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Silenced Issues 1: A Story from STS Feminist History

Susan Cozzens

07 February, 2017

The organizers of the 40th anniversary celebration of the first meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) at Cornell last October invited me to participate as past editor of "Science, Technology, & Human Values". I had not attended the first 4S meeting (getting ready to get married that fall; celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary shortly after the Cornell reunion). But I had attended the next 25 meetings in a row, and I was happy to share some 4S memories as part of the editor’s panel.

I was elected to the 4S Council in 1985, shortly after the organization got moving. The Council had the ambition of having a journal for the society, and Daryl Chubin and I took on the job of starting one. We became both editors and publishers of Science and Technology Studies. I was working in Washington at the time, and I found a pioneering typesetter who could work from electronic files there and arranged for printing and shipping of the large-format newsletter-journal. A few issues later, Daryl was moving into Washington at the same time I was moving out, but he could not tolerate the rather quirky typesetter, so I arranged the process all over again in Chicago after I took my first academic job there.

As I was moving to RPI the following year, conversations began about 4S adopting ST&HV, an established journal with a real publisher, to replace S&TS. ST&HV had also started at Harvard and MIT as a newsletter. It was still in large format, and had a well-deserved reputation for publishing results from STS research in language that was accessible to the policy community as well as scholars in the field. Mary Frank Fox was chair of the Publications Committee at the time, and spent a year negotiating the transfer from Wiley to Sage, from large format to small, and from Harvard/MIT to 4S. Under my editorship (with its home at RPI) the journal began to reflect the full range of scholarship that the Society did.

Given the current passion for attention to race and gender among scholars just entering the field now, I reminded the Cornell gathering about two editorials I wrote for ST&HV, encouraging scholarship on those topics. One was “STS and Social Justice", calling attention to something missing in STS. Our roots in the women’s and environmental movements of the 1970s were clear, but where was our root in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s?

A second editorial that reflected my passions was “Female Founders of STS". There was a story behind it. When 4S met in Sweden in 1992, Everett Mendelsohn had given an elegant plenary talk on the history of attention to the environment. In it, he mentioned Rachel Carson. At the 4S business meeting there, when the topic of naming a third 4S prize came up, Carson’s name came to my mind again and I suggested that it was time for 4S to have a prize named for a women. Why not her? (The other two prizes already established were the John Desmond Bernal and Nicholas Mullins prizes.) Harry Collins was 4S President at the time, and he did not like the idea. He had already decided that 4S should name its third prize for Ludwig Fleck. He appointed a committee, including me, to consider the question. I heard for the first time at the Cornell gathering last fall that he referred to this committee privately as the “Mrs. Fleck Prize” Committee and felt that he was taking on the whole feminist movement with the naming committee.

In preparation for the Committee’s work, I put together a set of nominees. This was hard work. There were many women who had been prominent in the early years of STS and 4S, but unlike Nick Mullins they were all still alive. (Have you noticed that the academic prizes tend to carry the names of the first people in a field who die?) So I reached back further in history and uncovered the interesting set of women I named in the editorial, to add to Rachel Carson’s nomination: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Alva Myrdal, Dorothy Swaine Thomas, Martha Ornstein Bronfenbrenner, Dorothy Stimson, Anneliese Maier, Hélène Metzger. Never heard of them? That was precisely my point in the editorial. Their very important contributions to thinking about science in society were obscured, in no small measure because of the masculinization of the very concepts that dominated the field at that time and our ideas about what characteristics to honor with prizes.

The story takes twists and turns to a happy ending. The committee that Harry Collins set up voted to name the prize for Ludwig Fleck, after the other woman on the committee did not show up to vote. But the next 4S President, Sal Restivo (one of many 4S male feminists) set up a committee that recommended a fourth prize, now named for Rachel Carson. Other feminists in the Society came forward with other projects, perhaps made a little bolder because of the effort around the prize.

I was terrifically honored on the Cornell panel of editors to join Margaret Rossiter, editor of ISIS, a true pioneer who has found and celebrated women in the history of science. Let’s keep finding those founding figures we have lost and keep creating opportunities to open STS scholarship and leadership to everyone.

Susan Cozzens is Professor at Georgia Tech's School of Public Policy and Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Faculty Affairs.

Call for Blog Contributions: Silenced Issues - Alternative Histories and Practices of STS

Backchannels is currently looking for short form writings to reflect on the topic of alternative, forgotten, ignored and silenced ‘histories’ as well as epistemic ‘practices’ of STS. Ideally contributions would be made to the blog in a short form of 700-1.000 words. We encourage contributions with visual material or with extended links to alternative forms of media.

Contributors may want to bring into focus those voices that have shaped our field, but were - and perhaps still are - silenced and ignored. Additionally, a contribution may focus on contemporaneous topics shifting the temporality of this task. 

Moreover, if you would like to recommend but not necessarily write on this topic then the editors would be really interested to accept suggestions for us to follow up. We also accept reblogs but are specifically looking for new material specifically for the Backchannels readership.

For further information, or to submit contributions, please send us an E-Mail.


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Backchannels / Reflections

Commentary on the current and future state of the field or subfields within science and technology studies. Can include interviews, meditations on particular concepts or methods, biography / autobiography, essays, and other more personal and less formal writings.