The growing importance of science and technology in modern political life calls for new approaches to policy research. These approaches must take account of recent scholarship on science and technology as social enterprises that not only inform policy but influence the very terms in which policies are conceptualized and implemented. The need to incorporate the social dimensions of science and technology into policy research is especially pronounced in cross-national and transnational settings. Policy challenges that demand such understanding include the identification and assessment of transnational impacts of science and technology; identification of barriers to the cross-cultural uptake and dissemination of new knowledge and technologies; understanding the causes of public skepticism and resistance; and learning from cross-national experiments in the design of risk and technology assessment, public participation, and expert advice.

The research problems of interest for this field involve rapid changes in science and technology that carry different consequences across sectors, cultures, and political systems. The linear causal models frequently adopted by disciplinary frameworks cannot easily explain such variations. Traditional methods assume either that scientific and technological innovation shape social responses, or that particular social factors explain why societies innovate. Instead, this field starts from the observation that science simultaneously shapes and is shaped by social, political, and cultural dynamics. The focus of the field is on comparative and international science, technology, and environmental policy research that illuminates this co-production of science and social order. Such research focuses on key moments of transformation in science and technology (e.g., emergence, stabilization, or controversy), as well as on the causal mechanisms (e.g., discourses, representations, identities, and institutions) that underpin the co-production of science and public policy.

Students interested in this field may come from varied disciplinary backgrounds, such as science and technology studies (STS), political science, public policy, sociology, history, economics, and anthropology. They may choose to work on a variety of policy arenas, including environment, biotechnology, information technology, and security. Preference will be given to students interested in the risks, benefits, and social dislocations associated with the globalization of science and technology; cross-national or global controversies surrounding science, technology, and the environment; international regulation of science and technology (e.g., through intellectual property rights, risk assessment, bioethics); regulatory standard-setting and harmonization; and the role of expertise in international policy making.   Students, deploying methods from their own disciplines, will learn from the other interpretive social sciences, learning to appreciate the value of ethnography, history, or comparative case studies as tools in the construction of the critical study of science and technology.

We expect students to bring their own approaches to bear on their chosen research topic while engaging with and learning from complementary approaches represented in the workshops.


  • Miriam Boyer

    Columbia University, Sociology

    From a Basic Staple to a Strategic Plant Genetic Resource: Maize, Biotechnology and the Transformation of Social Relations in Mexican Agriculture
    My dissertation will analyze the technological and sociopolitical process whereby genetic resources in agriculture are constituted. My goal is to define the central characteristics of capital accumulation based on the commodification of hereditary traits in plants—in terms of investment patterns, property rights regimes, and in particular the conflicts surrounding regulating political institutions. Since this creation of global markets is related to biodiversity as a resource of key economic importance, a first part will reconstruct historically the decisive reinvestment of petrochemical capital into the ‘life sciences industries’ and their expansion into mass markets of food production and more recently, agrofuels. The project will then turn to the concrete social relations in the production of genetic resources in agriculture in Mexico, the country with the greatest agricultural diversity in Maize. This grain has been a strategic focus of biotechnologies associated with the industrialization of agriculture during the ‘green revolution’, and more recently with technologies allowing the specific control of genetic traits. The analytical focus throughout will be on the dissociation between territorial and economic control of genetic resources; tensions among regulating political institutions— including national, local and supranational regimes; and alternative visions and practices with agricultural resources by local communities.
  • Yu-Ju Chien

    University of Minnesota / Twin Cities, Sociology

    The Role of Intergovernmental Organizations in the Production of Scientific Knowledge on Avian Influenza
    My research explores how intergovernmental organizations mediate knowledge and policy production in response to a new disease—avian influenza. As the most legitimate source of information, UN affiliated organizations, including the World Health Organization (WTO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), have coordinated scientific research endeavors and proposed global preparedness and response plans. However, scientific understanding about the disease’s casualty and transmission mechanisms is not definitive today. Experts of various disciplines have different perspectives and focuses. Some recommendations were criticized for ignoring certain key factors such as commercial farms. Given this scientific indeterminacy and controversy, my research seeks to explain the dynamic process between knowledge production and policy construction. Through what processes do these organizations filter various perspectives and achieve policy recommendations? By using in-depth interviews and archival analysis, I will investigate three questions. First, what external and internal factors influence knowledge production within these organizations? Second, how are organizations shaping the content and hierarchy of knowledge on avian influenza? Third, what is the relationship between knowledge and policies? The research will contribute to our understanding about how organizations construct knowledge and perceptions.
  • Erica Christine Dwyer

    University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology of Science

    Making sick people - saving lives and building careers in times of global health crisis.
    In 2006, Yale researchers announced the presence of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) in a remote hospital in South Africa. 52 of 53 patients had died within a month of being seen; most were HIV positive. Experts warned of a new, frightening infectious disease: this "virtually untreatable," "rapidly fatal," "extreme" illness was poised to "imperil millions." The patients described were indeed dying from devastating TB infection. Yet tuberculosis has been endemic in South Africa for generations; TB resistant to all available drugs has been known since the 1990s; and the Yale patients were not as much untreatable as untreated - most of them had never received anti-TB medications. This dissertation will interrogate the processes through which a small cluster of deaths in remote rural South Africa was plausibly converted into an urgent global health crisis. What strategies have been used by academics and international organizations to identify and prioritize crises of human suffering in medical terms? What consequences does this biomedical framework have for the proposed solutions to these crises? In the context of HIV/AIDS, how has South Africa's post-apartheid relationship with the global community been affected by the dominant application of biomedical lenses to societal problems?
  • Jakob Feinig

    State University of New York (SUNY) / Binghamton University, Sociology

    Making Monetary Politics Safe for Democracy - The Legitimacy of Independent Central Banks in Europe
    I want to find out what enables unaccountable central banks to operate almost entirely unhampered by democratic control and public pressure. How and why is it that the rule of central bankers is much less challenged than that of other experts? This is a very surprising phenomenon given the crucial socio-political importance of this institution. How and why are disinterest and acquiescence produced? I hypothesize that, comparing France and Switzerland, I will find similarities, most importantly the depoliticization of monetary issues for the public at large. I excpect this to be the case despite quite disparate contexts: France is a large, politically much more unsettled country with a new currency and a non-national central bank. Switzerland is very different in all these respects. I intend to conduct and interpret interviews with people from different backgrounds and analyze public media and high school textbooks. My proposal opens a window to look at processes of state legitimization and social regulation - traditional social science concerns - in its relation with scientific truth claims, in this case economics. I further touch on political theory issues pertaining to democracy and expertise.
  • Elizabeth Hennessy

    University of North Carolina / Chapel Hill, Geography

    Turtles All the Way Down: Scientific Knowledge and the Governance of Crisis in the Galapagos Islands
    World-renowned for their endemic biodiversity and for inspiring Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Galapagos National Park is often referred to as the world’s most famous “living laboratory.” Over the past 10 years, however, tourism has boomed and unprecedented numbers of people have migrated to the islands in pursuit of economic opportunity. These migrants see the islands as rich in natural resources and livelihood possibilities, but local scientists and policy makers see the very presence of people as threatening the fragile natural ecosystem. This concern prompted the Government of Ecuador to declare the islands “at risk” in April 2007. UNESCO soon followed, declaring the World Heritage Site “in danger.” My work addresses the dynamics of this crisis through an institutional ethnography of two institutions at the center of environmental governance in the Galapagos: the Galapagos National Park and its research complement, the Charles Darwin Research Station. I explore how scientific knowledge is embodied in experts in these institutions, enacted as they work together to manage the crisis, and contested as policies are translated to local populations. This work explores how boundaries between institutions and ways of knowing are replicated in the physical and social landscape of the islands.
  • Anna Jabloner

    University of Chicago, Anthropology

    Multicultural Technologies of 'Race': (Re)Productions of Racism in European and US Gene Databases - A Comparative Analysis
    Over the past two decades, several countries, among them the United States and Iceland, have initiated large-scale, multidisciplinary human genetic research projects that combine efforts of governments, biotechnology corporations and individuals who give blood samples. These projects aim at representing and archiving (parts of) humanity through collecting varied human genetic codes. I would like to examine (re)conceptualizations of ‘race’ through technologies or knowledge managements systems like databases. Viewed critically, databases as multicultural technologies are based on certain ideas about biological classification. I am interested to explore whether ‘race’ as a classificatory category is still based on biologically determinist narratives or whether it is being re-conceptualized in cultural terms. My specific interest in this study lies in its relevance to urgent political questions – of (anti)racism and nationalism, of citizenship, of conceptions of the human – as they are ultimately delegated to science. Just as the search for genetic bases of diseases eventually encounters the question of ‘race’, so do genetic databases: in their endeavor to represent humanity in its totality, don't they need to make a definition of what counts as human? Examined critically, the question of a human gene pool appears to be structured by political and racial vectors.
  • Katherine E. Kenny

    University of California / San Diego, Sociology

    Different publics, different health? Local and global knowledges in international tobacco control
    On February 28th, 2005, the world’s first international public health treaty came into force under the auspices of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). As an unprecedented development in tobacco control, and international public health, the FCTC provides an exemplary case to consider questions of local and global knowledge, competing conceptions of health and disease, constructions of risk, public participation and global governance. I employ a range of qualitative methods in order to offer an interpretive analysis of the complex interweavings of cognitive, material, social and political aspects of this attempt at international public health and global governance. I argue that the FCTC operates on a traditional model of the relationship between science and policy, which tends to reify the distinction between global science and local politics. In advising member-states on how to design effective tobacco control strategies, the FCTC urges governments to recognize the importance of nationally specific ‘socio-political environments’ while simultaneously acknowledging the ‘global evidence’ of scientific tobacco research. I argue that the FCTC thus assumes a degree of universality to scientific knowledge that obfuscates the important social, political and cultural processes through which both science and policy, and experts and subjects, are co-produced.
  • Abigail Noelle Martin

    University of California / Berkeley, Environmental Science, Policy & Management

    Towards Biomass Sustainability Assurance: Technology, Politics and Governance
    The rapid expansion of biofuels promises new energy sources, economic gains for rural areas and developing countries, and feasible reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, potential negative ecological and social impacts of increased biofuel production loom large. As international trade in biofuels increases, mechanisms are needed to ensure biofuels are produced sustainably. To address this governance gap, a variety of multi-stakeholder initiatives are underway working to help establish minimum social and ecological standards for biofuels that will be internationally acceptable. These global standards will help structure supply chains and will shape trajectories for emerging bio-based industries. Given that biofuel sustainability standards are co-emerging with second-generation biofuel technologies, this research posits that these standards will not only prove to be a new site of transnational environmental governance, but also a productive of technological governance. Through process-tracing case studies of multi-stakeholder initiatives to construct biofuel sustainability standards, this research draws from Science and Technology Studies and the field of International Environmental Politics and Policy to further our understanding of how environmental governance is constructed by transnational actors of both major biofuel producing and consuming countries, and how sustainability standards may shape corporate behavior in research and development for biofuel technologies.
  • Chad Monfreda

    Arizona State University, Science Policy

    The Emergence of Public Reasoning in Global Environmental Governance: Cognitive Competition in IMoSEB and the MA
    Science and technology studies have revealed global expert institutions as sources of political order in their production, validation, and use of knowledge. While much of the work on global environmental institutions has focused on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other expert bodies related to climate change, less attention has been given to another aspect of the global environment—biodiversity and ecosystem change. The science and politics of biodiversity and ecosystem change are much different than those of climate change, making the topic fertile for further research. Two efforts to institutionalize global science advice in this area are of particular interest—the consultative process towards an International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise for Biodiversity (IMoSEB) and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). Although there is much overlap between the scientists, policymakers, other participants in the two efforts, the communities involved exhibit distinct language, norms, standards, goals, and styles of reasoning. In this study, comparative analyses on shared and unshared ideas of what counts as appropriate scientific representation, what kinds of institutions are needed to address biodiversity loss, and which discourses are valid shed light on the processes involved in the emergence of global forms of public reasoning and political order.
  • Tischa A. Munoz-Erickson

    Arizona State University, Environmental Policy and Governance

    Science, Policy and Water Governance in Puerto Rico: A Cross-Cultural Assessment of Knowledge Production for Sustainability.
    Water sustainability is a key issue affecting human health and the environment, especially in light of global land use and environmental change. While water insufficiency is usually addressed through technological improvements, research increasingly suggests that institutional failure is a major driver; thus the need to pay greater attention to water governance. In the Luquillo Mountains of eastern Puerto Rico, scientists, water managers and civil society groups are engaging in deliberative forums to discuss science and policy priorities for regional sustainable water management. At the same time, the current legal and institutional framework is undergoing numerous modifications (e.g. decentralization and municipal land use zoning regulations). This presents a dynamic context in which to analyze barriers and opportunities to the production and dissemination of new knowledge and technologies, and the potential for adaptive water governance. This study proposes a stakeholder analysis and a characterization of discourses that are emerging at multiple institutional scales in this region. Interviews and document analysis will be used to examine the framing of water conflicts and stakeholder perspectives about water management, sustainable development, and the role of science and experts in decision-making. This study will set the stage for future comparative analysis to understand how emerging science and policy arrangements in a cross-cultural context.
  • Nathan E. Roberts

    University of Washington, History

    An Empire of Trees: U.S. Forest Policy among Filipinos and American Indians, 1875-1930
    Abstract. As forest conservation policy was finding traction in the halls of U.S. bureaucracy, the United States was extending its empire out over the many forested island of the Philippines. State forest managers and academically-trained scientists viewed the islands’ famed tropical hardwood forests as a new frontier where they could measure, manage, and conserve valuable stands of trees for wise use. The impetus for capturing Philippine people and forests was often generated out of a comparison to American Indians’ places in American society. By comparing the forestry policies that the United States implemented in the Philippine and on Native American Reservations, a new version of American imperial policy is sure to demonstrate how environmental knowledge passes back and forth between colonies and the metropole.
  • Lee Jared Vinsel

    Carnegie Mellon University, History

    Paper Tigers in an Asphalt Jungle: State Management of the Automobile in the United States, 1966-1988
    In the United States, the 1960s and 1970s were an intense period of peacetime institution building in the federal government, rivaled only by the New Deal. Due to the pressures of consumer advocates, such as Ralph Nader, many agencies created during this time dealt with issues of technological risk. This project will study the organization and construction of three such agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Department of Energy—by examining their regulation and information gathering on a common object—the automobile. Whether as the perpetrators of traffic fatalities, producers of toxic emissions, or victims of fuel shortages, cars played an important role in discourses about risk and technological innovation during this era. Studying these agencies affords a view on how risk perception and the labor of paper pushing influenced technical change. Furthermore, by utilizing the perspective of co-production, we can see how social factors, such as networks, trust, and political influence, structured technological systems and how these technological assemblages simultaneously shaped policy and the social ties between the federal bureaucracy, consumerist groups, and corporations. Finally, examining the transition from Keynesianism to the “neoliberalism” of the 1980s will clarify how deregulation, both official and unofficial, altered these technopolitical regimes.