New article by Tom Scott-Smith explores 'stickiness' in humanitarian technologies

09 January, 2018

A new article by Tom Scott-Smith explores the concept of 'stickiness' in humanitarian technologies using the example of the Plumpy’nut® therapeutic food product.

Inspired by de Laet and Mol’s classic article on the Zimbabwean Bush Pump and Peter Redfield’s revival of fluidity as a central characteristic of humanitarian design, the paper argues that many humanitarian technologies are characterized not so much by fluidity as by stickiness. Sticky technologies lie somewhere between fluid technologies and Latourian immutable mobiles: they work precisely because they are mobile and not overly adaptable, yet they retain some flexibility by reaching out to shape and be shaped by their users.

The concept is introduced through a detailed study of Plumpy’nut®, a peanut paste for therapeutic feeding that is materially sticky – much firmer than a fluid, yet still mutable – as well as conceptually sticky. ‘Stickiness’ can have wide utility for thinking through technology and humanitarianism.

Tom Scott-Smith (2018) 'Sticky technologies: Plumpy’nut®, emergency feeding and the viscosity of humanitarian design', Social Studies of Science, DOI: 10.1177/0306312717747418