Science and Technology Governance: an STS Perspective

Building tools and frameworks that enable researchers to effectively describe the myriad relationships between actors, artifacts, institutions, policies, and values is a continuing challenge in studying the evolution of technological systems. STS has developed some of these new tools, such as actor-network theory, that enable flexible yet potentially specific levels of analysis. The development of such “hybridized” models, however, has called attention to the needs for theoretical structures that are equally as flexible (Irwin 2008). The manner in which science and technology is created, enacted, funded, and evaluated no longer entails two-way interactions between scientific and governmental institutions (Rose 1999). Rather, the analysis must be expanded to include “activities of a much wider range of actors- including industry, scientific organizations, public and pressure groups, consumers, and the market” (Irwin 2008, 584). Towards these ends, the term governance has been associated with science and technology to refer to an expanded network of influential actors and organizations that drive the development and uptake of science and technology through society, part of an enlarging view of the process of policy-making (Jasanoff 2005).

Irwin (2008) provides a succinct yet useful synthesis of science and technology governance, organizing the concept through overlapping approaches employed by various STS researchers. Through summarizations of the approaches of boundary work (Gieryn 1983; Gieryn 1999; Guston 2001; Jasanoff 1990), co-production (Jasanoff 2004), issues framing (Wynne 2002; summary in Roth, Dunsby, and Bero 2003), and sociotechnical networks (Johnson and Wetmore 2008; Hughes 1993; Wetmore 2004), he argues for the adoption of the science and technology governance framework over simplistic concepts of science and technology policy.

In establishing a theoretical concept encompassing multiple tools, STS researchers are able to incorporate multiple empirical examples that shed more light on the relationships between science, technology, and society. While this concept, or portions thereof, has been applied to varied subjects within recent historical timeframes such as operations of U.S. government scientific institutions, aircraft technology development, and international policy bodies, few empirical studies employ the methodological tools of science and technology governance to examples with a longer historical reach. The principles of the concept should lend sufficient flexibility to include the actors, institutions, and laws relevant to an earlier period (Hughes 2005; Hughes 1990).



Gieryn, Thomas. 1983. “Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science: Strains and Interests in Professional Ideologies of Scientists.” American Sociological Review 48 (6): 781–795.

———. 1999. Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Guston, D. H. 2001. “Boundary Organizations in Environmental Policy and Science: An Introduction.” Science, Technology & Human Values 26 (4) (October): 399–408. doi:10.1177/016224390102600401.

Hughes, Thomas. 1990. American Genesis: A History of the American Genius for Invention. New York  N.Y.  U.S.A.: Penguin Books.

———. 1993. Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930. Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

———. 2005. Human-built World: How to Think About Technology and Culture. Chicago [Ill.]: University of Chicago Press.

Irwin, Alan. 2008. “STS Perspectives on Scientific Governance.” In The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. 3rd ed. /. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; Published in cooperation with the Society for the Social Studies of Science.

Jasanoff, Sheila. 1990. The Fifth Branch: Science Advisers as Policymakers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

———. 2004. “The Idiom of Co-production.” In States of Knowledge: The Co-production of Science and the Social Order. London: Routledge.

———. 2005. Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Johnson, Deborah C., and Jameson M. Wetmore. 2008. “STS and Ethics: Implications for Engineering Ethics.” In The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. 3rd ed. /. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; Published in cooperation with the Society for the Social Studies of Science.

Rose, Nikolas. 1999. Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought. Cambridge, United Kingdom; New York,  NY: Cambridge University Press.

Roth, A. L., J. Dunsby, and L. A. Bero. 2003. “Framing Processes in Public Commentary on US Federal Tobacco Control Regulation.” Social Studies of Science 33 (1) (February): 7–44. doi:10.1177/0306312703033001038.

Wetmore, Jameson M. 2004. “Redefining Risks and Redistributing Responsibilities: Building Networks to Increase Automobile Safety.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 29 (3) (July): 377–405. doi:10.1177/0162243904264486.

Wynne, B. 2002. “Risk and Environment as Legitimatory Discourses of Technology: Reflexivity Inside Out?” Current Sociology 50 (3) (May): 459–477. doi:10.1177/0011392102050003010.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *