Anthropology Science Studies
Michael Fortun
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0088


Behind the seeming concision and coherence of the name “science studies” lies multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary forms of scholarship that analyze the sciences in all their historical, cultural, conceptual, pragmatic, and political complexity. It is an unfortunate name in so many ways: the singular “science,” when so many studies have shown the multiple and shifting quality of the sciences through time and across cultural contexts; its awkward translation into a professional identity (we speak easily of historians of science, philosophers of science, anthropologists of science, or critical theorists of science, among other terms, but never of the “science studier” or the “student of science”); and the implicit differentiation of “science” from its “study,” as if the latter were of a lesser order, from which the former could be clearly demarcated and thereby elevated (a “study of science” could never aspire to the same epistemic authority, it seems, as a “science of science” might, should it ever exist—which, again by implication, it won’t). Indeed, one positive dimension of the many works that make up science studies is that they have taught us how to raise precisely these kinds of questions and concerns, and why it is important to do so. For as long as there has been something named “science,” and in as many places as “science” has been so named, it has never been able to fully insulate itself from such essentially anthropological questions: How is science actually, successfully done? What seems to make that doing of science different from the doing of “social science,” humanities, or other forms of “study”? Why are the truths of science, at least in certain contexts, so authoritative as to be practically synonymous with truth itself? Why does science so frequently disavow philosophy, religious or similar beliefs, politics, ethical action, cultural imbrication, or the “arts” (practical or aesthetic) when it is so obviously associated with if not utterly dependent on these other, and “othered,” dimensions of our lives as humans—or, if you prefer, as Homo sapiens? What follows is one science student’s selective guide to the enduring, diverse, and lively scholarship collected under the banner of science studies that raises and sometimes answers these questions and many others of a similar kind. This is humanities and social science scholarship that offers important outside perspectives on, or necessary supplements to, the sciences and the truths, fruits, dilemmas, and problems that they present to us—reminding us, in the process, what a diverse lot “we” are, subject to science in uneven ways. And what follows is one life scientist’s introduction to the some of the truths about truths that many of us have developed, creating and posing questions about the nature of nature and how matter matters, inventing devices to query the world’s conundrums anew, to think better about the material and immaterial worlds we inhabit, and so better conform it to changing and frequently conflicting concerns—things with meaning. Such is the curious conjunction that studies of/in science are always about.

General Overviews

The works listed here provide overviews of and numerous entry points into the growing literatures in the different disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields of science studies. Some of these, such as Hackett, et al. 2007 and Jasanoff, et al. 1995, cover the broader territory called “STS,” or science and technology studies. Although science and technology do indeed overlap, conceptually and historically, they are also different enough that here and in the remainder of this bibliographic guide, the focus tends to be on the sciences and their emphasis on meaning-making, rather than the more tool-making orientation of technology. This is a crude and in some ways unwise distinction (which is why some scholars prefer the term “technoscience” to either science or technology), but the reader who wants to explore the more technological side of things will still find many beginning points here. Fischer 2007 provides a dense and wide-ranging survey of the ongoing intellectual “genealogies” of philosophers, historians, anthropologists, and practicing scientists themselves who have analyzed the sciences, many long before “science studies” garnered a name for itself in the 1980s. Two recent Handbooks of Science and Technology Studies (Hackett, et al. 2007 and Jasanoff, et al. 1995) provide numerous topically oriented review essays on a wide array of science study areas, from militarism to rhetoric. Biagioli 1999 tends toward historical and cultural studies, and contains reprints of many seminal essays by Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, and numerous others. Fortun and Bernstein 1998 represents one attempt to translate science studies into a more popular vernacular.

  • Biagioli, Mario, ed. 1999. The science studies reader. New York: Routledge.

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    An anthology of many important science studies writings, mostly from the 1990s, and mostly by historians of science.

  • Fischer, Michael M. J. 2007. Four genealogies for a recombinant anthropology of science and technology. Cultural Anthropology 22.4: 539–615.

    DOI: 10.1525/can.2007.22.4.539E-mail Citation »

    While foregrounding anthropological studies of science in cultural context, this overview extends the usual time frame of “science studies” to include diverse early-20th-century intellectuals who engaged science, and it calls for future scholarship that reiterates elements of these traditions to cultivate global, cosmopolitan sciences.

  • Fortun, Mike, and Herbert J. Bernstein. 1998. Muddling through: Pursuing science and truths in the 21st century. Washington, DC: Counterpoint.

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    Coauthored by a historian/anthropologist and a physicist, Muddling Through uses writings by historians, anthropologists, philosophers, feminist theorists, and scientists themselves to articulate the complex “in-betweens” in which science always takes place.

  • Hackett, Edward J., Olga Amsterdamska, Michael E. Lynch, and Judy Wajcman, eds. 2007. The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. 3d ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    The most recent Handbook produced under the aegis of the Society for the Social Studies of Science; its nearly seventy essays provide the most recent and encompassing view of contemporary science studies.

  • Jasanoff, Sheila, Gerald E. Markle, James C. Peterson, and Trevor J. Pinch, eds. 1995. Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Rev. ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This Handbook precedes the Hackett, et al. 2007 edition above, and represents a more sociologically inclined slice through an earlier period of science studies.

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