MA Program

The Science and Technology Studies (STS) master's program at Goethe University Frankfurt introduces students to important critical debates about how science and technology can be seen as situated practices by focusing scholarly attention on science and technology as made by people and in broader historical, social, and political contexts.

As a research-intensive academic program, STS in Frankfurt offers students the opportunity to work with a focus on ethnographic research and praxeological approaches to understand how the political and cultural are always part of science and technology.

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.

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, working in close cooperation with sociologists and human geographers. 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. Around the same time, anthropologists began fto 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 depicted science and scientific institutions as particular social and cultural forms. They also explored 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 pay attention to questions of science and technology in the context of those parts of the world that are not highly industrialized, and their encounters with the industrialized and high-tech parts of the world.

Since then, 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 progressively questioning common dichotomies of, e.g., nature/culture or technical/social.

Technology of Governance

Taking its cue from the assertion that infrastructure designates “specific institutional, material, or social conditions through which the functioning of a certain technology, ethical regime, form of regulation, or mode of communication is either enabled or mpeded" (Aihwa Ong and Stephen Collier 2003), the module will look at governance and its technological dimension. 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.

The focal area will both engage with new (digital) materialities and offer insights into the performativity of emerging agencements: distributed agencies of economic governance, decision-making bodies, epistemic communities, and algorithmic logics that affect much of the regulation of the global economy. Political power beyond the state – and the observation that non-state actors such as transnational organizations have 'state effects' – will be of interest, as are metrological regimes, techniques of management, data practices, and (digitized) practices of tracking, surveillance, and alignment.

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.

At the same time, cultural artifacts as objects and performances attributed to the sphere of arts and culture are increasingly marketized. New frameworks of heritage preservation, tourism destination management, real estate development and the inclusion of historically formed man-environment relations in new regimes of value are prominent examples. They involve new intellectual property regulations, the privatization of commons and new types of cultural resource management, which are monitored by transnational policy makers and governance agencies, maintaining and deepening existing inequalities.

Global circuits of exchange, digitization, systems of administration and governance as well as new regimes of ethics are implicated in the commercialization of culture – which is often termed ‚cultural economy' – generating, among others, virtual artifacts and digital heritage. The emergence of Digital Humanities as a field that increasingly links cultural institutions, knowledge production, and new audiences outside of the academy will also be topical in this focal area.

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. While blood, organs and human tissue have often been advertised as 'gifts' that are unselfishly donated to help a needy third party, biomaterials are now increasingly discussed and mobilized as commodities that can be sold and traded for profit.

Biosocialities and new forms of biological citizenship but also instances of social resistance are indicative of how political economies of life shape and change notions of 'the social.' Ultimately, new and emergent forms of life point to shifts in how nature and culture are thought to relate to each other and come to the fore in environmental policies, biodiversity management or the financialization of ecosystem services.

STS prepares students for careers that address the broader social, cultural, and political place of science, technology, and medicine. In addition to academic careers in STS, students may pursue activities in a variety of professional fields interested in scientific and technological change and its intersections with social, political, and economic dynamics. These fields may include technology assessment, user research, participatory design, science policy, NGO work, journalism, urban planning, museum work, and the like.

The Institute also offers the opportunity to build on the Master's program and work toward a PhD in STS.