In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Politics of Science and Technology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Government Reports
  • Anthologies

Political Science Politics of Science and Technology
Erik Fisher, Warren Pearce, Emily Molfino
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 March 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0192


In 1968, William T. R. Fox implied that “nothing very useful” can be said about the relations between science and politics. In the decades since, a paradigm shift has taken place in research into the politics of science and technology. Scholarship has increasingly challenged the idea that science and technology are best explained by their own internal logic and momentum and, therefore, amenable neither to social nor political analysis. The shift is exemplified by Stefan Fritsch’s 2011 argument (“Technology and Global Affairs.” International Studies Perspectives 12.1: 27–45) that political theory should more systematicaly integrate insights derived from science and technology studies to better understand transformations in the structure and affairs of the global system. Meanwhile, the ever-increasing reliance of modern states and societies on scientific expertise and technological systems has redefined relationships between science and technology, government affairs, and political power in a broad range of issues underpinning the development of the modern world, including technologies of aging and reproduction; interrelations among social media, citizens and global affairs; e-government, electronic voting, and the legitimation of liberal democratic governments; technologies of warfare from nuclear weapons to drones; biotechnology, stem cell research, and genetic engineering; environmental issues from climate change to geoengineering; development and social justice; human enhancement and radical life extension; and the governance of emerging technologies. The intensification of existing issues and the emergence of new ones are further complicated by dwindling trust in experts in the wake of controversies from hydrological fracking and Climategate to genetically modified organisms. While this complex and intricate enmeshment of scientific and political institutions has often been neglected by scholars in political science, sociology, and economics, an increasingly influential body of literature now addresses the politics of science and technology. This bibliography provides an entry to that literature, from classic introductions to cutting-edge empirical and theoretical work. After an introduction to the field through formative books and articles, it surveys scholarly journals and landmark government reports. We then focus on key conversations within the field through anthologies covering a range of subjects from science policy to environmental governance. There follows a more detailed breakdown of key branches of literature in the field. The section on political thought surveys the theoretical bases underlying the politics of science and technology, from political theory and history of political philosophy to social and critical theory. This is followed by a section on global affairs, which examines how international relations intersects with science and technology in security and conflict, international and world structures, and the global environment. Shifting the spatial scale down to the state, the next section outlines the contribution of science and technology to state formation and identity and to contemporary debates from domestic security and surveillance to national innovation systems. Looking beyond the state, civil society is treated in sub-fields focusing on public attitudes and mass media, controversies and movements, public participation, and biopolitics. The bibliography concludes with the governance of science and technology from the standpoints of research policy, knowledge production, socio-technical change, expertise and advice, scientific responsibilities, and democracy.

General Overviews

As an academic field of study, the politics of science and technology is broad and multidisciplinary. Its areas of study range from those traditionally covered by political scientists, such as international relations, political theory, public opinion, and public policy, to more contemporary themes that draw upon fields such as sociology and include governmentality, expertise, and citizen engagement. At the same time, the fields that are most connected with many of these areas often overlook or seem to underappreciate the social complexities and political importance of science and technology. While no single treatment of the subject offers a complete picture of the rich topical themes and varied scholarly debates that make up the field, there are a number of starting points that provide basic introductions, helpful overviews, and, at times, more stimulating critiques. Kraft and Vig 1981 offers an introduction to basic political issues and philosophical questions regarding the relationship between technology and the state, Pielke 2005 provides a concise and useful overview of concepts and issues in science policy, and Street 1992 explores opposing viewpoints on the interdependence of political values and their technological realization. (For more on state science and technology policy see Regulatory Cultures and Research Policy.) Revealing fundamental tensions in role of science in public policy, Weingart 1999 identifies simultaneous tendencies toward the scientification of politics and the politicization of science. At the international level, Krige and Barth 2006 discusses the changing relationship between science and state power, linking science and technology to a historical view of changes in international affairs; and Drori, et al. 2003 traces the origins and influences of authoritative knowledge in the globalized world. (See Global Affairs for more discussion of international and global affairs.) Finally, Lasswell 1956 provides an early formulation of the challenge and responsibility for political scientists to continuously anticipate the emerging political implications of science and technology, while Cozzens and Woodhouse 1995 argues that political science underappreciates the politics behind science and discusses how science-government relations can shape the societal dimensions of political power.

  • Cozzens, Susan E., and Edward J. Woodhouse. “Science, Government, and the Politics of Knowledge.” In Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Rev. ed. Edited by Sheila Jasanoff, Gerald E. Markle, James C. Peterson, and Trevor Pinch, 533–553. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1995.

    A thorough overview of science-government relations and of some of the ways these can shape the societal dimensions of political power. Critiques the limited understanding of science as a political phenomenon within political science scholarship and assesses the modest progress made toward this agenda in science and technology studies scholarship.

  • Drori, Gili S., John W. Meyer, Francisco O. Ramirez, and Evan Schofer. Science in the Modern World Polity: Institutionalization and Globalization. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

    This edited collection provides an in-depth survey of the ways in which science functions institutionally in globalized social and political contexts. Based on quantitative data, chapters are well organized into five sections that trace the origins and influences of worldwide bodies of authoritative knowledge, both cross-nationally and domestically.

  • Kraft, Michael E., and Norman J. Vig. Technology and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1981.

    An edited collection that serves as an accessible introduction to basic political issues and philosophical questions that animate the relationship between technology and the state. Covers a practical range of topics including technology management, assessment, government research and development (R&D), risk, and regulation. Includes case studies on biotechnology, nuclear waste, and militarization of space.

  • Krige, John, and Kai-Henrik Barth. “Introduction: Science, Technology, and International Affairs.” In Special Issue: Global Power Knowledge: Science, Technology, and International Affairs. Edited by John Krige and Kai-Henrik Barth. Osiris 21.1 (2006): 1–21.

    This introduction to a special issue on the changing relationship between science and state power stresses the importance of history to understanding “internationalization in science.” Provides an informative overview of four eras in which science can be seen to affect international affairs: nuclear, postcolonial, state sponsorship, and global.

  • Lasswell, Harold D. “The Political Science of Science: An Inquiry into the Possible Reconciliation of Mastery and Freedom.” The American Political Science Review 50.4 (1956): 961–979.

    A systematic overview of persistent political implications and ramifications of science and technology—including world structural transformations, increasing public discontent, and what today would be called geoengineering and biopolitics. Focuses on the challenges and responsibilities of political scientists to continuously anticipate “techno-scientific developments.” Despite its obvious datedness, this paper remains a prescient, influential, and engaging classic.

  • Pielke, Roger A., Jr. “Science and Policy.” In Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics. Edited by Carl Mitcham, 1699–1705. Detroit: Macmillan, 2005.

    A concise overview of the role of science in policy and of policy in science. Includes informative discussions of the idea of values in science, the historical role of basic research in mediating relations between scientists and the state, and recurring debates over scientific freedom and accountability. The chapter contains a useful list of references for further reading.

  • Street, John. Politics and Technology. New York: Guilford, 1992.

    Valuable for its sympathetic portrayals of opposing viewpoints, this is a helpful introduction to the subject. Explores the interdependence of political values (e.g., free speech) and the technological context of their realization. Concludes by considering technology’s possible roles in the structural reform of democratic politics in unique social settings.

  • Weingart, Peter. “Scientific Expertise and Political Accountability: Paradoxes of Science in Politics.” Science and Public Policy 26.3 (1999): 151–161.

    Argues that the use of science in public policy gives rise to two simultaneous paradoxes: the scientification of politics, and the politicization of science. This challenges the overly simplistic yet pervasive view that expert knowledge tends to inform policy in a direct and straightforward manner.

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