Workshop 3



  • Mathieu Quet

(Communication Sciences, IRD, Paris)

  • Vincent Duclos-Belanger

(Anthropologist, University of Montreal, Visiting Fellow at College d’Etudes Mondiales, Paris)

Invited Tutors:

  • Lalitha Narayanan

(Gujerat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad)

  • Marine AL Dahdah

(Sociologist/Information technologies, IRD-CEPED, Paris)

  • Madhulika Banerjee

(Political Sciences, University of Delhi)


The analysis of sociotechnical and health controversies emerged during the 1970s and 1980sas a dynamic subfield of the new sociology of science. It was promoted in France through the works of the Actor Network Theory (Latour 1987), in England through the Social Studies of Knowledge (Shapin, Schaffer 1985) and in the USA by researchers of Science and Technology Studies (STS) (Nelkin, Pollak 1981). The central focus of such analysis is on debates and conflicts raised by scientific and medical issues.

Since the 1980s, works such as those of the Centre for Sociology of Innovation à the École de Mines or those of the Group of Political and Moral Sociology (GSPM) (Boltanski, Thévenot 2006) reinforced the methodological bases and broadened the theoretical scope of this approach. Multiple researches have thus been developed to study health controversies, whether they be related to HIV/AIDS (Epstein1996;Fassin2007;Biehl2009; Nguyen 2010), to clinical trials (Petryna2009), to the influence of globalpharma in shaping psychiatric knowledge (Lakoff 2006), to the sanitary issues related to genetically modified organisms (Jasanoff 2005), to nuclear energy or nanotechnologies (Chateauraynaud 2011) and so forth.

The analysis of scientific and health-related controversies occupies a strategic position within the social sciences, as it studies crucial contemporary issues while using innovative methodological approaches. These include discourse and media analysis, networks analysis, the sociology of social movements, the anthropology of laboratory life and public health studies. Such analysis encourages multi-sited approaches to a broad range of field sites among which scientific labs, transnational social movements, regulatory authorities, and public policy administrations occupy a prominent position. In other words, the analysis of health-related controversies fosters a multidisciplinary approach, involving various academic disciplines (sociology, anthropology, political sciences, law studies, and communication sciences), complex objects of study and ground-breaking methodologies and theoretical work.

This workshop will provide an introduction to the main theories and issues associated with the analysis of controversies and with the broader field of science and technology studies. It will provide conceptual and methodological tools for the conception of appropriate research objects and fieldwork. Special attention will be given to global health issues.

Readings and online resources:

Biehl, Joao (2009), Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival, Princeton University Press.

Boltanski, Luc, Thévenot, Laurent (2006), On Justification. The Economies of Worth, Princeton University Press.

Chateauraynaud, Francis (2011), Argumenter dans un champ de forces. Essai de balistique sociologique, éditions Pétra.

Epstein, Steven (1996), Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge, University of California Press.

Fassin, Didier (2007), When Bodies Remember. Experiences and Politics of AIDS in South Africa, University of California Press.

Jasanoff, Sheila (2005), Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States, Princeton University Press.

Lakoff, Andrew (2006), Pharmaceutical Reason: Knowledge and Value in Global Psychiatry, Cambridge University Press.

Latour, Bruno (1987), Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society, Open University Press.

Nelkin, Dorothy, Pollak, Michael (1981), The Atom Besieged: Extra-Parliamentary Dissent in France and Germany, MIT Press.

Nguyen, Vinh-Kim (2010), The Republic of Therapy: Triage and Sovereignty in West Africa’s Time of AIDS, Duke University Press.

Petryna, Adriana (2009), When experiments travel. Clinical trials and the global search for human subjects, Princeton University Press.

Shapin, Steven, Schaffer, Simon (1985), Leviathan and the air-pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the experimental life, Princeton University Press.

Methodological approaches in social sciences