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Society for Social Studies of Science

Nicholas C. Mullins Award

Seeking nominations until Feb 15

Mullins Award 2017: Kellie Owens

"Too Much of A Good Thing?: American childbirth, intentional ignorance, and the boundaries of responsible knowledge"

Kellie Owens

For the 2017 Mullins award the committee received a total of 18 papers. In terms of gender distribution, 10 out of the 18 papers were written by women PhD students. In relation to geographical diversity, 10 out of the 18 papers were from students based in the US, 3 were from the UK, 2 from Canada, 2 from India and 1 from South Korea. 

The committee selected four criteria to evaluate the submitted pieces: contribution to the STS field, depth of research, writing quality and ethical/political relevance of the piece. Each aspect was scored from 1 to 5, with 5 the highest value. In addition, each paper was evaluated by three reviewers. After a first round of evaluation, we selected the three papers with the highest score and evaluated them again.  The Committee wants to highlight the high quality of the contributions and the complexity of making a decision.

After reviewing the material the committee unanimously selected the paper entitled 'Too Much of A Good Thing?: American childbirth, intentional ignorance, and the boundaries of responsible knowledge' as the winner of the 2017 Mullins Award. The author of this piece is Kellie Owens, a student in the Sociology PhD Program at Northwestern University.

Drawing on the work of different STS scholars about risk and overtreatment, Owens provides an insightful analysis of risk in the case of fetal heart rate monitoring in childbirth in the United States. Childbirth provides an interesting case to understand the tensions between knowledge and ignorance in the management of risk in healthcare. She shows how, in this case, two models of health risk operate simultaneously: a model that values frequent intervention and another that aims to mitigate risk by refusing medical surveillance. This paper illustrates how health providers frame 'intentional non-knowing' as a moral imperative to reduce medical risk. Owens' paper displays a delicate and integrated balance between a deep knowledge of STS literature, empirical analysis and theoretical inventiveness that makes it an outstanding academic contribution.

2017 Mullins Prize Committee: Oscar Maldonado, Linköping University, Sweden  (Council Member) Sara Wylie, NortheasternUniversity, USA  (Council member), and Monamie Bhadra Arizona State University, USA (2016 recipient)


Kellie Owens recently completed her doctorate in Sociology at Northwestern University. She was also a Fellow in the Science in Human Culture program at Northwestern and a Visiting Research Fellow in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at Harvard. She will soon become a Postdoctoral Fellow in Advanced Biomedical Ethics in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include the sociology of risk, knowledge, and medicine. Her dissertation explores variation in risk perceptions and practices in American childbirth. 


I am honored to receive the 2017 Nicolas C. Mullins Award for my paper “Too Much of a Good Thing? American Childbirth, Intentional Ignorance, and the Boundaries of Responsible Knowledge.” I am grateful for the feedback I received on this project from Steven Epstein, Sheila Jasanoff, members of the Science in Human Culture program at Northwestern University, and members of the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at Harvard University. I also owe a great debt to the 4S community for fostering thought-provoking conversation as I presented this project in various stages.

Student Essay Competition

The Mullins Prize is awarded annually for exemplary graduate student scholarship in Science and Technology Studies as represented in a published article or chapter,  or article-length unpublished manuscript.  Maximum length of texts including notes is 10,000 words. Authors must be currently enrolled as graduate students; texts authored by multiple graduate students are eligible; texts authored with a faculty mentor are not eligible.  Articles or chapters must be published in English or newly appearing in translation during the eligibility period.   Articles and chapters with publication dates in 2016 and 2017 are eligible.  Nominations may be made by any 4S  member (including author self-nominations), and  by editors of journals.

Past Prize Winners

2016 - Monamie Bhadra

2015 - Karen Levy

2014 - Rahul Mukherjee

2013 - Nadine Levin

2012 - Joeri Bruyninckx

2011 - Sara Wylie

2010 - Ian Mosby

2009 - Manjari Mahajan

2008 - Jenna Burrell

2007 - Teun Zuiderent-Jerak

2006 - Natasha Myers

2005 - Michael Oldani

2004 - Jennifer Fishman

2003 - Park Doing

2002 - Doug Davis

2001 - Karen Flint

2000 - Cyrus Mody

1998 - Sean Hsiang-lin Lei

1997 - Massimiano Bucchi

1996 - Janelle Taylor

1995 - Stefan Helmreich

1994 - Marc Berg

1993 - Joseph O'Connell

1992 - Shahaf Gal

1991 - Stephan Hirschauer