Binding Wires, Twining Ropes. Digital STS.

Binding Wires, Twining Ropes: STS, Imagination and the Materiality of Sea Change

Stephanie B. Steinhardt, Amanda J. Thackray

DigitalSTS Workshop @ The Annual Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) 2015 | Denver, CO | November 10-12, 2015

Rope is an ever-present material in oceanographic work: it is conspicuously present to an outsider yet rendered almost invisible in the consciousness of those who spend their life on the sea. Even in the learning phases of how to thrive and survive on the water there is much about rope that is taken as tacit: the arduous and tedious process of twining rope, the ubiquity of its use across multiple seafaring purposes, the trial and error of discovering the best knot for each purpose, and the seemingly magical unbreakable nature of its commingled threads. Instead, what occupies conversation aboard ships is the increasingly computational nature of work and the need for skill-building not in binding and twining but around data sets, algorithms and machinery. In response to years of engagement with modern oceanographic work and ship-based cruises, this paper explores this tension between computation and traditional forms of scientific engagement and related concerns that are of a distinctly STS nature through the process of creating an artistic installation titled “Binding Wires, Twining Ropes.”