A Feminist Approach to Science Studies

April 11, 2023
F/ISTS event image

Science and technology studies (STS) became formalized in the late 1960s and 70s as an academic field that probes science and technology as sociocultural institutions and practices, to provide a more critical understanding of the impacts of culture and society on science and technology and vice versa. “Scholars in STS ask not just what is known through scientific inquiry, but how it is known, including how science reflects and reinforces other social relations, and whether and how scientific practice and knowledge might be made more empirically adequate and socially beneficial,” writes Elizabeth Bernstein, Professor of Women's Studies and Sociology at Barnard College. 

However, the field of STS was not above the influence of the mid-20th century academic society in which it was created - predominantly white, male, and focused on the global North. As the field of STS developed, certain forms of feminist, critical race, Indigenous, anti-colonial, and queer scholarship have been marginalized. Despite this, many of these areas of research have grown in recent years, including feminist STS. According to Rebecca Jordan-Young, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College, “Incorporating the analytical framework of intersectionality, which grew out of scholarship by Black feminists and other feminists of color, [this] approach to STS elevates the importance of understanding how multiple intersecting axes of power (among them: sex, gender, sexuality, race, class, caste, ability, and nation) influence the way that science is practiced.” 

Elizabeth Bernstein and Rebecca Jordan-Young

To this end, Professors Rebecca Jordan-Young and Elizabeth Bernstein have recently launched a new program in Feminist and Intersectional STS (F/ISTS) at Barnard College. The program will empower students to consider and critically analyze scientific research within intersectional, spatial, and historical contexts. It is available as a concentration for students in any of the three existing Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies majors, Africana Studies, American Studies, and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. Starting this year, F/ISTS will also be offered as an official minor for Barnard students in other majors. Both the concentration and minor consist of five mandatory courses: one introductory, one methods, and three electives. These electives can include interdisciplinary courses in many departments including environmental biology, history, sociology, among others — a number of which are taught by CSS postdoctoral scholars and affiliated faculty. Students will also have the option of enrolling in a one-credit capstone course to co-organize a public F/ISTS related event. For the full curriculum, visit the program page on Barnard’s website.

Barnard will celebrate the introduction of its new F/ISTS program with a multi-day conference, April 27-28, co-hosted by Jordan-Young and Bernstein. Co-sponsored by the Center for Science and Society and the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience program, The first Feminist Intersectional Science and Technology Studies Conference will include cross-disciplinary speakers from Columbia and Barnard - including Presidential Scholar Nedah Nemati — as well as other influential scholars from all over the world. Register for the conference and keynote address via Eventbrite!