Engaging across Lancaster University

The Centre for Science Studies (CSS) at Lancaster University has been established to:

  • Support research and researchers across Lancaster University engaged in exploring entanglements between science, technology and society, often using concepts and ideas from Science and Technology Studies (STS) as well as aligned disciplines.
  • Support collaboration across different departments, disciplines and career stages
  • Build networks between Lancaster & other communities engaged in similar activities

Hosted by the Sociology Department, the CSS brings together academics and researchers from across a broad range of disciplines and departments at the University (e.g. Sociology, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster Medical School, Geography, and Organisation, Work & Technology). Our research interests coalesce around themes (see below) relating to the interlinkages between science, technology and society in the past, the present and in the future.

Many of our members, but certainly not all of us, are social scientists. Our members also include, for example, engineers, economists and data scientists. We are linked by common methodological approaches (e.g. ethnographic, participant observation, interviews, participatory methods), sites and subjects that tend to interest us (e.g. healthcare settings, inquiries and policy, dispersed, virtual or digital settings, homes and workplaces, energy transitions, disasters, economies and markets, climate change), and broad topics and questions we ask about those settings or subjects (e.g. datafication and digitalisation, knowledge construction, controversies, measurement and quantification, temporality, governance, power and politics).

Research themes

Recognising that research into the relationships between science, technology and society is often interdisciplinary, operating between and across boundaries, CSS works around three loosely defined themes. Many of our members will recognise elements of their own projects and research interests in more than one, if not all of these themes. We use our themes to help people situate themselves within the CSS group and to see how they might fit in. They will also drive the collaborations, networks, debates and activities we want to support.

At Lancaster we use a wide range theoretical approaches to sharpen our empirical research. These include constructivism, feminism, actor-network theory, and human-computer interaction. And we use our case studies to push forward cutting-edge theory in Science, Technology and Society (STS). Much of our work is politically and socially committed: we seek to make a difference in particular contexts, but also to reframe issues and topics in new and critical ways.

Politics and practices of knowledge production

Examining the practices, materialities, relations and politics of knowledge production have been long-standing concerns of CSS members’ research. These continue to be key foci in diverse contexts in contemporary societies, from health and biomedicine to the generation of digital technologies. The varied work of CSS members interrogates the epistemic commitments of diverse bodies, often within their everyday settings – practitioners, experts, scientists and publics. This work frequently attends to the episteme of marginalised and disadvantaged social groups, and traces the contests, controversies, and possibilities that arise when epistemologies intersect. From various philosophical perspectives, CSS research explores the doings of knowledge, attending to what gets to count as authoritative knowledge and/or science, often exposing colonial and/or gendered legacies. CSS researchers frequently focus on lived experiences and everyday practices to critically examine the consequences of specific doings of knowledge and the implications for society. Hence, underlying CSS research on the politics and practices of knowledge production are concerns about justice, desire to hear marginalised perspectives, and to examine the regulatory frameworks that govern what counts as authoritative knowledge.

Data cultures & quantification

A core focus of the CSS is to explore some of the myriad ways in which sociotechnical processes of datafication, quantification, and algorithmic computation reshape cultural, social and economic relations and institutions. We are interested in how data logics, practices and materialities work as data passes through digital platforms, interfaces and infrastructures. Data cultures, for us, involve the encounter between data materialities and situated rationalities, practices, and discursive and aesthetic sense-making. We explore how data is co-produced, transforms and is transformed by commercial and scientific logics. For instance, we examine practices of quantification in contexts of risk management, assetization and governmentalization of social life that has come to be considered calculable. We trace the ways in which digital data is made valuable by incorporating the interplay between cultural, social, and economic dimensions. We are interested in the social impact of digitalization, datafication and quantification on our societies. In this regard, we explore how data cultures and quantification operate in a range of sites, including in institutional, everyday, domestic and indigenous spaces.

Climate, energy, and environment

In CSS we highlight the cultural and social dimensions of environmental and energy problems, controversies, disasters and emergencies. Public, political and scientific awareness and understanding of multiple, intersecting trajectories of environmental change are accelerating, with the term ‘crisis’ increasingly used in connection with climate, nature, water, food and energy. Some have argued that we have entered an Anthropocene age, in which human activity is the most significant driver of global environmental change. Alongside and entwined with global-level phenomena, changes to and impacts on local environments are also generating increasing public and political controversy. Globally and locally, we consider the ways in which climate, energy and environment are interwoven with concerns about vulnerability, justice, gender, race, class and coloniality. CSS research investigates intersections between scientific and other knowledges, technologies, infrastructures, social practices, multiple environments, and social and environmental outcomes. It tends to see the social and the material, the human and the non-human, the natural and the cultural as inextricably intertwined. In contexts ranging from energy infrastructures to food systems and urban assemblages, from global climate responses to local participatory practices to disaster management, it investigates the making and consequences of multiple environment-society relations.

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