2017-18 Colloquium Series

The Science Studies Colloquium Series takes place every Monday of the quarter from 4:00p-5:30p in Room 3027, Humanities & Social Sciences Building, Muir College campus, unless noted otherwise.

A reception for the colloquium speaker takes place before the talk from 3:30p-4:00p in Room 3005, Humanities & Social Sciences Building.

Fall Quarter 2017

October 2, 2017

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only

October 9, 2017

Rebecca Herzig

Professor, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Bates College

Banu Subramaniam

Professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies
UMass Amherst

(Be)laboring Biopolitics: Genealogies of Labor in STS

Labor has been and continues to be an indispensable category of analysis for understanding asymmetrical social relations in and across post-industrial settings, as evidenced by the proliferation of new terms deployed by activists and scholars: “affective” labor, “immaterial” labor, “digital” labor, and so forth. In this talk, we trace the recent advent of a concept alternately referred to as “biological,” “biomedical,” or “clinical” labor, and consider how it might be used to rethink the politics of academic labor.

October 16, 2017

Lilly Irani

Assistant Professor, Communication & Science Studies
UC San Diego

Entrepreneurial Citizenship: Promising Knowledge and the Subsumption of Hope

“How do you get acquainted with 4 billion people?” This is a question posed by a “clean water" NGO that partnered with DevDesign, the studio where I conducted ethnographic fieldwork for 14 months. In this talk, I explain the rise of entrepreneurial citizenship in India — a call to citizens to take up the developmental work of a liberalizing state. I then turn to the work of DevDesign as they combined ethnography and design to produce not facts, but “opportunities" for global health public-private partnership. I outline how the entrepreneurial ethos and mode of development subsumes hope and disciplines development. The talk draws from my forthcoming book Innovators and their Others (Princeton University Press).

October 23, 2017

Robert Johnson

Professor of History, College of Letters and Sciences, Social Sciences
National University

The Titanic and the Stokehold:  Fossil Capital, Climate Change, and the Sociology of Collapse

The RMS Titanic was modernity's premier achievement, the purest symbol of what we might call fossil capitalism before it sunk to the bottom of the seafloor in a spectacular and nonlinear example of technological and social collapse.  This talk uses the RMS Titanic as a case study to exemplify the starkly stratified world of pleasure and risk, of Turkish steam baths and sweaty stokeholds, of hungry miners and engorged elite passengers bound to one another in a fossil economy, on the brink of collapse. 

October 30, 2017

Rafael Nuñez

Professor, Cognitive Science
UC San Diego

Does Cognitive Science (still) exist?

The "cognitive revolution" of the 1980s brought the exciting prospect of investigating "the mind" scientifically, in a well-integrated multidisciplinary field with a coherent subject matter, common research questions, complementary methods and theoretical developments (largely motivated by the unifying tenet that "cognition is computation" and that the mind is a computational entity). Over the decades, however, failures in some areas (e.g., classic artificial intelligence), difficulties in integrating certain domains (e.g., anthropology), and developments in new directions (e.g., neuroscience), has led this "common" effort to become a rather eclectic group of academic practices that no longer seem to have clear common goals, research questions, methods, and theories. Contrary to enthusiastic initial predictions, after the creation of the first department of cognitive science at UCSD in the 80's, only a handful of other departments have been created since; cognitive neuroscientists and many other cognition-related practitioners do not tend to publish in "cognitive science" journals; and, importantly, in many universities and research institutions around the world, exciting and successful multidisciplinary cognition/mind-related work seems to be taking place outside (or without the need) of "cognitive science". In this talk I will analyze the question of whether "cognitive science" (singular) still exists as an academic/intellectual field with a well-defined and coherent subject matter. To inform this question, and based on a graduate seminar I conducted last Spring, I will analyze material involving the history of relevant ideas and theories, professional practices, methods, publication patterns and venues, academic and professional institutions, and undergraduate and (the few) graduate "cognitive science" curricula, among others.

November 6, 2017

Akos Rona-Tas

Professor, Sociology
UC San Diego

Knowing What We Don’t: Uncertainty in Food Risk Science in the United States and the European Union

The relationship between scientific knowledge and uncertainty in science has been a central question in risk analysis. There have been several conceptualizations of uncertainty but most have been normative efforts to construct an ontology based on theoretical considerations. There have been few empirical attempts to build and test such an ontology through textual analysis. Methods assisted by machine learning we do not know of.
We developed empirically an ontology to investigate uncertainty in risk assessment in food safety, comparing the EU and the US, and the two main domains of food safety: biohazards and contaminants over the period 2000-2010 with a four year grant from the French National Science Foundation (ANR), and support from the US FDA, and EFSA. The ontology gauges expressions of uncertainty in two ways: one classifies the content of the uncertainty expressed in the documents, the other looks for stylistic clues of judgment. We built a large database of English language risk assessment documents issued by the agencies responsible for food safety, double coded by humans using our ontology. We also used machine-learning algorithms to reproduce and correct our coding and to test its internal consistency. (http://www6.inra.fr/holyrisk )
 We ask four questions: Is scientific uncertainty different in the US and the EU? Are there different epistemic cultures of perceiving uncertainties across different subfields of science? Do uncertainties decrease with more research? And, finally, do policy makers act differently when scientific evidence is weak?

November 13, 2017

Kristopher Nelson

PhD Candidate, History & Science Studies
UC San Diego

Reform & Resistance: Protecting the Private by Policing the Public (1860s-1960s)

In this talk, a subset of a larger look at the historical impact of technology on American privacy law, I will examine the results of several new technologies (telephonic wiretaps, surgical sterilization, and contraception) on the desire and the reality of attempts to use governmental power to protect the “sacred domestic home” by increasing regulation and control of the public sphere—and the fuzzy and impermeable boundaries between these two supposedly separate zones. I will look at the rise of such attempts (including some of the Victorian and Progressive moral reformers and medical experts involved) and then the establishment of new restrictions on these interventions (which also invoked the home and family as a justification), ending with the Supreme Court cases of Griswold, Katz, and Berger.


November 20, 2017

James Delbourgo

Associate Professor, History of Science & Atlantic World
Rutgers University

Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum

In 1759 London’s British Museum opened its doors for the first time – the first free national public museum in the world. But how did it come into being? This talk recounts the overlooked yet colorful life of the museum’s founder: Sir Hans Sloane. Born in 1660, Sloane amassed a fortune as a London society physician, became president of the Royal Society and Royal College of Physicians, and assembled an encyclopedic collection of specimens and objects – the most famous cabinet of curiosities of its time – which became the foundation of the British Museum. Slavery and empire played crucial roles in his career. Sloane worked in Jamaica as a plantation doctor and made collections throughout the island with help from planters and slaves. On his return to London, he married a Jamaican sugar heiress, adding to his wealth and his ability to collect. He then established a network of agents to supply him with objects of all kinds f rom Asia, the Americas and beyond: plants and animals, books and manuscripts, a shoe made of human skin, the head of an Arctic walrus, slaves’ banjos, magical amulets, Buddhist shrines, copies of the Qur’ān and more. The little-known life of one of the Enlightenment’s most controversial luminaries provides a new story about the beginnings of public museums through their origins in encyclopedic universalism, imperialism and slavery. The lecture is based on Delbourgo’s new biography of Sloane entitled Collecting the World, published by Penguin in the UK and the Belknap Press in the US, which has been named Book of the Week in The Guardian, The Times (London), the Daily Mail and The Week (UK).

November 27, 2017

Arthur Petersen

Professor of Science, Technology and Public Policy
University College London

Values in Science Advice: The Case of the IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reviews scientific literature on climate change in an attempt to make scientific knowledge about climate change accessible to a wide audience that includes policy makers. Documents produced by the IPCC are subject to negotiations in plenary sessions, which can be frustrating for the scientists and government delegations involved, who all have stakes in getting their respective interests met. This seminar draws on the work of Bruno Latour in order to analyze the role of different values in science advice and the need for ‘diplomacy’ between them.

December 4, 2017

Ramya Rajagopalan

Visiting Scholar, Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Testing DNA: Pharmacogenomics and the Pursuit of Precision Medicine

In the 1950s, medical researchers began to postulate that genetic differences might explain patients’ variable responses to prescription drugs. Recently, the search for such “pharmacogenomic” differences has become a central vein of inquiry in American biomedicine, supported by the development of DNA sequencing and analysis tools. These have underpinned an emerging enterprise of “precision medicine,” which aims to decipher and use each patient’s unique DNA sequence to tailor health care and treatment. Drawing on fieldwork in research and hospital laboratories, I examine the knowledge-making and evidentiary practices through which biomedical researchers have attempted to frame and extract meaning and value from genome sequence data, as part of their efforts to make DNA variation useful to routine clinical practice. I use as a case study the blood thinner warfarin, a decades old drug, which was revived as an experimental object of study and transformed into a torchbearer for pharmacogenomics. I show how, enmeshed in the sociotechnical, political, and regulatory contexts of biomedicine, the epistemic negotiations that sought to render genomic data about warfarin into clinically actionable information have instead been complicated by contested views of DNA’s predictive and economic value for routine clinical decisions.

December 11, 2017

No Colloquium

Finals Week

Winter Quarter 2018

January 8, 2018

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only

January 15, 2018

No Colloquium

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 22, 2018

Allen Tran, Anthropology'12

Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Bucknell University

Writing the self and cognitive-behavioral therapy in post-reform Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This paper examines the role of writing technologies and practices in the construction of emerging forms of subjectivity and affect in psychological counseling centers in post-reform Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Popular interest in affective life and the psychological sciences in Vietnam has increased dramatically since marketizing reforms were implemented in 1986. The earliest psychotherapeutic services in Ho Chi Minh City provided concrete and instrumental advice and encouraged proper morality according to established work and family roles. However, the growing influence of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has made counseling centers the site of an intensive reconfiguration of the interior self. While many clients prefer CBT’s customizable focus on problematic behaviors over psychoanalysis’ more comprehensive approach, the very work of self-compartmentalization requires a broader questioning of personal and cultural identity as counselors negotiate the cultural forms that assist and resist the application and internalization of CBT principles. The writing practices involved in CBT techniques and "homework" cultivate self-reflexive identities for the sake of being recognizable to others, especially other similarly self-reflexive individuals. 

January 29, 2018

Elena Aronova'12

Assistant Professor, Department of History, UC Santa Barbara

Earthquake Prediction, Biological Clocks, and the Cold War Psy-Ops: Using Animals as Seismic Sensors in the 1970s California

A familiar image of seismology in the 1970s is that of a field focused on global studies of the earth’s deep interior via sophisticated instruments and transnational networks of seismological stations.  Against this backdrop, this essay offers a complementing story, highlighting the significance of local circumstances and disciplinary agendas that were contingent not only on the transformations in the geophysical sciences during the Cold War but on the concurrently changing biological sciences. Using two examples of the studies of unusual animal behavior prior to earthquakes conducted under the auspices of the US Geological Survey in the West Coast of the United States in the 1970s, this essay examines a variety of motivations behind these studies, which tagged earthquake prediction to the concerns over the use of seismological data, a pioneering research on biological rhythms, and a troubled military brain studies.

February 5, 2018

Harun Küçük'12

Assistant Professor, History & Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

Leisureless Science: Inflation and Genres of Natural Knowledge in Seventeenth Century Istanbul

Monetary distress at the medrese altered the meaning of natural science in Istanbul. The Price Revolution of the sixteenth century reduced the purchasing power of the Ottoman professoriate to one tenth of what it was in the early sixteenth century. This led to a number of changes in the disciplinary structure of natural knowledge. In the seventeenth century, Istanbul produced no anatomy, no theoretical astronomy, no natural philosophy and no textbooks for teaching natural knowledge – disciplines that attach to schooling and to leisure. While theoretical texts that historians most commonly associate with Islamic science almost completely disappeared in the seventeenth century, the number of texts that addressed naturalistic practices rose to unprecedented levels. Istanbul became the main producer of almanacs, pharmaceutical texts and works dealing with gems and metals in the entire empire. This state of affairs brings up a host of related questions: What did it mean to practice science in the complete absence of theory? Who were the producers of knowledge in fields where no one was committed, even nominally, to producing natural knowledge for the sake of knowledge? How do we periodize Istanbul’s practical naturalism in the absence of the very genres that often inform our periodization of early modern science? In this talk, I hope to broach these questions through a comparative overview of the social and economic constitution of scientific fields in seventeenth-century Istanbul.

February 12, 2018

Alan Richardson

Professor, Distinguished University Scholar, Philosophy
University of British Columbia

The Social Function of Scientific Philosophy: Logical Empiricism and Politics

One of the issues that has arisen in the re-evaluation of logical empiricism is whether logical empiricism could be said to have a political project embedded within it. This issue is confused by the inchoateness and polysemy of the notion of "political" within it. I propose not to untie but to cut through this Gordian knot by using J.D. Bernal's notion of "the social function of science" as a resource for interpreting logical empiricism and asking after the social function for scientific philosophy one can find argued for in the work of Rudolf Carnap and, especially, Hans Reichenbach.

February 19, 2018 

No Colloquium

President's Day

February 26, 2018

Steve Epstein

Professor of Sociology and John C. Shaffer Professor in the Humanities
Northwestern University

The New Truths of Sex: Operationalizing Sexual Health

In recent decades, the idea that people may aspire to something called “sexual health” has traveled widely in both professional and lay domains. My book project examines the rise of new conceptions and formal definitions of sexual health in the 1970s; the remarkable proliferation and diversification of sexual health meanings and projects beginning in the 1990s; and the implications of these new ways of conjoining sexuality and health for science, politics, and selfhood. My talk draws on material from a chapter of the book that considers scientific and bureaucratic projects that seek to operationalize the concept of sexual health in formal ways—in particular, to measure, standardize, survey, and classify it. I focus on one salient example involving the remaking of diagnostic categories related to sexuality in the forthcoming eleventh edition of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases. The example demonstrates both how sexual politics affects classification practices and how sexual truth-making is transformed by its conjunction with the imperative of health.

March 5, 2018

Nancy Cartwright

Professor of Philosophy, Durham University and Distinguished Professor, UC San Diego

Lucy Allais

Professor, Philosophy, University of the Witwatersrand and UC San Diego


March 12, 2018

Aaron Panofsky

Associate Professor, Institute for Society and Genetics, Public Policy, and Sociology

When Genetics Challenges a Racist's Identity

Since the advent in the mid-2000s of genetic ancestry tests (GATs) available directly to consumers, researchers have considered what their effects would be on individuals’ conceptions of their own identities and their understanding of race and ethnicity. Studies have focused especially on the impact on African Americans and more recently on differences in reception among individuals from diverse backgrounds. This study focuses on a different population: white nationalists posting and discussing GAT results on the web forum Stormfront. This is a self-selected population that ostensibly has strong ideological commitments to notions of racial distinctiveness, purity, and hierarchy and where genetic information might put individual identity at risk. Despite their essentialist views of race, Stormfront posters infrequently use GAT revelations as occasions for individuals to denigrate each other’s identities. Instead they expend considerable energy and employ considerable ingenuity to repair individuals’ identities by rejecting or reinterpreting GAT results. At the same time, however, some Stormfront posters use the particular relationships made visible by GATs to re-imagine the collective boundaries and constitution of white nationalism. This combination represents a particular twist on the “affiliative self-fashioning” observed in other populations’ uses of GATs. Stormfront posters do not interpret genetics in the same way professionals do, but their interpretations cannot be dismissed as simply ignorant.

March 19, 2018 

No Colloquium

Finals Week

March 26, 2018

Spring Break

Spring Quarter 2018

April 2, 2018

Science Studies Program Meeting

SSP faculty and students only

April 9, 2018

Don Everhardt

PhD Candidate, Sociology & Science Studies, UC San Diego

April 16, 2018

Michael Hardimon

Associate Professor, Philosophy, UC San Diego

Lucy Allais

Henry E. Allison Endowed Chair in the History of Philosophy, Philosophy, UC San Diego

April 23, 2018

Brynna Jacobson

PhD Candidate, Sociology, UC San Diego

April 30, 2018

Dan C. Hallin

Professor, Communication, UC San Diego

Charles Briggs

Professor, Anthropology, UC Berkeley

May 7, 2018 

J. Rogers Hollingsworth

Professor Emeritus, History, University of Wisconsin

May 14, 2017

Rebecca Hardesty

PhD Candidate, Communicaton & Science Studies, UC San Diego

May 21, 2017 

Benoit Berthelier

Postdoctoral Scholar, Transnational Korean Studies, UC San Diego

May 28, 2017

No Colloquium

Memorial Day

May 30 & 31, 2017

Student Choice Speaker: Ruha Benjamin

Assistant Professor, African American Studies, Princeton University

June 4, 2017