Science, Technology and Medicine in Society (STeMiS)

Science, technology and medicine are pervasive parts of contemporary society. The STeMiS theme is interested in how knowledge is made, how technologies are developed, how these come to be employed in different settings and with what implications for social relations. 

Test tubes and chemicals in a lab (stock image)
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Our academic staff members working in this area are a vibrant and diverse group of researchers drawing on a number of sociological perspectives, but all share a common interest in the relationship between society and science, technology and/or medicine. Much of our work is inter-disciplinary and we have links with colleagues and networks across all faculties at the University of Sheffield.

Some examples of questions we are currently grappling with:

  • How can data visualisations make data more accessible to ordinary citizens?
  • What are the implications of new knowledge about the human body and brain and new technologies with the potential to change these for understanding what it means to be human?
  • What does self-monitoring mean for the people who undertake it and what are the implications of self-monitoring practices for the wider provision of healthcare?
  • How do ideas of race circulate in various biomedical contexts?
  • How are visual technologies such as MRI changing medical practice and parents' experience of foetal and neonatal post-mortem?
  • To what extent might digital media enhance bottom-up, patient-centred health practices?
  • What assumptions about the good life, death and suffering underpin statutory measures of 'quality of life'?

Our major research areas include:

  • Digital societies
  • Sociology of Health and Illness
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • New materialisms and posthumanism 

For more information on our work in STeMiS, please contact Dr Preeti Raghunath: p.raghunath@sheffield.ac.uk or Dr Greg Hollin: g.hollin@sheffield.ac.uk. We have an active mailing list, so please contact us if you’d like to be added.


Reading Groups

Alongside a roster of activities across the year, members of STeMiS run reading groups that take place at regular intervals during semesters: 

Contemporary STS

We run a Contemporary Science and Technology Studies (STS) reading group, where colleagues read recent books and papers.This term we are reading Thom van Dooren’s book The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds, which was published by Columbia University Press in 2019 and won the 2021 Ludwik Fleck Prize . Sessions are hybrid and we have a small breakout room for folks who would like to come in person.

The schedule is as follows:

DATE

ROOM/TIME

Reading

15th January

Breakout Room 4, The Wave & online

16:00-17:00

Introduction: Making worlds with crows 

29th January

Breakout Room 4, The Wave & online

16:00-17:00

Chapter 1: “Interjecting crows: Enacting multispecies communities and 

Chapter 2: “Spectral crows: conservation and the work of inheritance”

February 12th

Breakout Room 4, The Wave & online

16:00-17:00

Chapter 3: Unwelcome crows: Hospitality in the anthropocene, and 

Chapter 4: Recognizing ravens: Becoming subjects to each other

February 26th

Breakout Room 4, The Wave & online

16:00-17:00

Chapter 5: Provisioning crows: Cultivating ecologies of hope, and 

Afterword: In the wake of typhoons

Please email Greg Hollin to be added to the mailing list for this group, and to receive invites to the hybrid meetings. 

Previous works read include Aniket Aga Genetically Modified Democracy; Kregg Hetherington The Government of Beans; Max Laboiron Pollution is Colonialism; Michelle Murphy The Economization of Life

Sociology of health and illness

PhD Student Charli Colegate also runs a Sociology of Health and Illness reading group in the department. The reading group meets monthly between 15:00-16:00 on Wednesdays and, each month, a different member of the reading group picks a couple of papers, situated within the sociology of health and illness, for the group to discuss. Colleagues can contact Charli (ccolegate1@sheffield.ac.uk) to receive invites to the group, and can also suggest articles and book chapters for future weeks. 


STeMiS blog posts

Table of laptops, phones, tea and coffee

Keep up with news and events from the STeMiS theme via the Sociological Studies Research blog. Look for posts with the tag STeMiS.

Our Research Blog


Upcoming workshops, lectures and events

STeMiS CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE DEPARTMENTAL SEMINAR SERIES

In the 2023/24 academic year, the Department of Sociological Studies is hosting a weekly seminar series and two STeMiS-affiliated talks are scheduled before Christmas. All are welcome, so please do come along—details are below. 

Digital inclusion and its challenges: reorganizing frontline work in the Danish welfare state

Dr Sarah Wadmann, Senior Researcher, VIVE: Danish Center for Social Science Research

Tuesday 6th of February, 16:00-17:00, Seminar Room 6, The Wave.

 
We are delighted to host Dr Sarah Wadmann, an international visitor to iHuman and the Department of Sociological Studies. Sarah is Senior Researcher at the Danish Center for Social Science Research and works at the interface of public policy, STS and sociology and has interests in health and digital society See: https://www.vive.dk/en/employees/sarah-wadmann-r6bdb52n/
 
Abstract: Reflecting vast government investments over many decades, Denmark sits at the top of international comparative assessments of the digital readiness of the public sector. While the comprehensive digital infrastructure provides for more flexible interactions with government authorities for many citizens, it also poses challenges of digital inclusion. In this seminar, Sarah Wadmann will give a brief overview of the comprehensive digitalization efforts in Denmark, provide examples of how these efforts can reconfigure encounters between citizens and public authorities and discuss how challenges of digital inclusion are currently being dealt with by government authorities in Denmark.


SHARCxSTEMIS SEMINAR SERIES

Across the 2023/2024 academic year we have a new seminar series, which being co-hosted with the Sheffield Animal Studies Research Centre (SHARC). Over the course of the year we'll be hearing from scholars working at the intersection of animal studies and science & technology studies. 

The first of these talks is being held this month with Eben Kirksey speaking on 'Chemopower in Multispecies Worlds' on Monday 23rd October 4pm-5pm. Eben's talk will draw together previous research on frogs, pathogenic fungi and pregnancy tests, with newer theoretical work on industrial chemistry. 

We also have some other speakers we're really excited about, including Charlotte Wrigley, Selen Eren, Jon Henrik Remme, Yamini Narayanan, and Alex Blanchette

Joining links for all other talks in the series can be found here: http://www.tinyurl.com/SHARCxSTEMIS while those on the STeMiS mailing list will receive a separate diary invite - if you'd like to be added to the mailing list please get in touch with Greg Hollin.

All events are open for all and are free to attend.


Past workshops, lectures and events

Imperial Datafication: Historicising the global data economy

Wednesday 29th of November, 13:15-14:30, online and in Wave Faculty Boardroom

This week, Dr Preeti Raghunath, STeMiS member and a Lecturer in Digital Media and Society in the Department of Sociological Studies will be speaking for the departmental seminar series. The event is hybrid—for a online meeting link, please get in touch with Greg Hollin.

Abstract: This talk focuses on the making and workings of the global data economy as we know it today, by locating it in the longue durée. My research harks back to an earlier technology revolution, the railways, and investigates associated practices of analogue datafication that accompanied it. Drawing on an initial round of archival research, this working paper defines and explores  imperial datafication. It showcases data practices associated with the deployment, mobility and work of labour from the Indian subcontinent involved in the building of colonial railway systems Britain's colonies. In doing so, it investigates the amalgam of corporate power, expansionist states and trans/-national elites, thereby helping us locate and extend our understanding of the global data economy. 

Pluralising Knowledge and Practice of Transformation: Can the ‘Good Society’ help?

Wednesday November 1st, 13:15-14:30, online and in Wave Seminar Room 5

We were delighted to welcome Professor Sujatha Raman, UNESCO Chair in Science Communication at Australian National University, to Sheffield for the first phase of her Senior Visiting Fellowship. 

Wednesday (Nov 1st) Sujatha delivered a seminar on social transformation and the 'good society', with responses from Dr Preeti Raghunath and Professor Sarah Neal. The event started a cross-disciplinary discussion on sociotechnical transformations, drawing on a wide range of examples to highlight the competing narratives which help to shape how societies think about the future. For full details, see below.

Abstract: Visions and narratives of large-scale transformation pervade our times. One prominent narrative is rooted in scientific diagnoses of environmental crises but paints a broader picture of social and economic transformation. Frameworks for degrowth or post-growth, ‘deep transitions’, or in some cases, ‘just transition’, signify some of these aspirations for change. A second, perhaps equally prominent, narrative is also rooted in science, but paints an alternative picture of breakthrough technological innovation.  Some breakthrough accounts claim to offer solutions to environmental crises (e.g., gene-editing, AI) while others sidestep the planetary dimension altogether and focus on their own life-changing or game-changing potential (e.g., once again, gene-editing, AI, or novel biomedical entities). Yet narratives of transformation often appear distant from the quotidian, both in the sense of everyday life and the vast range of preoccupations of many academics working outside the transformation research field. 

The aim of this experimental session is to explore ways of bringing more diverse social science knowledges to bear on the question of transformation, large-scale or otherwise. This could be done in critical conversation or collaboration with large-scale visions. Or indeed, it might be done in parallel in order to pluralise the imagination and discussions around transformation. To achieve this purpose, Sujatha will briefly introduce key aspects and limitations of large-scale transformation narratives in academic and allied work. She will then open up ‘the good society’ (or perhaps, ‘good societies’) as a topic of both formal and tacit inquiry in sociological work, asking if the concept might help us engage with the subject of transformation from our diverse areas of expertise. Preeti and Sarah will respond to the talk with reflections from their own research on transformations and ‘good’ societies.

Bio: Sujatha joined ANU in 2018 from University of Nottingham, where she was Co-Director of the Institute for Science and Society and the Leverhulme Trust-funded Making Science Public programme. Sujatha’s work is grounded in social science research on intersections between science, innovation and democracy. These encompass questions regarding the role of evidence and science advice in public policy; the proper relationship between politics, ethics, experts and the public around science and technology issues; and most recently, future visions of responsible innovation. Sujatha has conducted transdisciplinary collaborative research on a wide range of global and national grand challenges including sustainable energy transitions, antimicrobial transitions, agricultural and biomedical innovation, and the environment/health interface in the global North and South.

Sujatha Raman's seminar
Sujatha Raman's Seminar

"The Historical Semantics and Lived Narratives of Suboptimal Health: Conceptualizing a Concept": An introductory seminar by Lijiaozi (Cheer) Cheng

Monday October 23rd, 12:00-13:00, “The faculty boardroom,” The Wave

We're delighted to say that Lijiaozi (Cheer) Cheng, previously a PhD researcher in the department, was recently awarded a Mildred Blaxter Postdoctoral Fellowship by the Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness. During this seminar, Cheer will (re)introduce herself and her work - details have been provided below. 

Abstract: Suboptimal health, while deeply entrenched in China's sociocultural landscape, has often been dismissed as pseudoscientific. Yet its powerful resonance in both personal experiences and broader societal discourses remains undeniable. My intrigue with this concept went beyond academic interests; it sprang from a deeply personal place, a realm where I grappled with the ambiguities and nuances suboptimal health conveys.

Initially, I delved into the topic from a literary perspective, viewing the term beyond its usual reference to health. To me, it represented a metaphor, a narrative, and a mirror reflecting the societal transformations and stresses of modern China. Grounded in literary studies, my approach offered a unique lens, imbuing the exploration with intricate textual insights. However, as my journey progressed, the multi-dimensional nature of 'suboptimal health' compelled me to adopt a broader purview. This transition led me to various data avenues:

1. Analysis of public health literature from the 20th and 21st centuries in both Chinese and English.

2. Participant observations at three Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) conferences

3. Ethnographic research at a TCM clinic in England.

4. Virtual ethnography on popular Chinese social media, including Weibo.

5. Interviews with individuals nurtured in Chinese cultural contexts.

This diverse methodology steered my interests towards the sociology of health and illness, granting a more holistic understanding of the concept.In my forthcoming year with the Mildred Blaxter fellowship, my ambitions are twofold. Firstly, I aim to publish findings from my PhD research. Simultaneously, I plan to delve deeper into the historical nuances of 'suboptimal health' and its significance in the lives of contemporary Chinese individuals, revealing its widespread impact and deeply personal ramifications.


September 13th-15th: “Saved by the cell: race, recruitment, and the blood stem cell registry”: A keynote presentation by Dr Ros Williams

This September, a small coach load of scholars associated with STeMiS (12, at my last count!) descended upon the University of Sussex for the British Sociological Association’s Annual Medical Sociology (MedSoc) Conference. This year, the closing plenary was given by Dr Ros Williams, Senior Lecturer in Digital Media and Society and, until very recently, co-lead of STeMiS. Ros’s truly wonderful keynote is now available to view on YouTube or below.  

MedSoc 2023 Closing Plenary with Ros Williams

September 7th-8th: STSMN Reboot: Relaunching a regional STS network

STSMN (Science and Technology Studies Midlands and Northern England - pronounced System), is a 'reboot' of a previous network called STS 4cities. This week, members of STeMiS participated as Sheffield representatives, attending the event alongside members of the faculty research institute iHuman. We joined representatives from the Centre for Science Studies at Lancaster University; the Institute for Science and Society at the University of Nottingham; the Science and Technology Studies Unit (SATSU) at the University of York; and colleagues from the University of Leeds. The hope is that, between these centres, we will be able form a vibrant network that will benefit PhD students, ECRs, and more senior researchers working in the area.

In attendance were Greg Hollin, Ros Williams, Paul Martin, Matt Hanchard, Cheer (Lijiaozi) Cheng and Steve Allen (Management) along with a group of PhD students from SCS: Merissa Brown, Jake Allcock, Siyi Wang, Tom Wright and Pragya Roy. The programme comprised a range of flash talks from attendees, and plenty of time for discussion about the kinds of activities the renewed network will prioritise. 

While in York, we were able to attend the Andrew Webster Memorial Lecture. This year, the lecture was given by Professor Jane Calvert from the University of Edinburgh and was titled “Synthetic biology and the social sciences: making room for collaboration”. Alongside Dr Koichi Mikami from Keio University, Ros Williams was a discussant for the lecture.

Thank you for SATSU for hosting this event. As updates follows on from this meeting, Greg and Ros will keep STeMiS members apprised through the research theme mailing list. Please do be in touch with either of us if you aren't a member, but you'd like to be added to the STeMiS list.

STSMN Colleagues

Reactivating Elements. Chemistry, Ecology, Practice

Wednesday 2 November, 3-4.

Room 113, Elmfield Building.

Maria Puig de la Bellacasa - Reader at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick

Dimitris Papadopoulous - Professor of Science, Technology and Society, University of Nottingham

Elements oscillate between substance and semiosis, scientific and poetic, natural and manufactured, actual and ancient, indivisible and relational. Reactivating Elements draws the nonlinear historical significance of elemental thought—from chemistry, the biosciences, engineering and physics to social analysis, elementary theory, ecopoetics and cultural studies—into contemporary practice, while inviting new provocations about these ever present and simultaneously elusive phenomena. By drawing inspiration from a range of interconnecting discourses, in particular political ecology, environmental humanities, more-than-human geography, and media studies we explore multiple registers of the elements with tools provided within critical, cultural and feminist science and technology studies (STS). From this perspective, to call in the elements is to shape what comes to matter in technoscience: it is to shift attention to the techniques, processes, affects, and intensities that mix the soils, airs, waters, and fires up with organic and synthetic chemicals; and attend to their bodily potentials, relations, toxicities, and harms.

Maria and Dimistris will also be holding an ECR masterclass in the afternoon before their talk. Spaces for this are limited, but those interested in attending should email Greg at g.hollin@sheffield.ac.uk

Following the event, Greg Hollin tweeted this lovely photo of speakers Maria and Dimitris and included a short summary of the event with links to further reading.


Wednesday 8th June 2022

New staff seminar

  • Eva Giraud, Senior Lecture in Digital Media and Society – Storytelling for Environmental Change
  • Ozge Ozduzen , Lecturer in Digital Media and Society – Medical racism and stigmatisation: minoritised communities, vaccine hesitancy and online and offline responses to the COVID-19 vaccine/vaccine passports
  • Greg Hollin, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow – A general introduction featuring brain injury, conscussion in sport, and autism spectrum conditions.
     

Wednesday 8th December 2021

New staff seminar co-hosted by STeMiS and iHuman
 

  • Jin Ding – Comparing the landscape of orphan drug developments in the US and the EU.
  • Eva Hilberg – Biopolitics at the intersection of health and law
  • Matthew Hanchard – My journey from photography to pharmaceutical policy via maps, films, and benches.

Wednesday 20 October 2021, 4pm - 5pm

Pru Hobson-West - University of Nottingham

Controversies in human and animal vaccination: Exploring constructions of risk, trust and science

Vaccines are not just another technology; they are arguably the symbol of scientific medical triumph. Opposition to vaccines such as MMR or Covid-19 is thus also highly symbolic. Drawing on approaches from medical sociology and science and technology studies, this presentation will warn against terms like ‘anti-vax’ and instead focus on the way in which discourses of vaccine resistance reframe ideas of risk, trust and science. The paper will argue first that aspects of vaccine resistance actually conform to other social and healthcare trends. Second, it aims to demonstrate that there is merit in comparative research across vaccine controversies, including to the arena of veterinary medicine, as sociologists and others belatedly recognise the entanglement of human and animal health.

Pru Hobson-West is a sociologist of medicine and science. She is based in the Institute for Science and Society,and has an honorary appointment in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham. Her current projects include Wellcome funded work on animal research, and EU Horizon 2020 funded work on vaccine hesitancy.  


Wednesday 9th December 2020, Virtual Event 

New staff seminar - Wellcome and NIHR Fellows

  • Dr Lois Orton, Wellcome Senior Research Fellow - Roma populations and health inequalities: deconstructing a European policy ‘problem’
  • Dr Emily Ross, Wellcome Research Fellow - Pregnancy and/as cancer: practices of gestational trophoblastic disease in and beyond the clinic
  • Dr Nazmy Villarroel Williams, NIHR Research Fellow in Public Health-  Migrant and Ethnic health inequalities in the UK: From research to action

Wednesday, 25 November 2020, 4-5pm. Online

How Far Right Groups Exploit Online Platforms and Engage in Cultural Production 

Dr Julia DeCook, Assistant Professor of Advocacy and Social Change in the School of Communication at Loyola University Chicago


In the past five years, research and interest into the ways that far right extremists use online platforms have gained significant popularity. In particular, groups like the Proud Boys who were specifically signaled to by President Donald Trump during the first U.S. presidential debate ignited intense media scrutiny and public outcry – by telling this group to “stand back and stand by,” many scholars interpreted this message as not just a failure to denounce white supremacy, but an embrace of it and as an invitation for far right groups to engage in violence. But who are the Proud Boys, and what exactly do they represent? And more importantly, how do they use online platforms to recruit, mobilize, and build community? In this talk, Dr. Julia R. DeCook shares her research on extremist groups online, including the ways that the Proud Boys use platforms targeted towards youth like Instagram. She will discuss difficulties in examining cultural products like memes, how these groups persist despite attempts to ban them, and implications for researchers moving forward in examining infrastructures of hate.


Wednesday 15th May 2019, 4:00pm - 5:00pm, Elmfield, G18

Algorithm as propaganda, repression and paranoia

Dr Emiliano Treré Lecturer, School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University

Abstract:

"This talk is based on the findings of my recently published book Hybrid Media Activism: Ecologies, Imaginaries, Algorithms (Routledge 2019). It represents a journey through the digital strategies of Mexican politicians and the state in the last decade, and the ways in which they were able to bend social media algorithms in order to spread propaganda, enact repression, and generate paranoia. I commence by unravelling the complexity of the phenomenon of algorithmically manufactured consent, documenting the various opaque strategies adopted by politicians to spread disinformation and propaganda, and artificially boost political popularity. Then, I illustrate how the #YoSoy132 movement was caught in an ‘algorithmic trap’ when an infiltrated agent of the Mexican Secret Services was able to appropriate their main online platform to steal data, monitor protest activities, and discredit the reputation of the movement. Further, I show that in the Mexican scenario, various strategies of algorithmic repression have progressively become more treacherous, broadly deployed to limit, silence, confuse, defame, threaten, and attack activists, civil society actors, and journalists. Issues of control and surveillance had serious consequences on activists who developed a ‘social media paranoia’ around digital platforms and mobile devices. I conclude reflecting on the possibilities and the challenges of algorithmic resistance in the Mexican political context and in the broader global scenario."


The Post-truth Interview?

Wednesday 20 Feb 2019

In the so-called ‘post-truth’ era, many people are bypassing traditional news media altogether, sourcing news from unverified sources on social media. For some, in particular, marginalised communities, this is nothing new. And, different versions of truth, scientific or otherwise, are often embraced, for 'specific' reasons.

This talk examined the site of ‘the interview’ in traditional social science studies, which privileges certain forms of knowledge over others. It offered a critical lens that embraces auto-ethnographic, co-designed approaches through mobile filmmaking, a practice embraced by social movements, such as #blacklivesmatter. This offered an opportunity to gain deeper insights into key social issues, re-think what counts as truth, data and evidence, and reflect on their value to social science. Further, in offering modes of inquiry that value ‘marginalised’ perspectives, it moves towards transdisciplinarity.

Dr Erinma Ochu MBE, Lecturer in Science Communication and Future Media, School of Environment and Life Sciences, University of Salford.


Yorkshire Medical Sociology Group Meeting

Thursday 31 January 2019

This meeting marked this year's Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness book prize, with keynote presentations from 2 of the nominees:

  • Amy Chandler from the University of Edinburgh will be speaking about her book "Self-Injury, Medicine and Society: Authentic Bodies" London: Palgrave Macmillan (winner of FSHI book prize).
  • Gareth Thomas, from the University of Cardiff will be speaking about his book "Down’s Syndrome Screening and Reproductive Politics." London: Routledge. (shortlisted for FSHI book prize)

New staff seminar

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Paper swap, followed by 'nearly new' staff seminar:

  • Stefania Vicari, Senior Lecturer in Digital Sociology, Political hashtag publics and counter-visuality: A case study of #fertilityday in Italy
  • Elisa Serafinelli, Research Associate, Digital Life on Instagram: New Social Communication of Photography

Reaching Out Online: Expertise, embodiment and social capital in online sexual health promotion

Monday 12th November 2018

Seminar with Sharif Mowlabocus, Senior Lecturer from School of Media, Film and Music, University of Sussex.


STeMiS symposium

Tuesday 18th September 2018

Conference rehearsal / conference revisited.


New staff seminar

Tuesday 22nd May 2018

  • Dr Warren Pearce, Faculty Fellow (iHuman) How climate scientists use social media: collusion and collision of personal, professional and epistemic contexts
  • Dr Ros Williams, Research Associate, Mix and match: Constituting mixed racialized communities in UK stem cell donation

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