethodology and the integration of the work of Harold Garfinkel into the study of information practices. Tristan Thielmann and Sebastian Giessmann have held several workshops in the “Media of Accountability” series and Theilman is working Erhard Schüttpelz and Anne Rawls to prepare  a German translations of Garfinkel’s classic studies. The first of these books, published in 2018, is a translation of Studies in Ethnomethodology. Complementing this, Sebastian Giessmann has led the translation of Susan Leigh Star’s groundbreaking works on boundary objects and information infrastructures, editing with Nadine Taha the 2017 book Grenzobjekte und Medienforschung. These have been supported by a practice theory speaker series.

Members of the ISSI are leading two major grant supported projects, Media of Cooperation (looking from many perspectives at the relationship of infrastructural and public information technologies to cooperative practices) and Locating Media (probing the situationality of media practices with particular attention to mobility and spatiality). The Media of Cooperation project “Navigation in Online/Offline Spaces,” run by Tristan Thielmann and Carolin Gerlitz, is particularly closely connected to ISSI. Thielmann is also supervising the Ph.D. the Ph.D. work of Max Kanderkse on the project “Smooth Spaces, Multiple Distances: a Praxeological analysis of VR-Interfaces.”