Highlights Day 1

The opening plenary on “Participatory Dynamics for change” set the tone for an eclectic day of social science. Programme Chair Sally Wyatt, from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences, led a panel with an emphasis on the interaction between art, digital media and social sciences. She noted that participation can mean many different things from clicking like on facebook to more engagement and empowerment.

Highlights from the opening plenary included David Rokeby, an artist who has been making works of electronic, video and installation art since 1982, went through his work and some of his reflections on that work. From tech that separates what is still from what is moving — creating a division of the world into the nouns and the verbs — not a piece you look at but a piece you look through, to reflections on how computers see us from its naive perspectives of not having learnt us.

Nalini Kotamraju, a social scientist that has spent much of her professional life working in industry for corporations, spoke publicly for the first time to a social science audience, on the work she does and the role of social science within corporations. The social sciences undertaken within the research labs at Microsoft, Ebay, Google and the like, look very similar to within a university setting. Social science within a corporate setting is often hidden, mainly because it is proprietary. And even though researchers tend to publish in the traditional academic settings there is a fair amount of bias in publishing research affiliated with an corporation (often harder because it is seen as tainted research).

Aalam Wassef, a visual artist, musician and publisher, attending via video from Cairo, talked on new ways of disseminating knowledge. From the revolution in Egypt to academic publishing revolutions. Wassef is the founder of www.peerevaluation.org, www.itsaudience.com and has contributed to the creation of www.interdisciplines.org. Talking about the new open access systems he commented “open access without a reputation system is worthless.”

The first day of the World Social Science Forum had a large number of sessions stretching from augmented emotion in real time to cyber politics to e-health to notions of identity and to social movements — showing off the length and breadth of the social sciences and their relation to this new digital life we all inhabit.