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STSS Science, Technology, and Society Studies

I was part of the inaugural cohort of the University of Washington graduate certificate program in Science, Technology, and Society Studies (STSS). I have collected here musings and products from my time in the certificate program, 2015-2017.

What is STSS?

I should start with this fundamental question as I must admit I still have difficulty defining STSS — to myself and to others. Definitional clarity is important to me, especially as someone who inhabits interdisciplinary spaces where similar terms can have nuanced and different meanings to different audiences. Going into the STSS program, I knew enough about STSS to determine I was interested and wanted to become more familiar with the methods and ideas. At the time, I would have probably defined it as something like “science from the outside,” referring to how STSS scholars are typically examining and critiquing science as external observers versus as practitioners of science (though in my case I’m kind of both).

In my own struggle for definitional clarity, I keep returning to Pickersgill (2013) who, citing the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, defines STS(S) as “an interdisciplinary field that is creating an integrative understanding of the origins, dynamics, and consequences of science and technology.” He calls STSS both a “specific disciplinary field and an interdisciplinary milieu.” Yes, it was this “milieu” that I felt myself swimming in, trying to grasp exactly what STSS is and how people actually do it.

I have settled on a less than pristine, still party inductive, understanding of what STSS. I see multiple disciplines engaged in this work: philosophers, linguists, anthropologists, social scientists, e.g.; using a variety of methodologies and theories. A key feature of STSS is the centrality of science and scientist as an object of study, rather than a bringer of objective and un-socialized or un-politicized truths. Because there are apparently so many ways and venues in which to do STSS work, I am reminded of the infamous Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s characterization of pornography: “I know it when I see it” (378 U.S. 184 Jacobellis v. Ohio 1964).

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