Wen-Hua Kuo is editor in chief of East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal (EASTS) and Professor at the Institute of Science, Technology and Society and the Institute of Public Health at National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan. We sat down with him to discuss the history of EASTS, what sets the journal apart, and where EASTS is heading from here.
How did you come to be involved with EASTS?
I’ve been involved with the journal since its inception. When EASTS was in its preparation, I was in the United States; I earned my degree in Science, Technology, and Society (STS) at MIT. When I finished my degree, I started participating in activities like attending the annual meetings of 4S, the Society for Social Studies of Science—the first time I attended was in 2006. This was about the same time that scholars in Taiwan were trying to become more international in their approach to the history and philosophy of science. We had published an English journal on the history and philosophy of science (an STS-related field in the East Asian context) with a local publisher, but it didn’t work out. This time, we had the support of the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taiwan, which recognized science studies as an emerging topic and had the mission of promoting our work to a wider readership. I feel very lucky to have joined the journal at the very beginning—at that time, although we had several scholars working in STS, I was one of only a handful with a degree in the field.
First, there are several journals published in Asia, but even some journals with longer histories than us still have some trouble with English. Although we’re not native English speakers, we’re very careful about that. We feel like for new topics like STS, you need to speak the same language so that it’s readable for scholars and for a common understanding of theoretical terms. You need some common ground to start with.
On another front, we treasure local communities: this was the most important feature in mind when we started EASTS. We’re not just a channel between Taiwan and the rest of the world; we want to see interactions among Asian societies. We intentionally set up an editorial structure to reflect that at the beginning, and we keep that tradition in mind while reviewing or soliciting papers or opening up special issues.
Can you talk about EASTS’s rich archive of special issues?
Over the years, we’ve created many special issues—probably ⅔ of our issues are thematic. This is one of the ways we recognize local traditions. The cover of our issue “Life, Science, and Power in History and Philosophy” (13.1) features a bust that’s instantly recognizable to people from Japan, especially those involved in the history of medicine, and it tells a story.
A good thing about special issues is that you can have local scholars control the quality of the issue and invite or encourage local contributors. The journal’s structure sets some basic limitations and provides a form that scholars can build on with their own creative, innovative sense. In that sense, Duke University Press did a great job working with us on that because we have a structure for our scholarship.
Our main source is international meetings, like 4S. We also attend regional conferences or conferences on Asian studies. This is very competitive work; at every conference, people compete for visibility. One phenomenon we’ve observed is that there are more and more STS or science panels at Asian studies conferences. That’s very different from what we had 10 years ago when I was a graduate student—in Asian studies, the dominant topics were culture, language, religion.
We also now have some local STS societies in East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, and Korea, and we’ve seen sizable submissions from some of these areas. And we value using the lens of STS to explore understudied areas such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and even Cambodia and India. That’s something we didn’t expect in the beginning, but we’re interested in providing good scholarship on these areas.
How would you like to shape the journal’s direction going forward?
We want to return to something universal, which is a bit of a conceptual change. Historically, we’ve emphasized the regional: providing scholarship on areas that are overlooked, understudied, marginalized, or even distorted by mainstream narratives. Now, though, it’s time for us to consider region as a lens for looking at the world. Some people assume that Asia is like Mars or the moon, separated from the rest of the world—but instead, through empirical studies or case studies on Asia, you can see the world in a different way.
We want to change the world through Asia. We want to pay more attention to connections, behaviors, common interests, collaborations, rather than just focusing on the differences between regions. That’s how we can creatively deal with global issues.