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Society for Social Studies of Science

Rachel Carson Prize

Now accepting nominations for 2018. See below.

Carson Prize 2016: Gabrielle Hecht

The winner of the 2016 4S Rachel Carson Book Prize is the historian and STS scholar Gabrielle Hecht. The Carson prize is awarded each year for a book-length work of social or political relevance in science and technology studies. Gabrielle Hecht’s monograph, Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade (2012 MIT Press) was judged out of a total of 67 eligible titles to stand out amongst contenders for its outstanding empirical and theoretical scholarship combined with profound political messages for nuclear and non-nuclear states across the globe. In the book Gabrielle Hecht tells the story of the doing of this research from 1998 to the book’s publication in 2012. She carried out interviews in uranium mine sites from Gabon, Madagascar, South Africa to Namibia. During this time she consulted official state-sanctioned archives across Europe and Africa. She also travelled globally to find the non-official records, seeking out ex- engineers, geologists and other experts to request permission to see their own personal documents and archives.  All of this added up to more than 50,000 pages of archival material and 138 interviews. The book reflects these rich sources of insight. It contains many wonderful, revealing photographs, and it tells, in brilliant detail, stories about the web of connections that bind African states and workers to the global trade in uranium. 

The book also contains strong political messages about the status Hecht terms nuclearity. This is the status of ‘being nuclear’, which Hecht clearly argues is not to do with the sheer presence or mining of uranium. Being nuclear, she argues, ‘requires instruments and data, technological systems and infrastructures, national agencies and international organizations, experts and conferences, journals and media explosure’ (2012: 320). When, for any particular state or site, nuclearity is accompanied by these elements, this status of ‘being nuclear’ can provide expertise, resources, protection, regulation, and compensation. But, as she puts it, ‘When (and where) network elements are absent, weak or poorly connected, nuclearity falters, fades or disappears altogether, failing to provide a resource for people claiming remediation or treatment’ (ibid.). Nuclearity, is therefore vital, Hecht argues, not only for nuclear security but for environmental and political security.

On reading this work, the Carson Prize Committee recognised that the scope of Hecht’s intellectual canvass is vast. What is particularly inspiring about this work is that she has folded into her research and writing so many burning issues for contemporary STS, including: nuclear ontologies; markets; colonialism; marginality and invisibility; governmental and non-governmental politics; labour, bodies and work; injustices and inequalities; and the price of change.  This is a truly impressive and powerful piece of scholarship, and its author is a fully deserving recipient of the 4S Rachel Carson prize.  


Rachel Carson appears on page 19 of my son’s 8th grade Environmental Sciences textbook.  Her presence in the first chapter marks the significance of her warnings about the state of our planet. Carson’s writings opened possibilities and imaginations, demonstrating the political potential of scientific work and deep public engagement. Yet so much work remains to be done.  Being Nuclear is but a modest contribution to the movement that she helped to launch, but it found inspiration in her effort and passion. It is therefore a tremendous honor to receive this award, and I am grateful to the prize committee members for their work and recognition. My appreciation extends to 4S, which has offered me an intellectual community for thirty years, and which continues to embrace change and push in new directions. Special thanks to the colleagues, students, friends, and family who supported and challenged me during the fourteen years devoted to this project, and to the many interlocutors in Gabon, Madagascar, Namibia, and South Africa who willingly shared their histories and their homes. My deepest gratitude goes to Paul Edwards, whose influence is on every page, and to our son Luka, who has endured rants about technopolitics, contamination, and injustice his entire life.


Gabrielle Hecht is Professor of History at the University of Michigan, where she also directs the Program in Science, Technology, and Society.  Being Nuclear also received the Martin J. Klein Prize in African history from the American Historical Association, the Robert K. Merton award from the American Sociological Association, the Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize, and honorable mention for the Herskovits Prize from the African Studies Association. The French edition recently appeared as Uranium Africain, une histoire globale (Le Seuil, 2016). Previous books include The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II (1998 & 2009; French editions 2004 & 2014) and the edited volume Entangled Geographies: Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War (MIT Press, 2011). Hecht has a bachelor’s degree in Physics from MIT and a PhD in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania. She has held visiting positions in Australia, France, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, and Sweden. She is currently working on a pedagogical book entitled Technology and Power in Africa (under contract with Cambridge University Press), as well as a series of essays on Toxic Tales from the African Anthropocene.

2016 Carson Prize Committee

Claire Waterton (Chair, Lancaster University, UK), Abby Kinchy (RPI, US), Sulfikar Amir (NTU, Singapore) and Ivan da Costa Marques (HCTE, Brazil)

About the Carson Prize

The Rachel Carson Prize is awarded for a book length work of social or political relevance in the area of science and technology studies. Nominations that provide a new perspective, or a feminist or minority voice, are especially encouraged. The author(s) receive(s) an engraved plaque and cash prize.

"Science and technology studies" is an interdisciplinary field, so the range of eligible books is very broad.  It includes, but is not limited to, the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, political science, economics, education, geography, and psychology as well as works combining or outside of the traditional academic disciplines.  It includes studies of knowledge, policy, government, R&D, the uses of expertise, feminist and gender studies, technological controversies, technology transfer, rhetorical and literary analyses, and studies of specific technologies.  Further, it includes works addressing science and technology for the public and for educational audiences.  The main criterion is that the substantive content of the work be framed by a social science or humanities perspective of science and/or technology and, in the case of the Carson Prize, that the book also has social or political relevance.

The Rachel Carson Prize is named after writer, scientist, and ecologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964), author of numerous books including The Edge of the Sea (1955) and Help Your Child to Wonder (1956).  In Silent Spring (1962) she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government by advocating for a shift in how humankind perceived and interacted with the natural world. Carson testified before Congress in 1963 on the misuse of pesticides and her work continues to shape environmental studies and polices that champion a healthy ecosystem.


Committee: Membership on the book prize committees consists of Council members and appointees by the President.

Nominations: Publishers, authors, and members of the Society may submit nominations (author, title, publisher) to the prize coordinator, at To facilitate the process, nominations are requested by 1 February. Publishers are then contacted in early February and invited to submit the books nominated by the Society.

Eligibility--Books Due May 1: Each year the committee will review books with publication dates from the 3 prior years. For example, during the 2017 meeting, the committee will consider books with copyright dates of 2014 - 2016. Books may be re-nominated until their eligibility expires. Publishers or authors are responsible for sending review copies to each member of the committee by May 1 to be considered for that year's prize. Reprints, second editions, edited volumes, reference works and similar volumes are ineligible for consideration for the Fleck Prize. Multiple-authored books are eligible where they represent original work.

Short List: Through the procedure above, committees will designate a preliminary short list and meet during the 4S annual meeting to determine the winners. Awards are to be granted solely on the basis of merit as determined by the members of the committee, without reference to book reviews or recommendations by outside members. If a consensus winner does not emerge, a secret ballot will determine the winner, with honorable mentions as appropriate.

Award: The Carson Prize Chair will inform the winner(s) after the decision of the committee to insure that the winner will be present at the award ceremony and available to participate in an Author-Meets-Critics session at the following annual meeting. The Chair of the prize committee organizes the Author-Meets-Critics session for the winning book. The prize includes a cash award to help defray the costs of attending the annual meeting to receive it.

Journal Review: In addition the prize committee is encouraged to identify book clusters (theoretical or thematic) to forward to ST&HV for the solicitation of review essay as part of their narrowing and selecting process.

Past Winners

2015. Gwen Ottinger. Refining Expertise.  How responsible engineers subvert environmental justice challenges

2014. Robert Proctor. Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition. 

2013. Tim Choy, Ecologies of Comparison

2012. Stefan Helmreich, Alien Oceans

2011. Lynn M. Morgan, Icons of Life: A Cultural History of Human Embryos. (University of California, 2009)

2010. Susan Greenhalgh. Just One Child

2009. Jeremy Greene. Prescribing by Numbers

2008. Joseph Masco. The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico

2007. Charis Thompson. Making Parents: The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies

2006. Joseph Dumit. Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity

2005. Nelly Oudshoorn. The Male Pill

2004. Jean Langford. Fluent Bodies

2003. Simon Cole. Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification

2002. Stephen Hilgartner. Science On Stage: Expert Advice as Public Drama.

2001. Andrew Hoffman. From Heresy to Dogma: An Institutional History of Corporate Environmentalism.

2000. Wendy Espeland. The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest.

1999. Steven Epstein. Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge

1998. Diane Vaughan. The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA