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Constructing Meaning: Social Studies of Scientific Knowledge and the History of Medicine (Roberta Bivins)

Since the 1970s, philosophers*, sociologists, anthropologists, linguists and economists have en masse turned their hands (and their respective disciplinary tools and approaches) to analysis of the place of the sciences in, and as, society. In the process, they created a new and burgeoning ‘interdiscipline’ known variously as ‘Science and Technology Studies’[ STS], ‘Sociology of Scientific Knowledge’ [SSK], or simply ‘Science Studies’. In these two sessions, we will explore the techniques and approaches developed in STS, and their impact on (or potential value for) the history of medicine. In session one (week 9), we will ask:

  1. What does this STS/SSK/Science Studies stuff look like, anyway?
  2. Revolution or evolution (or: is this stuff really as new and powerful as it likes to think?)
  3. What has it done for me lately?

Required reading

(and yes, it’s a big chunk. I recommend sampling a bit of each of the books, then reading the one you like best, alongside book reviews from JSTOR of the other. Read the first and last articles, and one of either M'Charek and Fausto Sterling, as demonstrations of what good STS can contribute to the history of medicine):

'The Significance of Science Studies’ 4S Review, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Summer, 1984), pp. 5-9

Anne Fausto Sterling, ‘Refashioning Race: DNA and the Politics of Health Care’, d i f f e r e n c e s : A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 15:3 (2004): 2-37. ProjectMuse

T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd. ed., (1970).

Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: the Social Construction of Scientific Facts, Sage, Los Angeles, USA, 1979. (Or if you prefer your theory straight-up, rather than demonstrated in a case study, Bruno Latour, Science In Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society (1987)

Amâde M’charek, ‘Technologies of Population: Forensic DNA Testing Practices and the Making of Differences and Similarities’, Configurations, 8 (2000): 121–158 Research Pro

Langdon Winner, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" in Daedalus, Vol. 109, No. 1, Winter 1980. Reprinted in The Social Shaping of Technology, edited by Donald A. MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman (1985; second edition 1999).

*Oh all right, since you ask, yes the philosophers have been doing this for much longer – but no one really took any notice until the sociologists joined in, and the philosophers got political…