Science, Technology and Society

Our Science, Technology and Society list publishes books that examine the social, political and economic implications of developments in science and technology.

Path-breaking book series include Dis-positions: Troubling Methods and Theory in STS and Contemporary Issues in Science Communication.

Science, Technology and Society

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This chapter draws on long-term, multi-sited ethnographic research on women’s embodiment of HIV and antiretroviral treatment (ARVs), and the role that this embodiment played in shaping women’s perception of and engagement with the South African state. Drawing on ethnographic research methods, feminist new materialism, performativity and actor network theory, this chapter explores how both HIV and ARVs, as ‘things with social lives’, intra-act with each other and with women’s bodies. The chapter reflects on a set of emergent struggles around the embodiment of medicine that move beyond the framing of HIV as the ‘problem’ and ARVs as the ‘technofix’. Not only do ARVs extend life but they also introduce risk and uncertainty. These (side) effects interact in different ways within unique bodies that, in line with post-colonial critiques of feminist new materialism, need to be situated in a context of profound socioeconomic inequality. Building on long-term ethnographic research, this chapter explores how HIV medicines have precipitated a dynamic set of struggles that call attention to the world ‘inside’ the body (as embodiment) and, simultaneously outside the body (as forms of oppression in specific socioeconomic contexts). Through close engagement with activists, the chapter argues that, despite being involved in the struggle for medicines only a decade earlier, the gains of this struggle’s success are increasingly ambivalent.

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Ovulation biosensors are small sensing devices that, according to their manufacturers, can help women become pregnant or avoid pregnancy. Through practices of ovulation biosensing, users can sometimes detect changing hormone levels linked with their menstrual cycle. Currently, these hormones can be tracked through urine, saliva and temperature using dipsticks, microscopes or thermometers. For those trying to conceive, ovulation biosensors, it is claimed, allow women to time reproductive heterosexual intercourse (or insemination) with the most fertile time of their ovulatory cycle. Such devices are located within a wider array of ‘FemTech’ products comprising an ever-increasing number of fertility-related apps and devices coming onto the global market, each attempting to offer something new, more in-depth data or greater levels of accuracy. Based on ethnographic research by the Living Data Research Group at Lancaster University, funded by Intel Research Labs, we explore the connections between feminist health politics and these technologies and ask: are ovulation biosensors feminist technologies? In light of public and academic criticism of data on-selling and the capitalization of fertility, we investigate how women engage with ovulation biosensors and what it means to know and do ovulation biosensing. We consider the ways in which ovulation biosensing practices build on earlier feminist experiments around women’s health, bodies and the reshaping of science.

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The goal of this chapter is to review and discuss human existence and dignity from both an ethical and social scientific perspective in light of recent trends of the sociological study of science and technology. In common parlance, ‘artificial’ denotes technological achievements that rely on principles that are based on natural phenomena, and any artefact made by our engineering can be simultaneously regarded as a straightforward demonstration of the limitations of our knowledge and technology. While we have tended to seek to overcome these limits, we also often perceive the risks that these limits entail. I then articulate the existential risks and key factors involved in artificial concepts. Feeling the threat of such risks often produces existential anxiety about the loss of stable existence in the face of symbols of the highest level of future technology, or a discomfort over risk to the dignity of life. Thus, especially, in crises such as hazards, disasters (for example, Fukushima nuclear power plant accidents), climate change and wars, social scientific research of science and technology still needs to continue to examine the unforeseen risks around the technologies we produce.

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This chapter takes stock of progresses in automation of medical imaging with the aim of (a) exploring some of the complex implications arising from the human–technology interaction within healthcare; and (b) highlighting non-techno-economic factors which could discourage the automation process. A systematized literature review has been undertaken on different but interconnected fields of study related to (i) the determinants of labour automation; (ii) the implementation of different generations of digital technologies and AI in medical imaging; and (iii) technology adoption criteria and domains of acceptance/rejection. Additionally, we integrate the use of expert interviews in the analysis of these topics to gain additional insights into the current dynamics of AI and digital technologies acceptance/rejection. We suggest that patients’ and clinicians’ perspectives, as well as factors which may hinder integration digital technologies and AI within radiology, could be further investigated. To do this we draw from the Non-adoption, Abandonment, Scale- up, Spread, and Sustainability (NASSS) framework and adopt a socio-psychological perspective. This review highlights the need to fill the gaps in the existing literature on technology adoption criteria and identifies recommendations and areas of investigation for future research.

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The essence of contemporary science and technology studies (STS) scholarship lies in its turn towards analyses tied to the eradication of marginalization, oppression and inequality in favour of a world that is intersectional, collective and just. Each of the chapters in this book performs and enacts a ‘commitment’ of this kind – particularly as it relates to the cultivation of just outcomes propelled by the variegated STS methods, theories, histories and knowledges that have been employed. This understanding of STS also reflects a shared, careful assessment of how our discourses, materialities and embodiments intra-act with agential non-human technologies (broadly defined) either to co-produce or to undermine just outcomes.

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Technological advancements are having a substantial impact on the healthcare sector, and correspondingly the workforce is becoming increasingly sophisticated. In this chapter, an overview of the digital health technological advancements will be given along with a discussion of their impacts on the human body and society, including data privacy and social rights, in the Indian context. In addition, other issues have been raised regarding the acceptance of these technologies, such as ethical concerns and a lack of knowledge about their potential effects. Further, while the role and involvement of technology has been increasing in healthcare system, a bias is still observed in the development of such systems by discrimination in the participation of women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and their contribution in science and technology studies (STS). The issue of gender bias is not only observed in the educational fields or industrial sectors of STEM and STS, but has penetrated deeply into the communication of science research. There are a number of goals and outcomes associated with the internationalization of medical education, including improving sensitivity to social, cultural and ethical differences as well as gaining familiarity with differences between healthcare systems. The author in this chapter discusses the issues and the extent of bias in this arena and suggests that knowledge institutions should identify their research lines according to collective goals rather than individual ones in terms of the quality of the knowledge they generate and formally communicate.

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Science and Technology Studies and Health Praxis
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From health tracking to diet apps to biohacking, technology is changing how we relate to our material, embodied selves.

Drawing from a range of disciplines and case studies, this volume looks at what makes these health and genetic technologies unique and explores the representation, communication and internalization of health knowledge.

Showcasing how power and inequality are reflected and reproduced by these technologies, discourses and practices, this book will be a go-to resource for scholars in science and technology studies as well as those who study the intersection of race, gender, socio-economic status, sexuality and health.

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Scholars and practitioners from across the allied health disciplines have commented on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) as an adjunct for clinical diagnosis and prognosis. Few have attempted to make sense of AI as a communicating and deliberating agent in health praxis. To fill this gap, this chapter builds on the works of Atul Gawande, Eric Topol, Ruha Benjamin, Safiya Noble, Athena du Pré, Barbara Overton and others to offer a rhetorical-deliberative framework for reconceptualizing AI as a fully realized member of the healthcare team. Taking this view of AI provides a pathway for humanizing the machinic attributes of 21st century technological medicine while simultaneously (re)humanizing practitioners, patients and the overall medical ecology they inhabit and depend upon for cultivating health and well-being. Humanizing health praxis in this way may augment the quality of healthcare delivery and outcomes as we continue our journey with the artificial beings that do and will inhabit our world.

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This collection began as a personal undertaking aimed at bringing together a diverse set of scholars whose work on health and technology converged on a shared objective: namely, to investigate a slice of our contemporary health-centric sociotechnical world using intersectional science and technology studies (STS) methods in innovative ways. The first spark for this project came from my work on another book in which I examined the material-discursive construction of health and STS, titled STS and Health Praxis: Genetic Science and New Digital Technologies. In the course of writing that book, I discovered a flourishing ecosystem of new and exciting research examining what being in ‘good health’ means for individuals and communities and how this intersects with more contemporary notions of well-being in light of technological change, increasing medicalization and biomedicalization, and controversies around care, access, sovereignty and justice.

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Studies of technology using feminist STS (feminist science and technology studies) have proliferated over the past few years, with feminist new materialism (FNM) taking on a particular kind of saliency vis-à-vis the study of technologies that directly implicate the body. My own research in this area has become interpellated with and through an expansive definition of technology that includes the study of wellness technologies and the ongoing (re)deconstruction of contemporary understandings of what it means to be ‘in good health’. In conducting this research, I produced a framework through which to think about health technologies including health monitors, fitness trackers, health-oriented superfoods and, for the purposes of this chapter, immunity-boosting supplements whose sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic. I call this framework the auto-ethnographic and rhizomatic socio-material feminist approach to science and technology. I use this generative framework to excavate and interrogate COVID-19 related ‘immunity-boosting supplements’ as technoscientific artefacts whose prior enactments reflect a theory of health that is normative, Eurocentric, neoliberal and entangled with hegemonic understandings of race, class, gender, disability, sexuality, capitalism, colonialism and fatness.

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