STS is an interdisciplinary research area called (variously) Science, Technology, and Society, Science and Technology Studies, Science Studies, or (in Spanish) Ciencia, tecnología, y sociedad (CTS). It is concerned with two subjects:
- how social, political, and cultural values affect scientific research and technological innovation; and
- how scientific research and technological innovation affect society, politics, and culture.
It is important to note that these two subject areas are seen to be in reciprocal relation with each other. In other words, science & technology shape society, but society in turn shapes science & technology.
STS scholars tend to be inspired by one or both of the following:
- Scholarship The intellectual excitement of examining and explaining scientific and technological innovations and controversies, as well as the impact of science and technology on society, from new and revealing perspectives, all of which assume that science and technology are socially embedded.
- Activism Concern over the direction that science and technology have taken and the rising potential for adverse impacts.
The subject has several professional associations:
Founded in 1975, the Society for Social studies of Science, initially provided scholarly communication facilities -- including a journal (Science, Technology, and Human Values) and annual meetings -- that were mainly attended by science studies scholars, but the society has since grown into the most important professional association of science and technology studies scholars worldwide. The Society for Social Studies of Science members also include government and industry officials concerned with research and development as well as science and technology policy; scientists and engineers who wish to better understand the social embeddedness of their professional practice; and citizens concerned about the impact of science and technology in their lives. Proposals have been made to add the word "technology" to the association's name, thereby reflecting its stature as the leading STS professional society, but there seems to be widespread sentiment that the name is long enough as it is.
Founded in 1958, the Society for the History of Technology initially attracted members from the history profession who had interests in the contextual history of technology. After the "turn to technology" in the mid-1980s, the society's well-regarded journal (Technology and Culture) and its annual meetings began to attract considerable interest from non-historians with technology studies interests.
Less identified with STS, but also of importance to many STS scholars, are the History of Science Society, the Philosophy of Science Association, and the Association for the History of Medicine. In addition, there are significant STS-oriented special interest groups within major disciplinary associations, including the American Anthropological Association and the American Sociological Association.
The Future of STS
STS is now sufficiently well established to have taken on a distinct identity as a field capable of offering an indispensable perspective on science and technology. At the same time, STS has won widespread respect for the rigor and excellence of its scholarship, much of which takes the form of detailed, book length case studies. (The term "studies" in "science and technology studies" reflects the field's preference for high-quality, in-depth, detailed case studies as a fundamental measure of scholarly achievement.) Still, some STS scholars express dissatisfaction with the field's as-yet nascent impact on science and technology practice, and call for closer, more collaborative relationships with scientists and engineers.