Ending STS?

Although it might be poor career advice to (try to) follow in the footsteps of the great Bruno Latour — who has done so much to cultivate the narrow world of STS — I wonder if we might all benefit from taking a look at his recent playbook.

It has been a good while since Latour did some old fashioned, empirical STS. HIs books are now mainly about political ecology or attacking the “social” parts of sociology. I was reminded of this as I casually glanced at the history of STS on-line today — in particular, the section about history and the origins of STS. As I reviewed the rundown of founding questions, I got the feeling that the work is (in an odd way) done; that we have succeeded in our original aims, those being (in loose historical order):

1. putting scientific controversies in their social context; showing how facts are constructed — DONE.

2. challenging “technological determinism” by studying the spread and history of technology to show that technologies do not spread or shape history of their own volition — DONE.

3. bringing together historians and philosophers of science in recognition of Kuhn’s historic work about paradigm shifts wherein the appreciation that scholars in STS must have a dual-knowledge of both their subject matter and their home discipline — DONE.

4. generate inclusive STS community composed of anthropologists, historians, philosophers, political scientists, sociologists, to a lesser extent psychologists and linguists, etc. with some of those folks being of the “activistic” stripe, for example, those aiming to raise awareness for a particular issue or illness and those aiming for equality according to race, gender, or nationality — DONE? (and if not “done” then this aspirational goal will be ongoing for the foreseeable future).

5. examine science and technology policy and if they can be shaped by the public and to better serve the public — DONE (and if not “done” then this aspirational goal will go on forever as policy seems to forever change).

In STS, it appears that we might be suffering from some mission drift, as we say in organizaitonal studies, meaning that the reason we have STS in the first place have been to some extent “handled” and now our “mission” (if you can call it that) must become sufficiently ambiguous so that we can never know whether or not it has been completed/achieved (like the U.S.-based “March of Dimes”).

The implicaiton might also be, in a Latourian twist, should we end STS? Disperse its insights into other disciplines and try to find out where in the world STS is valuable outside of STS?

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About Nicholas

Associate Professor of Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Penn State, Nicholas mainly writes about understanding the scientific study of states and, thus, it is namely about state theory. Given his training in sociology and STS, he takes a decidedly STS-oriented approach to state theory and issues of governance.

One thought on “Ending STS?

  1. Hi Nicholas, Yes, something like that is what I meant. I meet lots of historians and other humanities scholars who aren’t very aware of STS. Unlike say "deconstruction" which everyone in the social sciences has heard of (even if they don’t care for it or have really engaged with it).

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