Science and Technology Studies (STS) interrogate and understand science as a social system and as a force that influences and shape society and life. It looks at science and research in the contexts of people’s lives, and studies the interactions and relationships between science and society. Scholars in this field investigate how social, political and cultural forces and values shape scientific research and innovation and how these, in turn, impact on society, politics and culture. They are also interested in how people respond to science – the expectations that people have of science to deliver solutions and innovations, but also the concerns that exist about the boundaries and impacts of cutting-edge science.
As a social endeavour, scientific research is practised by people within various institutional contexts. These include universities, science councils, national research institutes and laboratories, private firms and NGOs. Scientists form epistemic communities with specific rules and norms. They communicate in certain ways amongst themselves and form ‘citation cultures’ that identify bodies of scholarship. Their research outputs and impacts are scrutinized which calls for an in-depth understanding of the scientific publication system and the best of currently available methods in research evaluation, including bibliometrics and scientometric indicators. Scientific research also needs to be effectively managed. Scientists are further accountable to society at large and under pressure to share their findings beyond the scientific community, which necessitates critical thinking on public science engagement.
The postgraduate programme in STS will introduce students to these different dimension and aspects of science as a complex social system. Our focus is on Africa and South Africa which means that we are particularly interested in topics related to science and development, the nature and formations of research systems in developing countries, public science engagement in the developing context, and ways of measuring research and its impacts in conditions of adversity (such as de-institutionalised research systems, lack of national funding, poor research infrastructure and continuing brain drain).