Newer Works in STS

The Golem: What You Should Know about Science
Harry M. Collins and Trevor Pinch

The Golem series was quite the success when it’s first published. Obviously, the first volume was the most important in the series.

In the book, the authors associate the Golem with science. What is the Golem? It is a creature borrowed from Jewish mythology. It’s ugly but not evil. The Golem is powerful but not dangerous, it is just clumsy.

The second volume was dedicated to technology. Following the same trail of the first case study, the authors demonstrate that everything wrong with technology is the result of faulty science. The two volumes complement each other.

Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life
Theodore M. Porter

A heavyweight investigative work that explores how the cultural meanings of objectivity evolved over the last two hundred years. How quantitative methods gained such appeal in the modern world? The typical answer is that quantification helped in the study of nature. But the author disagrees.

He argues that studying human societies isn’t the same as studying atoms, stars, and cells. Apparently, he encourages the reader to look in the opposite direction. Understanding the allure of quantification in social sciences will help shed light on the role it plays in natural sciences. The book gives many examples.

Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison

This book displays the advent of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences, as documented on the pages of scientific atlases. A narrative of how haughty epistemic notions blend with workaday activities. The history of objectivity is not void of surprises. In the book, the authors reveal the how misunderstood objectivity was ad still is.

Other notable STS books include:

Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life by Kaushik Sunder Rajan

Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies by Bruno Latour

Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity by Ulrich Beck

Landmark Books in Science, Tech, and Society

We Have Never Been Modern
Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour is also the author of Science in Action, a significant book on science, technology and how they intertwine out of the 1980’s. The basic premise was when you follow scientists and engineers you could see how science, technology, and society produce each other in a continuing process of refining facts, theories, human actors, and social relations.

This is the actor-network theory, which challenged the established technological and social determinist perspectives (technological advances is responsible for social change, or vice versa). Furthermore, it blurs the dualist separation between human and non-human experience of the world. For example, natural sciences seeks to understand the world independent of human perception of it.

The question being if nature and society are coproduced, who was there first the world or humans? In We Have Never Been Modern, Latour introduce some intriguing concepts about time, imagination, and society.

The Social Construction of What?
Ian Hacking

A brilliant book about the philosophy and history of science. Hacking discuss and dismantle the Science Wars, or the so-called Culture Wars. The book is a serious read that challenge the reader to think about controversial topics. It summarizes the meaning of social construction in a series of questions that attacks the nature of scientific facts:

    • How nominalism change our perspective on science, technology and society?
    • Are scientific facts a creation of language? Does words determine scientific facts?
    • Has historical contingency anything to do with science?
    • What is the relation between scientific facts and history? If history was different, would the scientific facts change with it?
    • Does stability has hand in it?
  • Are scientific facts reflective of reality or what political\social powers want them to be?

The answers to these questions can’t be ignored, and that’s the core of The Social Construction of What?

Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life
Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer

In this book, the authors dare to break out of the conventional confinement of the history of science. It is a book that represent an “exercise in the sociology of scientific knowledge.” Shapin and Schaffer craftily discuss the implications of the history of science debate between Hobbes and Boyle. They use their results to provide a sensible explanation of the experimental enterprise. They find that despite not being philosophical by nature, philosophy is a substantial part of it.

Without a doubt, it’s one of the most important books ever written about the subject of the history of science. Furthermore, the book assert that you can’t simply cut out science of its societal context.

What is STS?

Recently, Science and Technology Studies (STS) started to capture the attention of the academic world. You can trace back its roots all the way to the World War I and II up to the Cold War. Historians, sociologists of science, and even scientists noticed how scientific knowledge and technology change society.

Authors like Thomas Kuhn fanned the interest by writing The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The seminal book explored how social programming influenced historical and social studies of science.

It was a novel idea when the book was first published. It mean that supposed scientific truths weren’t objective facts rooted in reality but the result of socially conditioned minds.

The book inspired social scientists to explore the relationship between science, technology, and how they affect
other areas of society including law, politics, and culture.

The following list contains many great books in the field of science, technology and society for those who want to explore those intriguing concepts.

Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences
Geoffrey C. Bowker, Susan Leigh Star

Sorting Things Out isn’t easy to read but it’s a fundamental work that explores the subject under a new light. Both of the authors are communication professors at the University of California. In their book, they detail how once a classification system is set in motion it takes over society in subtle, invisible ways.

They used three main examples to illustrate their point: the International Classification of Diseases, the Nursing Interventions Classifications, the South African race classification under apartheid, and others.

The book explores the role classification plays in mega infrastructures, the relationship between classification and biography, and classification in professional settings. It further explores the effects of classification on society, politics, and economy.