Dr. Mareike Smolka
Science & Technology Studies Researcher
I am Assistant Professor (tenure-track) in the Knowledge, Technology & Innovation group at Wageningen University & Research. My research areas are science & technology studies (STS), responsible innovation, empirical ethics, sociology of emotions, conference studies, and, more recently, transition studies. My research interests feed into my teaching activities.I am also a research fellow at the Human Technology Centre at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, where I conduct transdisciplinary research in the NeuroSys Cluster4Future. Within the cluster, I study and facilitate the responsible governance of the innovation ecosystem emerging around the development of neuromorphic computing hardware for AI applications.In my PhD research (2018–2022) in the Maastricht University Science, Technology and Society Studies programme in the Netherlands, I investigated the entanglement between knowledge production and practices of valuation in neuroscientific research on contemplative practices like mindfulness meditation. Drawing on Socio-Technical Integration Research, I further sought to examine and enhance meditation researchers' capacities to engage with the socio-ethical dimensions of their work.My research has benefitted from my affiliation to the Centre for Cultural Research Lübeck in Germany and from international mobility. I was a Fulbright scholar at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University in the US, a visiting PhD candidate at the Interacting Minds Centre at Aarhus University in Denmark, and an ethnographic researcher at the biomedical research institute Cyceron in Caen, France.Next to my research, I have made efforts to strengthen my academic communities through a variety of activities, for example: I work as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Responsible Innovation; I am the co-organizer of a cross-university ethnography group; I was one of the main organizers of STS-hub.de 2023; and I served as a scientific advisor in a diversity & inclusivity project.
Cover art made by Lines To Dot
My PhD research resulted in the dissertation Ethics in Action: Multi-Sited Engaged Ethnography on Valuation Work in Contemplative Science.The research was funded by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes), the European Francisco Varela Award 2019, and Fulbright Germany.
In recent years, the potential of contemplative practices like mindfulness meditation to alleviate modern ailments such as stress, chronic conditions and signs of old age has been studied with neuroscientific, psychological and clinical approaches. Researchers conducting such studies, sometimes called 'contemplative scientists,’ have been featured in the media to provide scientific legitimacy for the benefits of meditation. While proponents of contemplative science present this kind of research as unambiguously benevolent and capable of remedying global crises, opponents find it ethically dubious. Some social scholars and Buddhist practitioners worry that a scientific framing of meditation strips it of its intellectual, affective and ethical roots in Buddhism and makes it amenable to use for unethical ends, for instance as a concentration training in the military or a productivity booster in business corporations. Instead of reasoning in the abstract about these potential normative effects of contemplative science (for good or ill) and projecting them into the future, this dissertation explores the ethicality of contemplative science by studying how values emerge in practice. The exploration is guided by the following research questions: How are values enacted in contemplative science practices? How does the contemplative science community valorise and justify its research as epistemologically rich and ethically benevolent? How are knowledge-making practices related to scientific norms of good research on meditation? How can engaged social science research critique contemplative science in a way that is generative of changes in thought and action?To answer these questions, this dissertation draws on theoretical and methodological resources from the field of Science & Technology Studies as well as from interrelated discourses on Responsible Innovation and Responsible Research and Innovation. It combines multi-sited ethnography with engagement research guided by adaptations of the Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) method to study and critique practices of valuation in contemplative science. The main finding is that contemplative scientists mobilise different strategies and repertoires to enact values – they perform what is here named ‘valuation work.’ The concept of valuation work captures how scientists make seemingly incompatible values, forms of authority and systems of orientation merge, coexist or alternate in practice. Ethnographic research on the laboratory floor, during scientific meetings and at conferences highlights that deliberations on and practical attempts to resolve value conflicts are inextricably bound up with scientific socialisation processes and knowledge production. Such valuation work can become visible and modifiable in interdisciplinary collaboration and practitioner dialogues guided by the STIR decision protocol.In examining and inflecting the processes through which scientists engage with the socio-ethical aspects of their work, this dissertation adds an empirical perspective on ‘ethics in action’ to public and academic debates on ‘ethics in theory’ in contemplative science. The analysis reveals that contemplative science does not automatically have the normative effects which proponents and opponents anticipate. For example, by turning mindfulness meditation into an object of research it does not necessarily lose its ethical roots in Buddhism, neither does it automatically result in improved mental health and well-being in society. Rather, both Buddhist and modern framings of meditation can be traced, destabilised and modulated in scientific work through reflexive practices that are already embedded in contemplative science and those that are stimulated by social science engagement research. This finding indicates that scientists can account for the ways in which their research influences society and culture – the kinds of impacts which are usually assumed to fall outside the scope of their responsibilities. Hence, Ethics in Action is not only relevant for contemplative scientists, but also for other technoscientific practitioners, policy-makers and engaged social scholars because it suggests that joint efforts to open up reflexive spaces, where conventional approaches and convictions are made available for reconsideration and revision, can facilitate the social steering of technoscience.
I presented my PhD research in the Science & Belief in Society Podcast hosted by Dr Will Mason-Wilkes, Dr James Riley and Dr Rachael Shillitoe, and Dr Richard Grove, Research Fellows at the University of Birmingham. In season 2 episode 9, I talk about the contested label 'contemplative science' and its history, my collaboration with the Silver Santé research team, and Responsible Innovation approaches that can inflect the impacts of science on society, culture, and personhood. You can access the podcast here:
As a research fellow at the Human Technology Centre of RWTH Aachen University, I participate in the society module of NeuroSys, a high-tech innovation project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The society module is a group of social scholars who collaborate with researchers, engineers, industrial actors and other stakeholders to build capacities for reflexively integrating societal dimensions into the development of neuromorphic computing hardware for Artificial Intelligence in an emerging innovation ecosystem.
Neuromorphic computing is a novel computer hardware architecture inspired by the neural network of the human brain. Information processing in the human brain consumes on average 20 watts; this is several orders of magnitude less energy than what an artificial neural network of the same size requires. Brain-inspired computer hardware thus promises to be more energy-efficient than conventional hardware, which is particularly important for energy-intensive Artificial Intelligence applications.
For neuromorphic hardware to move from the laboratory to the market, an innovation ecosystem needs to emerge. To ensure that the innovation ecosystem is not only oriented toward economic success, but also takes into consideration societal needs, ethical concerns, and environmental sustainability, we develop and test approaches to responsible innovation ecosystem governance.
We elaborate on our theoretical and methodological framework in an article in the Journal of Responsible Innovation. In a nutshell, we combine Socio-Technical Integration Research with Vision Assessment to reflexively engage with scenarios about the future of the innovation ecosystem in a collaborative multi-stakeholder process. So far, we conducted 30 stakeholder interviews to analyse existing visions. The results of our analysis were revised and concretised in a scenario workshop. The next step is to develop pathways towards desirable scenarios that can be used for strategy development.
NeuroSys Scenario Workshop on May 15, 2023, at Käte Hamburger Kolleg Aachen
|Jan 2018 – Nov 2020||University Teaching Qualification in student-centered and problem-based learning at Maastricht University|
|Nov 2023 – Dec 2023||Course Coordinator and Lecturer for Bachelor and Master students at Wageningen University & Research (Course: Innovation and Transformation)|
|Apr 2023 – Jul 2023||Tutor in the Master of Sociology at RWTH Aachen University (Course: Research Problems of Socio-Technical Transformation)|
|Sep 2021 – Oct2021||Tutor in the Global Health Master Programme at the Faculty of Health, Medicine & Life Sciences of Maastricht University (Course: Advanced Methodological Skills in Qualitative Research)|
|Sep 2020 – Jan 2021||Adjunct Teaching Fellow in the Software Engineering Bachelor Programme at CODE University of Applied Sciences Berlin (Course: Science & Technology Studies)|
|Jan 2018 – Sep 2020||Junior Teaching Fellow in the Liberal Arts & Sciences Bachelor Programme at University College Maastricht (Courses: Research Methods; Philosophy of Science)|
|June 2023||The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna L. Tsing: Imagination workshop & Book discussion at the Hambach surface mine at the Temporary University Hambach, Germany|
|June 2023||The role of Artificial Intelligence and Neuromorphic Computing Technology in the structural transformation of the Rhenish lignite mining area: Imagination workshop co-organized by Frieder Bögner, Miriam Chlumsky-Harttmann, Robert Lipp, and Thorsten Wahlbrink at the Temporary University Hambach, Germany|
|May 2023||Empirical ethics in fieldwork, analysis, and writing: a methodographic workshop for PhD students participating in the course Empirical Methods for Philosophy of Technology, Technical University Delft, the Netherlands|
|Apr 2022||Socio-Technical Integration Research Workshop for undergraduate students at Arizona State University, USA|
|Nov 2021||Critical Neuroscience for Psychologist Workshop co-organized by Flora Lysen for students and researchers at University Bonn, Germany|
|May 2020||Socio-Technical Integration Research Workshop for undergraduate students at University College Maastricht, the Netherlands|
|Aug 2019||Socio-Technical Integration Research Workshop for researchers at Aarhus University, Denmark|
|May 2019||Socio-Technical Integration Research Workshop for undergraduate students at University College Maastricht, the Netherlands|
|Apr 2022||Processing Fieldnotes & Writing Ethnographic Texts Lecture in the Global Studies Master Programme at Maastricht University|
|Nov 2020||What is Art? Lecture in the Software Engineering Bachelor Programme at CODE University of Applied Sciences Berlin|
|Jan 2020||From Philosophy of Science to Social Studies of Science Lecture in the Maastricht Science Bachelor Programme at Maastricht University|
Smolka, M. (2022). Ethics in Action: Multi-sited Engaged Ethnography on Valuation Work in Contemplative Science. PhD diss., Maastricht University. DOI: 10.26481/dis.20221011ms.
Schumann, F., Smolka, M., Dienes, Z., Lübbert, A., Lukas, W., Gehring Rees, M., Fucci, E., and van Vugt, M. (2023) Beyond kindness: a proposal for a flourishing of science and scientists alike. Royal Society Open Science, 10(11): 230728, DOI: 10.1098/rsos.230728
Smolka, M., and Böschen, S. (2023) Responsible innovation ecosystem governance: socio-technical integration research for systems-level capacity building. Journal of Responsible Innovation, DOI: 10.1080/23299460.2023.2207937.
Smolka, M. (2022). Enchanting Narratives: A Historical Ethnography of Contemplative Science. Technology and Language, 3(4): 42-75, DOI: 10.48417/technolang.2022.04.05.
Smolka, M. (2022). Making epistemic goods compatible: Knowledge-making practices in a lifestyle intervention RCT on mindfulness and compassion meditation. BioSocieties, DOI: 10.1057/s41292-022-00272-w.
Smolka, M. (2021). Why does controversy persist? Paradigm clash, conflicting visions and academic productivity in the aesthetics of religion. Science as Culture, 30(4): 465-490, DOI: 10.1080/09505431.2021.1918077.
Smolka, M., Fisher E., and Hausstein, A. (2021). From Affect to Action: Choices in Attending to Disconcertment in Interdisciplinary Collaborations, Science, Technology, & Human Values, 46(5): 1076-1103, DOI: 10.1177/0162243920974088.
Smolka, M. (2020). Generative Critique in Interdisciplinary Collaborations: From Critique of and in the Neurosciences to Socio-Technical Integration Research as a Practice of Critique in R(R)I, NanoEthics, 14(1): 1-19, DOI: 10.1007/s11569-019-00362-3.
Smolka, M., Stoepel, L., Quill, J., Wahlbrink T., Floehr, J., Böschen, S., Letmathe, P., and Lemme, M. (unconditionally accepted). Transdisciplinary development of neuromorphic computing hardware for Artificial Intelligence applications: technological, economic, societal, and environmental dimensions of transformation in the NeuroSys Cluster4Future. In Transformation towards Sustainability - A Novel Interdisciplinary Framework from RWTH Aachen University, edited by P. Letmathe, C. Roll, A. Balleer, S. Böschen, W. Breuer, A. Förster, G. Gramelsberger, K. Greiff, R. Häußling, M. Lemme, M. Leuchner, M. Paegert, F. T. Pillar, E. Seefried, and T. Wahlbrink. New York: Springer.
Smolka, M., and Mesman, J. (uncondtionally accepted). Practicing care-as-affect and engagement-as-critique: Careful engagements with Video-Reflexive Ethnography and Socio-Technical Integration Research. In Ethical and Methodological Dilemmas in Social Science Interventions: Careful interventions in healthcare, museums, design and beyond, edited by D. Lydahl and N. C. Nickelsen. New York: Springer.
Smolka, M., Braun, M., Greubel, C., Neudert, P., Rentrop, C., and Wiedemann, L. (2023). Being, doing, and using STS in Germany? Reflections on identity questions, normative commitments, and conceptual work after STS-hub.de 2023, EASST Review, 42(1): 41-50. Link.
Smolka, M., Fisher, E. Pickering C., and Peate, L. (2022). Traveling through the past and into the future of Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR): Midpoint Report on the 2022 STIR Seminar Series, EASST Review, 42(2): 74-81. Link.
Smolka, M. (2019). Towards better science and modesty in the Cognitive Science of Religion and Contemplative Science?, Verkündigung und Forschung, 64(2): 142-150, DOI: 10.14315/vf-2019-640208.
Smolka, M. (2018). “Sticky business” inspires: Enacting ethics by adding syrup to laboratory life. EASST Review, 37(4). Link.
Smolka, M., Fisher, E., and Hausstein, A. (2022) Advancing considerations of affect in interdisciplinary collaborations. Integration and Implementation Insights. Link.
Smolka, M. (2021) The Ethnographic Patchwork Quilt: A post-publication methodography. The Sociological Review, DOI: 10.51428/tsr.djop2330.
Smolka, M. and Vörös, S. (2021). Writing Life: An Interview with Sebastjan Vörös. Somatosphere. Link.
Smolka, M. (2020). ‘Confer-ring’ at contemplative studies conferences: Conference ethnography in a time of COVID-19, Conference Inference. Blogging the World of Conferences. Link.
Smolka, M. (2020). Che fine ha fatto? Khenpo A Chös Regenbogenkörper. Contribution to the Night of Museums 2019, Centre for Cultural Research Lübeck. Link.
Smolka, M. (2018). “Cosmonaut for a night”: The experiences of a Silver Santé volunteer, Point of view, Silver Santé Study. The Medit-Ageing Project. Link.
Smolka, M. (2017). Translating between Buddhism and neuroscience: Conceptual differences and similarities in epistemic cultures. Neuroscientific research on Vipassana meditation – a case study, Self-Journals of Science. Link.
October 2023: "From Studying Visions to Analyzing Alignment Work: Work-in-progress on Futures of Neuromorphic Computing." Keynote lecture at the Doctoral Colloquium of the School of Social Science and Technology, Technical University Munich, Munich, Germany.
July 2023: "Integrating Societal Dimensions into the Development of Neuromorphic Computing Hardware for AI." The Virtual Ethical Innovation Lecture Series, Lübeck, Germany.
May 2023: Contribution to panel discussion "Where do science and technology research stand in Germany?" Spring conference of the science and technology research section of the German Sociological Association, Dortmund, Germany.
February 2023: (co-authored by Erik Fisher) “Tools Lab: Socio-Technical Integration Research.” Fachtagung Integrierte Forschung, Mannheim, Germany.
January 2023: (co-authored by Jessica Mesman) “The Double Vision of Care in STS Engagement Research.” Symposium on Care as Transdisciplinary Concept, Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht, the Netherlands.
November 2022: (co-authored by Stefan Böschen, Saskia Nagel, and Peter Letmathe) "Society, Ethics, and Economics in NeuroSys: Shaping the Innovation Ecosystem of Neuromorphic Computing Technology." Frontier Workshop neuroAIx, Aachen, Germany.
October 2022: "Einführung in die Sozio-Technische Integrationsforschung." Plenum Cluster Integrierte Forschung, Lutheran University of Applied Sciences, Nürnberg, Germany.
April 2022: "Affect and careful engagement in STIR." Seminar Series on Socio-Technical Integration Research, online format. Link.
April 2022: “Interdisciplinary Engagement with Human Values in Science and Engineering: Introducing the NeuroSys project.” Public Interest Technology Colloquium at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, online format. Link.
December 2021: "Ethics in Action in Contemplative Science." Research colloquium at the Department of Science, Technology and Society, Technical University Munich, online format.
October 2021: “FAIR Interviews & Focus Groups in Qualitative Social Science Research.” FAIR Coffee Lecture Series of Maastricht University, Link.
July 2021: (co-authored by Erik Fisher) “Tracing Collaborative Reflection Moment-to-Moment: Bringing Science & Technology Studies to Contemplative Science and Vice Versa.” Mind-Brain-Mindfulness Intercity Seminar at the Free University of Amsterdam, online format.
August 2018: “STIRring up clinical research and contemplative science: on the
production of bias and ‘good’ meditation research.” Research colloquium at the Centre for Science, Technology and Society Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark.
July 2019: “Going Cognitive? How conflicting visions fuel controversy and perform the future of the Aesthetics of Religion.” Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF), Bielefeld, Germany.
December 2018: “The Meditating Brain in Context: Eliciting Ethical Reflections in Neuroscientific Meditation Research.” Research colloquium at the Institute of Philosophy, Technical University Darmstadt, Germany.
November 2023: (co-authored by Philipp Neudert, Wenzel Mehnert, Frieder Bögner, and Stefan Böschen) "Partizipative Methoden der Transformationssoziologie in Innovationssystemen erproben: Vision Assessment im NeuroSys Zukunftscluster.“ Tagung der Transformationssoziologie, Aachen, Germany.
November 2023: (co-authored by Philipp Neudert, Wenzel Mehnert, Frieder Bögner, and Stefan Böschen) "Partizipative und transdisziplinäre Forschung in Innovationsökosystemen: Fallstudie zum High-Tech- Innovationsprojekt NeuroSys.“ PartWiss 2023, Chemnitz, Germany.
April 2023: “From ‘ethics in theory’ to ‘ethics in action’ in mindfulness research: studying and transforming responsibility practices through Socio-Technical Integration Research.” 2023 Forum on Philosophy, Engineering, & Technology (fPET 2023), Delft, the Netherlands.
April 2023: (co-authored by Philipp Neudert and Stefan Böschen) “Responsibilization and responsibility boundary-work by and through visions of neuromorphic computing.” 2023 Forum on Philosophy, Engineering, & Technology (fPET 2023), Delft, the Netherlands.
March 2023: Contribution on Affects in Engaged Ethnography in the World Café Panel "Just do it... Stories of becoming an ethnographer." STS-hub.de 2023, Aachen, Germany.
March 2023: "Engaged Ethnography: Critical participation in valuation work." STS-hub.de 2023, Aachen, Germany.
November 2022: (co-authored by Philipp Neudert and Stefan Böschen) "Sozio-Technische Integration im Innovationsökosystem: Einführung in die interdisziplinäre Transformationsforschung von NeuroSys." Gesellschaft für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung Jahrestagung, Dortmund, Germany.
September 2021: “Insights into MUSTS Practices of Collaborative Research.” Association for Studies in Innovation Science and Technology – UK Annual Conference, online format.
May 2021: “Conflicting epistemic goods, informal care practices, and multiple research objects in a clinical trial on mindfulness meditation.” Nordic Science & Technology Studies Conference (NOSTS) 2021, online format.
March 2021: “Generative Critique in local productions of sleep apnea: Destabilising standard ways of interpreting curves, categorising health vs. illness, and doing research ethics.” Chronic Living International Conference on quality, vitality and health in the 21st century, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, online format.
August 2020: (co-authored by Erik Fisher and Alexandra Hausstein) “From Affect to Action: Choices in Attending to Disconcertment in Interdisciplinary Collaborations.” Joint International Conference of the European Association for the Study of Science & Technology (EASST) and the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), online format.
August 2019: "Going Cognitive? A science studies perspective on the Aesthetics of Religion: when conflicting visions fuel controversy and epistemic tensions.” 33rd Biannual Conference of the German Association for the Study of Religion (DVRW), Hannover, Germany.
June 2019: “Studying emotions in meditation research: ethics and epistemology entangled?” Transdisciplinary Conference on BIAS in AI and Neuroscience, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
July 2018: “Controversy in the Aesthetics of Religion: When religious studies go cognitive, visions on how to study religions clash.” International Conference of the European Association for the Study of Science & Technology (EASST), Lancaster, England.
July 2018: “The meditating brain in context: eliciting ethical reflections on neuroscientific meditation research.” International Conference on Mindfulness, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
August 2023: (co-authored by Philipp Neudert, Wenzel Mehnert, Frieder Bögner, Giacomo Figà Talamanca, and Stefan Böschen) "From Visions to Scenarios of Neuromorphic Computing: Imagining the Future of NeuroSys in a Participatory Process." Jülich-Aachen Neuromorphic Computing Day, Jülich, Germany.
August 2021: (co-authored by Erik Fisher) “Cultivating Contemplative Science Identities through STIR Practitioner Dialogues.” European Mind & Life Summer Research Institute, online format.
August 2020: “Digital conference ethnography at ESRI 2020. An inquiry into technological mediation of academic community building.” European Mind & Life Summer Research Institute, online format.
November 2019: (co-authored by Erik Fisher) "Socio-Technical Integration Research." Conference of the network for integrated research, Leipzig, Germany.
October 2019: “Ethics in Action: Engaged Ethnography in the Silver Santé Study.” Contemplative Science Symposium, Mind & Life Europe, Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany.
July 2017: “Master thesis results on responsibility in neuroscientific cognitive enhancement research.” European Mind & Life Summer Research Institute, Chiemsee, Germany.
March 2023: (co-organised by Maximilian Braun and Ruth Falkenberg) "Circulating values: from what is 'good' somewhere to what is 'best' elsewhere and back again." STS-hub.de 2023, Aachen, Germany.
March 2021: (co-organised by Dorit Biermann) “The politics of categorizing ‘health’: Which ‘healthy’ lives do we study and produce?” Chronic Living International Conference on quality, vitality and health in the 21st century, Copenhagen, Denmark, online format.
August 2020: (co-organised by Gili Yaron, Ricky Janssen, and Cristian Ghergu) “Affect, emotions, and feelings in data, analysis, and narrative” Joint International Conference of the European Association for the Study of Science & Technology (EASST) and the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), online format.
March 2023: STS-hub.de (co-organized by Stefan Böschen, Paula Helm, Ingmar Lippert, Jan-Felix Schrape, Cornelius Schubert, Jan-Peter Voß, and Lisa Wiedemann). Link.
Events & Calls
Open Panel on Exploring Innovation Ecosystems co-organized by Christian Herzog, Phil Macnaghten, Mark Ryan, Philipp Neudert, Laurens Klerkx, Bernd Carsten Stahl, and Merel Noorman
Submit an abstract until 12th of February 2024!
Imagination workshop & Book discussion at the Humbach surface mine, June 18, 2023, Temporary University Hambach
1st NeuroSys Academy with Alwin Daus, January 12, 2023