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Science, technology, and society

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Science, technology, and society

Science, technology and society (STS), also referred to as science and technology studies, is the study of how social, political, and cultural values affect scientific research and technological innovation, and how these, in turn, affect society, politics and culture. STS scholars are interested in a variety of problems including the relationships between scientific and technological innovations and society, and the directions and risks of science and technology. More than two dozen universities worldwide offer bachelor's degrees in STS. About half of these also offer Doctoral or Masters degrees. An STS model has been developed by the scholars to consider the internal and external effects. The field of STS is related to history and philosophy of science although with a much broader emphasis on social aspects of science and technology.


STS is a new and expanding subject; for example, in 2011, globally the existence of 111 STS programs has been counted.[1]

Like most interdisciplinary programs, it emerged from the confluence of a variety of disciplines and disciplinary subfields, all of which had developed an interest—typically, during the 1960s or 1970s—in viewing science and technology as socially embedded enterprises.

Early developments

The key disciplinary components of STS took shape independently, beginning in the 1960s, and developed in isolation from each other well into the 1980s, although Ludwig Fleck's monograph (1935) Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact anticipated many of STS's key themes:

  • Science studies, a branch of the sociology of scientific knowledge that places scientific controversies in their social context.
  • History of technology, that examines technology in its social and historical context. Starting in the 1960s, some historians questioned technological determinism, a doctrine that can induce public passivity to technologic and scientific 'natural' development. At the same time, some historians began to develop similarly contextual approaches to the history of medicine.
  • History and philosophy of science (1960s). After the publication of Thomas Kuhn's well-known The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which attributed changes in scientific theories to changes in underlying intellectual paradigms, programs were founded at the University of California, Berkeley and elsewhere that brought historians of science and philosophers together in unified programs.
  • Science, technology, and society In the mid- to late-1960s, student and faculty social movements in the U.S., UK, and European universities helped to launch a range of new interdisciplinary fields (such as women's studies) that were seen to address relevant topics that the traditional curriculum ignored. One such development was the rise of "science, technology, and society" programs, which are also—confusingly—known by the STS acronym. Drawn from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, history, political science, and sociology, scholars in these programs created undergraduate curricula devoted to exploring the issues raised by science and technology. Unlike scholars in science studies, history of technology, or the history and philosophy of science, they were and are more likely to see themselves as activists working for change rather than dispassionate, "ivory tower" researchers. As an example of the activist impulse, feminist scholars in this and other emerging STS areas addressed themselves to the exclusion of women from science and engineering.
  • Science, engineering, and public policy studies emerged in the 1970s from the same concerns that motivated the founders of the science, technology, and society movement: A sense that science and technology were developing in ways that were increasingly at odds with the public's best interests. The science, technology, and society movement tried to humanize those who would make tomorrow's science and technology, but this discipline took a different approach: It would train students with the professional skills needed to become players in science and technology policy. Some programs came to emphasize quantitative methodologies, and most of these were eventually absorbed into systems engineering. Others emphasized sociological and qualitative approaches, and found that their closest kin could be found among scholars in science, technology, and society departments.

During the 1970s and 1980s, leading universities in the US, UK, and Europe began drawing these various components together in new, interdisciplinary programs. For example, in the 1970s, Cornell University developed a new program that united science studies and policy-oriented scholars with historians and philosophers of science and technology. Each of these programs developed unique identities due to variation in the components that were drawn together, as well as their location within the various universities.

For example, the University of Virginia's STS program united scholars drawn from a variety of fields (with particular strength in the history of technology); however, the program's teaching responsibilities—it is located within an engineering school and teaches ethics to undergraduate engineering students—means that all of its faculty share a strong interest in engineering ethics.

The "turn to technology" (and beyond)

A decisive moment in the development of STS was the mid-1980s addition of technology studies to the range of interests reflected in science . During that decade, two works appeared en seriatim that signaled what Steve Woolgar was to call the "turn to technology": Social Shaping of Technology (MacKenzie and Wajcman, 1985) and The Social Construction of Technological Systems (Bijker, Hughes and Pinch, 1987). MacKenzie and Wajcman primed the pump by publishing a collection of articles attesting to the influence of society on technological design. In a seminal article, Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker attached all the legitimacy of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge to this development by showing how the sociology of technology could proceed along precisely the theoretical and methodological lines established by the sociology of scientific knowledge. This was the intellectual foundation of the field they called the social construction of technology.

The "turn to technology" helped to cement an already growing awareness of underlying unity among the various emerging STS programs. More recently, there has been an associated turn to ecology, nature, and materiality in general, whereby the socio-technical and natural/material co-produce each other. This is especially evident in work in STS analyses of biomedicine (such as Carl May, Annemarie Mol, Nelly Oudshoorn, and Andrew Webster) and ecological interventions (such as Bruno Latour, Sheila Jasanoff, Matthias Gross, and Jens Lachmund).

Professional associations

The subject has several professional associations.

Founded in 1975, the Society for Social Studies of Science, initially provided scholarly communication facilities—including a journal (Science, Technology, and Human Values) and annual meetings—that were mainly attended by science studies scholars, but the society has since grown into the most important professional association of science and technology studies scholars worldwide. The Society for Social Studies of Science members also include government and industry officials concerned with research and development as well as science and technology policy; scientists and engineers who wish to better understand the social embeddedness of their professional practice; and citizens concerned about the impact of science and technology in their lives. Proposals have been made to add the word "technology" to the association's name, thereby reflecting its stature as the leading STS professional society, but there seems to be widespread sentiment that the name is long enough as it is.

In Europe, the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST)[2] was founded in 1981 to stimulate communication, exchange and collaboration in the field of studies of science and technology. Similarly, the European Inter-University Association on Society, Science and Technology (ESST) researches and studies science and technology in society, in both historical and contemporary perspectives.

In Asia several STS associations exist. In Japan, the Japanese Society for Science and Technology Studies (JSSTS)[3] was founded in 2001. The Asia Pacific Science Technology & Society Network (APSTSN)[4] primarily has members from Australasia, Southeast and East Asia and Oceania.

Founded in 1958, the Society for the History of Technology initially attracted members from the history profession who had interests in the contextual history of technology. After the "turn to technology" in the mid-1980s, the society's well-regarded journal (Technology and Culture) and its annual meetings began to attract considerable interest from non-historians with technology studies interests.

Less identified with STS, but also of importance to many STS scholars in the US, are the History of Science Society, the Philosophy of Science Association, and the American Association for the History of Medicine. In addition, there are significant STS-oriented special interest groups within major disciplinary associations, including the American Anthropological Association, the American Political Science Association, and the American Sociological Association.


Notable peer-reviewed journals in STS include: Social Studies of Science, Science, Technology and Human Values, Science & Technology Studies, Technology in Society, Research Policy, Minerva: A Journal of Science, Learning and Policy, Science, Technology and Society, Science as Culture, Technology and Culture, and Science and Public Policy.

Student journals in STS include: Intersect: the Journal of Science, Technology, and Society at Stanford, DEMESCI: International Journal of Deliberative Mechanisms in Science, and Synthesis: An Undergraduate Journal of the History of Science at Harvard.

See also

Technology portal



Further reading

  • Bauchspies, Wenda, Jennifer Croissant, and Sal Restivo (2005). Science, Technology, and Society: A Sociological Approach (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).
  • Bijker, Wiebe, Hughes, Thomas & Pinch, Trevor, eds. (1987). The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology Cambridge MA/London: MIT Press.
  • Bijker, Wiebe and John Law, eds. (1994). Shaping Technology / Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (Inside Technology Series).
  • Bloor, David (1976). Knowledge and Social Imagery (Routledge, 1976; 2nd edition Chicago University Press, 1991)
  • (2nd edition, with James H. Collier, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004)
  • Gross, Matthias (2010). Ignorance and Surprise: Science, Society, Ecological Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (Inside Technology Series).
  • Jasanoff, Sheila, Markle, Gerald, Petersen, James and Pinch, Trevor, eds. (1994). Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Lachmund, Jens (2013). Greening Berlin: The Co-production of Science, Politics, and Urban Nature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (Inside Technology Series).
  • MacKenzie, Donald & Wajcman, Judy (eds.) (1999). The Social Shaping of Technology: How the Refrigerator Got Its Hum, Milton Keynes, Open University Press.
  • MacKenzie, Donald (1996). Knowing Machines: Essays on Technical Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (Inside Technology Series).
  • Mol, Annemarie (2002). The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice, Duke University Press Books.
  • Restivo, Sal (editor-in-chief), Science, Technology, and Society: An Encyclopedia. New York: Oxford, 2005.
  • Restivo, Sal (1992), Mathematics in Society and History. New York: Springer.
  • Rip, Arie, Thomas J. Misa and Johan Schot, eds. (1995). Managing Technology in Society: The approach of Constructive Technology Assessment London/NY: Pinter.
  • Rosenberg, Nathan (1994) Exploring the Black Box: Technology, Economics and History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Werskey, Gary. The Marxist Critique of Capitalist Science: A History in Three Movements?. The Human Nature Review. 2011-05-21. URL:
  • Williams, Robin and Edge, David html version).

External links

  • STSWiki (devoted to building resources, such as a worldwide list of STS programs and scholars)
  • STS-Wiki of (Dutch) STS PhD research school (this page is partly a private wiki)
  • Argentinean Network for Science and Technology Studies
  • Instituto de Estudios sobre la Ciencia y la Tecnología - Universidad Nacional de Quilmes
  • Social Studies of Science
  • Science, Technology and Human Values
  • Science & Technology Studies
  • Technology in Society
  • Research Policy
  • Minerva: A Journal of Science, Learning and Policy
  • Science Technology and Society
  • Science as Culture
  • Technology and Culture
  • Science and Public Policy
Student journals
  • Intersect: the Journal of Science, Technology, and Society, Stanford University
  • DEMESCI: International Journal of Deliberative Mechanisms in Science

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