Profile MA Program "Science and Technology Studies: Economies, Governance, Life"

Science and Technology Studies (STS) deals with how science, technology, and society co-produce and shape each other. Already in the late 1970s, social scientists in the United States, France and Great Britain started to address the increasing importance of scientific knowledge and technological expertise for modern societies. Initially, their research focused on how scientists make discoveries and generate new scientific insights. Early STS researchers argued that scientific knowledge is socially constructed, i.e. is generated in interactions within and between laboratories and other research settings, but also with other institutions, organizations, lay people, economic actors and political decision-making bodies. In the following years, distinctive approaches within STS - most notably actor-network-theory – went beyond that insight and introduced the notion that material artefacts and technological instruments are assembling knowledge alongside and in collaboration with human actors. Today, a sizeable part of STS research engages with measuring technologies, standards, modelling, algorithms and other technologies and infrastructures of knowledge production. Also, STS is about what happens when scientific knowledge is released into society, and identifies the often unexpected, ambiguous and sometimes clearly unintended outcomes of the implementation


What is STS?

Science and Technology Studies is an ongoing endeavor, and there is no single, unified definition of STS. However, since the 1980s, the term STS mostly designates (social-)constructivist and post-constructivist research on science and technology, albeit not in a binding or consistent way. Science and technology as objects of inquiry in STS are commonly conceptualized as situated, entangled, heterogeneous, evolving assemblages, associations, or networks. STS attends to practices and practitioners, preferring case studies, often including empirical field research. STS scholars have often been working closely with practitioners in science and technology, taking them as counterparts or being enlisted by them as collaborators, thereby gaining privileged insights und understandings of knowledge production as a situated practice.

Science studies started out examining questions of practices in producing scientific claims. Scholars began to study scientists at work in laboratories, using the method of participant observation on-site, in order to describe scientific research as “messy”, non-linear socio-material processes. STS research on technologies called into question dominant views of technology development as a powerful factor affecting societies “from the outside”. Instead, STS approaches were able to show that science, technology, and society are constantly influencing each other, and should be viewed as co-evolving sociotechnical ensembles.

Actor-network theory (ANT) became an important conceptual foundation for STS research. ANT enquires into complex and dynamic relations between distributed, heterogeneous (human/non-human or social/material) agencies. ANT scholars extended their studies beyond natural science and technologies into various new areas, most notably to the study of markets and finance. Overall, the last ten years have seen a massive diversification of the field of STS to incorporate, e.g., feminist, gender, and postcolonial studies, and many others.         


Anthropology and STS

STS is an intensely interdisciplinary venture at the interface of Sociology, Anthropology, Geography, History, Political Science and Philosophy. At Goethe University, the MA program is being offered by the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology. Internationally, the close relationship between anthropological inquiries into knowledge, material culture and technologies and the emerging interdisciplinary project of STS started in the 1980s, when STS researchers started taking up ethnography as an approach for laboratory studies and other research. Since them, anthropology and STS increasingly forged close intellectual ties. The cultural perspective of anthropology serves to criticize de-contextualizing and essentializing stance of the standard view of technology. Vice versa, the engagement with STS approaches has helped anthropology to question established dichotomies underlying anthropology such as the society-technology dichotomy or the dualism of nature and culture.

Internationally, anthropologists who are influenced by STS conduct empirical research on practices of scientific knowledge production, particularly in the field of reproductive and medical technologies, molecular biology and biotechnologies as well as in physics, nuclear energy, and chemistry. Their studies conceptualize science and scientific institutions as particular social and cultural forms. They also explore topics in gender and science, science and technologies and ethics and values, and others. Increasingly, the interests of anthropologists in STS also include critical studies of computer technologies, computer algorithms, software code, data analysis, and other high-tech areas. They also address science and technology in societies of the global South, inquiring into how postcolonial asymmetries and multiple modernities frame technology development,

In Germany, the MA program at Goethe University is the first STS program in Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology. Other STS programs in German-speaking countries for the most part have been established in close conjunction with the sociology of knowledge or the sociology of technology. The Frankfurt program, however, has been developed in close cooperation with sociologists and human geographers at Goethe University who have been conducting research in STS for many years, The Institute of Sociology and the Institute of Human Geography cross-list selected courses for the MA STS so that students benefit from an interdisciplinary perspective while receiving in-depth training in ethnography and the anthropology of science, knowledge, markets and technologies.

Three areas of specialization

The subtitle of the program “Economies, governance, life” refers to three areas of specialization of the teaching staff and ongoing research. Students are being offered three elective modules that correspond with these foci.

Cultures and Markets. Markets are heterogeneous arrangements of human and non-human actors. Processes of marketization as the establishment and modification of these arrangements turn goods into tradable commodities and set the framework for the determination of prices. Normative and moral considerations do not only limit the reach of markets but are an integral part of most market practices and stabilize markets when prices are contested and have to be justified. In this general sense markets as such are always, cultural artifacts. The emergence of Digital Humanities as a field that increasingly links cultural institutions, knowledge production, and new audiences outside of the academy is also topical in this focal area.

Technologies of Governance. The changing spaces of global transactions, of production networks, financial flows and distributed expertise, augmented by pervasive digital technology, pose new challenges for coordination and governance. The introduction of standards and other technologies of control and surveillance, among them new tracking modes and dataveillance, not only facilitates the cross-border flow of capital, goods, ideas, and knowledge workers, but also establishes truth claims, integrating populations and spaces into new types of topological frameworks and digital data-human assemblages.

Economies of Life. The growing importance of bioscientific knowledges and biotechnological practices generates new regimes of value and visions of economic development and growth. Biomedical research, clinical work, human tissue, genetic information, digital technologies and epidemiological data have acquired economic salience, and the emerging bioeconomies encompass, among others, risk assessment, prevention regimes, and biobanking structures. The global organization of ‘biocapital’ is intricately entangled with moral economies that are also linked to wider political, ecological, scientific and legal frameworks.


Why study STS at Goethe University?

The MA program “Science and Technology Studies: Economies, Governance, Life” is an English-language program that invites also students from outside Germany to apply. In contrast to one-year MA programs in other countries, it is a two-year program, following the common structure of three-year Bachelor programs followed by two-year MA programs that is prevalent at German universities. The two-year duration of the MA (120 ECTS) is geared towards giving students a firm grounding in STS and related fields and offers them the opportunity to engage in in-depth fieldwork projects while pursuing their MA degree. Building .). In the future, structured frameworks for research training for doctoral candidates (such as “Graduiertenkollegs”) may also be established

At Goethe University, there is an interdisciplinary group of cultural anthropologists, human geographers and sociologists contributing teaching to the program. The social sciences at Goethe University are internationally acclaimed for their contribution to social theory and critical inquiry. The legacy of the legendary Frankfurt School of Critical Theory makes Goethe University attractive to international scholars and students alike. Frankfurt is an international city with many globally networked financial institutions, among them the European Central Bank, as well as a wide array of corporate service providers and creative industries. The Rhein-Main area is a major arena of technology development and innovation, offering many options for STS research. Frankfurt has a higher percentage of residents than any other German big city, the social fabric of the city is very diverse. Community relations projects and research interventions with a focus on city planning, integration policies and urban politics will become even more important in the future as the university's agenda will be expanding.