Science and Technology Studies, Africa and the Long Shadow of Unspoken Assumptions

Monday, July 14, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: Booth 68
Oral Presentation
Elísio MACAMO , University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland

Science and technology studies have injected new blood into social theory over the past 20 years. Their assumption that the workings of science and technology are a good guide into the constitution of (modern) society has played a central role in sharpening sociological thinking over the notion of modernity and its analytical relevance in research. A paradox underlies the importance of science and technology studies, however. On the one hand, STS seem to refer to a very specific type of society, namely highly technological modern society. This would seem to rule out the possibility that STS might have anything to say about societies which do not fit this description. On the other hand, however, and because STS produces social theory, i.e. a vocabulary designed to make the social world intelligible, it can lay claim to the ability to deliver concepts that can be deployed in efforts to make non-modern societies intelligible, even if only by default. This paper will try to address this paradox critically with a theoretical claim. The claim will be that the reason why STS may work well as a research programme may have to do with the fact that it takes the settings within which science and technology operate for granted. In other words, STS research works under a “ceteris paribus” assumption – legal predictability, economic and political stability, etc. – which constrains the translation of concepts into different settings.