Science and Technology (Early Development)

Early developments The key disciplinary components of STS took shape independently, beginning in the 1960s, and developed in isolation from each other well into the 1980s, although Ludwig Fleck’s monograph (1935) Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact anticipated many of STS’s key themes: Science studies, a branch of the sociology of scientific knowledge that places scientific controversies in their social context.

History of technology, that examines technology in its social and historical context. Starting in the 1960s, some historians questioned technological determinism, a doctrine that can induce public passivity to technologic and scientific ‘natural’ development. At the same time, some historians began to develop similarly contextual approaches to the history of medicine.

History and philosophy of science (1960s). After the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s well-known The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which attributed changes in scientific theories to changes in underlying intellectual paradigms, programs were founded at the University of California, Berkeley and elsewhere that brought historians of science and philosophers together in unified programs.

Science, technology, and society In the mid- to late-1960s, student and faculty social movements in the U. S. , UK, and European universities helped to launch a range of new interdisciplinary fields (such as Women’s Studies) that were seen to address relevant topics that the traditional curriculum ignored. One such development was the rise of “science, technology, and society” programs, which are also—confusingly—known by the STS acronym.

Drawn from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, history, political science, and sociology, scholars in these programs created undergraduate curricula devoted to exploring the issues raised by science and technology. Unlike scholars in science studies, history of technology, or the history and philosophy of science, they were and are more likely to see themselves as activists working for change rather than dispassionate, “ivory tower” researchers[citation needed].

As an example of the activist impulse, feminist scholars in this and other emerging STS areas addressed themselves to the exclusion of women from science and engineering. Science, engineering, and public policy studies emerged in the 1970s from the same concerns that motivated the founders of the science, technology, and society movement: A sense that science and technology were developing in ways that were increasingly at odds with the public’s best interests.

The science, technology, and society movement tried to humanize those who would make tomorrow’s science and technology, but this discipline took a different approach: It would train students with the professional skills needed to become players in science and technology policy. Some programs came to emphasize quantitative methodologies, and most of these were eventually absorbed into systems engineering.

Others emphasized sociological and qualitative approaches, and found that their closest kin could be found among scholars in science, technology, and society departments. [citation needed] During the 1970s and 1980s, leading universities in the U. S. , UK, and Europe began drawing these various components together in new, interdisciplinary programs. For example, in the 1970s, Cornell University developed a new program that united science studies and policy-oriented scholars with historians and philosophers of science and technology.

Each of these programs developed unique identities due to variation in the components that were drawn together, as well as their location within the various universities. For example, the University of Virginia’s STS program united scholars drawn from a variety of fields (with particular strength in the history of technology); however, the program’s teaching responsibilities—it is located within an engineering school and teaches ethics to undergraduate engineering students—means that all of its faculty share a strong interest in engineering ethics.