In This Article Science and Technology Studies (STS) in Geography

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews of STS
  • Journals
  • Haraway and Latour
  • Overcoming Nature/Society Dualisms
  • Networks and Nonhuman Agency

Geography Science and Technology Studies (STS) in Geography
by
Rebecca Lave
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 December 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0103

Introduction

STS is an interdiscipline that draws together anthropologists, historians, and sociologists, among others, to study science and technology as social practices. The acronym STS is unpacked as either “Science and Technology in Society” or “Science and Technology Studies”; the latter, more neutral version is most common today. Geography’s substantive engagement with STS dates to the mid-1990s and the work of scholars such as Trevor Barnes, Bruce Braun, Noel Castree, David Demeritt, David Livingstone, James Murdoch, Nigel Thrift, and Sarah Whatmore. Initially, geographers drew on a broad range of STS texts, but for most geographers interested in STS the focus quickly narrowed to Actor-Network Theory (primarily via the work of Bruno Latour, but with some engagement with Michel Callon and John Law as well) and the work of feminist STS scholar Donna Haraway. Haraway and Latour have remained the major STS influences in geography since the late 1990s, though there is some evidence that the focus is opening out again as geographers dive more deeply into the riches of the STS canon (see Moving Beyond Haraway and Latour). To date, geographers have drawn on STS primarily to address epistemological questions about the politics of knowledge and the social construction of scientific claims, as well as ontological questions on the agency and status of nonhumans.

Introductory Works

There is no general introduction to the interrelations between STS and geography. David Demeritt gave geography crucial early introductions to STS more broadly (Demeritt 1996) and to social constructivism (Demeritt 1998), but as work bridging the two fields was in its infancy at that point, his early synthesis of the two fields was largely promissory, sketching out possibilities for future research. Sarah Whatmore’s influential piece on hybrid geographies (Whatmore 1999) laid out a very persuasive argument for why geographers should engage with Actor-Network Theory and feminist STS. Around the same time period, James Murdoch published a series of articles that provided overviews of the key principles of Actor-Network Theory and reasons geographers might choose to engage them, perhaps most accessibly in Murdoch 1997, his article on symmetry and dualisms. Tim Forsyth’s book Critical Political Ecology (Forsyth 2003) focuses in on key STS concepts (rather than whole bodies of STS scholarship) that might be of use to critical geographers, such as co-constitution and black boxes. Goldman and Turner 2011 do similar work in the introduction to a collection of case studies that bridge the two fields. Jasanoff and Martello 2004 pulls together scholars in STS and geography with a particular focus on questions of scale in environmental governance; the introduction presents a clear call for STS scholars to engage with spatial issues.

  • Demeritt, David. “Social Theory and the Reconstruction of Science and Geography.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, n.s., 21.3 (1996): 484–503.

    DOI: 10.2307/622593E-mail Citation »

    A whirlwind tour of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK) and the modern wave of STS for geographers. This article is very accessible and suitable for all levels.

  • Demeritt, David. “Science, Social Constructivism and Nature.” In Remaking Reality: Nature at the Millenium. Edited by Bruce Braun and Noel Castree, 173–193. New York: Routledge, 1998.

    E-mail Citation »

    The labels Demeritt places on different positions on the spectrum of social constructivism are not in wide use, which limits their utility, but simply explaining that that there is a spectrum is very useful, and this text has served as an introduction to social constructivism for many geographers.

  • Forsyth, Tim. Critical Political Ecology: The Politics of Environmental Science. London: Routledge, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    Forsyth was one of the early adopters of STS concepts in geography, and in this book he explores ways in which concepts and methods from STS can inform geographic research.

  • Goldman, Mara, and Matthew D. Turner. “Introduction.” In Knowing Nature: Conversations at the Intersection of Political Ecology and Science Studies. Edited by Mara Goldman, Paul Nadasdy, and Matthew D. Turner, 1–23. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226301440.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    This introduction to this edited volume is a useful exploration of what the two fields stand to gain from each other. Goldman and Turner’s critique of outdated linear models of knowledge transmission is especially pertinent.

  • Jasanoff, Sheila, and Marybeth Long Martello, eds. Earthly Politics: Local and Global in Environmental Governance. Boston: MIT Press, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    This collected volume demonstrates the role that spatial analysis could play in STS analyses of environmental issues. Michael Goldman’s chapter on the knowledge politics of the World Bank has been particularly influential.

  • Murdoch, James. “Inhuman/Nonhuman/Human: Actor-Network Theory and the Prospects for a Nondualistic and Symmetrical Perspective on Nature and Society.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 15.6 (1997): 731–756.

    DOI: 10.1068/d150731E-mail Citation »

    Murdoch provides a lucid and well-grounded explication of the basics of Actor-Network Theory, summarizing many of its key concepts for a geographic audience with a particular focus on ontological questions.

  • Whatmore, Sarah. “Hybrid Geographies: Rethinking the ‘Human.’” In Human Geography Today. Edited by Doreen Massey, John Allen, and Philip Sarre. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    Whatmore argues persuasively, perhaps even polemically, for the potential of Actor-Network Theory and feminist STS to revitalize radical geography. Although not appropriate for undergraduates, Whatmore’s language is for the most part eloquent and compelling.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Article

Up

Down