Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Workshops and Panels

The Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard Kennedy School regularly hosts workshops, seminars, and panels. Below is a list of upcoming and recent panels. Some events have their own web pages that can be accessed by clicking on their titles. Contact the program if you have any questions.

STS Summer School event poster
July 27-August 2, 2014
Harvard University Center for the Environment

Developments in the biosciences in the last half-century have posed novel challenges for governance. These have emerged as biological knowledge becomes more central to matters of safety, health and welfare; as biology is called upon to address moral uncertainty around ideas of human nature, identity and dignity; and as biology plays an increasingly central role in the technological alteration of human bodies, non-human entities and environments. Governance challenges have unfolded across several domains: internally within the research enterprise itself; externally where the biosciences are called upon to address social problems; and in moments of ethical doubt, for example, when institutions of governance are called upon to distinguish bioengineered artifacts from entities with human dignity. Scholarship in Science and Technology Studies (STS) has developed varied approaches and techniques for examining such phenomena, and drawing theoretically grounded generalizations from site-specific studies. This summer school will introduce participants to major approaches, and explore new research frontiers and possible directions for synthesis and innovation. It will emphasize engagement with theoretical issues in STS, with particular attention to moments of friction between science and institutions of democratic governance.

Science, Ethnicity, and Identity event poster
Nadia Abu El-Haj
April 24-25, 2014, 5:00pm-7:00pm, 9:00am-5:00pm
William James Hall 1550/Belfer Case Study Room (CGIS South, S020)

With recent advances in the biosciences, such as second-generation genomic sequencing, advanced techniques in assisted conception, and the prediction of inheritable diseases, many aspects of individual identities— from ethnicity to genealogy to disease susceptibility— have been problematized. DNA is now being “read” by scientists to articulate a molecular basis for many historical and social phenomena, such as individuals’ membership in ethnic or national groups, as well as renewing older concerns about social control of populations through genetics. But what do these new kinds of genetic readings do for states and their citizens? To what extent have the genetic sciences expanded or circumscribed the ways of authorizing ethnic and national belonging? How has research in population genetics and human biogeography affected legal and political rights to citizenship, and territorial disputes? Are biological sciences, technologies, and society entangled to the point of being co-produced, and if so in what ways? This symposium tackles these questions from a global perspective, with the hope of fostering dialogue across disciplinary divides and geographical regions.

Ken I. Kersch
April 9, 2014, 4:30pm-6:00pm
Wasserstein Hall, 2004 Classroom

Traditional understandings of conservative political thought emphasize its diverse premises and divergent theoretical commitments (e.g., libertarian versus traditionalist versus neoconservative), which, from the vantage point of ideas, render the movement’s strength and longevity a singular accomplishment and puzzle.  In recent work, Kersch has sought to demonstrate the ways in which modern American conservatism’s cultivation of a core set of symbolic commitments (e.g., the U.S. Constitution) and historical narratives (e.g., about the meanings of the Founding, the Civil War, and the Progressive Era) bridge these divides, unifying and motivating the movement in ways missed by political theory’s standard analytic frames.  In this talk, he considers the possibility that critiques of, and stories about, science and experts and their role in the modern regulatory/administrative/social welfare state – what others have variously called the “statutory,” “legislative,” or “policy” state – have been a critical component of this set of unifying narratives and symbols.  He will survey contemporary conservative thinking from diverse theoretical starting points -- Neo-liberal (including Public Choice economics and Hayek), Traditionalist (including Evangelical Christian, the Catholic Right, and Straussian), and Neoconservative – about the nature and purpose of law, implicating fundamental questions of the role of science and expertise within U.S. constitutional government.

Technological Visions and Revisions event poster
Alfred Nordmann
April 4, 2014, 9:00am-5:00pm
Malkin Penthouse, 4th Floor Lit

This workshop draws together several strands of current research on sociotechnical imaginaries in the STS Program at Harvard. Through multiple engagements with new, emerging, and reemerging technologies, the workshop explores the material, discursive, and political resources with which societies create shared visions of what they want, or do not want, from advances in technology. Of primary interest throughout is the connection of remembered technoscientific pasts to the threats and promises of imagined futures.

How the Law Responds to Unique Catastrophes event poster
Kenneth R. Feinberg
April 1, 2014, 4:00pm-6:00pm
Langdell Hall North 225, Vorenberg Classroom

Kenneth R Feinberg will offer personal reflections on how he became the expert in unique catastrophes and the principled ways in which he has learned to respond. He will tackle the difficulty issue of achieving a sense of justice in the aftermath of tragedy through the administration of victims' funds.

Navigating a Multispecies World event poster
April 25-26, 2013, Day 1: 2:45pm-7:30pm, Day 2: 8:45AM-5:30PM
Day 1: William James Hall 1550, Day 2: Bell Hall, Belfer Building, HKS

This conference concerns the recent innovations and insights for the study of ontologies and socialities engendered through the “species turn” -- that is, the intellectual turn to, and reflection upon, life beyond the human species in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Emerging over the last few decades of the 20th century, the species turn developed (1) from a diverse array of analytical and theoretical formations concerned with aspects of the nonhuman (animate and inanimate), including actor-network theory, affect theory, animal studies, assemblage theory, the new materialism, and systems theory; and (2) in productive tension with a parallel intellectual development -- posthumanism -- articulated through such innovative theoretical work as Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman and Cary Wolfe’s What Is Posthumanism? While all approaches hold their own particular aims, objects, and methodologies, they urge us to consider that we, humans, are not alone. That is, we live in a world populated by and constituted through life forms and forms of life beyond the human. And as such, we must critically reconsider who “we” are in terms that challenge the limitations and dangers of anthropocentrism. Watch the keynotes here and here

Facts and Futures event poster
April 18-19, 2013, 4/18: 9:00AM-5:00PM, 9:30AM-4:30PM
4/18: Harvard Law School, WCC B010, 1585 Massachusetts Avenue, 4/19: HUCE Seminar Room, 24 Oxford Street

Energy Politics: After Carbon Democracy event poster
Timothy Mitchell
March 5, 2013, 4:00pm-6:00pm
Hauser 102, Harvard Law School

Professor Mitchell will lead a discussion on the themes raised in his recent book Carbon Democracy. He will share his thoughts as they have developed after completing that book and will reflect on the forms of politics that may arise in tandem with future energy transitions.

Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War event poster
Andrew Jewett
February 19, 2013, 4:30pm-7:00pm
Robinson Hall, Basement Seminar Room

Book discussion followed by a reception.

April 30, 2012, 9:15AM-5:30PM
Basement Conference Room, Robinson Hall, Harvard Yard

A symposium with John Carson (Michigan) and Baruch Fishhoff (Carnegie Mellon); comments from Elizabeth Lunbeck (Vanderbilt), Andrew Jewett (Harvard), Natasha Schüll (MIT), and Jennifer Lerner (Harvard).

Architectures for Life event poster
A workshop on the shifts in the social, institutional and ethical architectures of biomedicine prompted by recent developments in genomic and communication technologies.
April 18, 2012, 9:00am–4:30pm
Room 119, Maxwell Dworkin Hall, 33 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA :: Harvard University

Recent developments in genomic and communication technologies are prompting shifts in the social, institutional and ethical architectures of biomedicine. Examples include direct-to-consumer genetic testing and crowd-sourced, “citizen-science” epidemiological research using smartphones and the web. These new architectures promise a gold rush of information and biospecimens that may provide a foundation for a more precise, personalized, and targeted medicine. They are also attracting new actors and new modes of participation that have the potential to enhance but also to destabilize established patterns of ethical, legal, and social responsibilities in biomedicine. How will these changing patterns of research and discovery affect citizens, consumers, donors, patients, physicians, researchers, and companies? This event, combining a public lecture and one-day workshop, explores these questions with a group of leaders spanning the biomedical sciences and engineering, social sciences, humanities, and industry.

STS 20+20 event poster
A three day conference on the past, present, and future of STS. See program website for full details.
April 7-9, 2011
Harvard University

This conference marks twenty years of development in Science and Technology Studies since substantial infusions of public funds increased the visibility and impact of the field. See the conference website for more details.

This meeting is open to the public, but registration is required. Please RSVP by e-mail to by March 1, 2011.

The poster background image is Herbert Bayer's "The Lonely Metropolitan" (1932).

Daniel Carpenter book launch event poster
Daniel Carpenter
May 3, 2010, 4:00pm-6:00pm
Tsai Auditorium, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the most powerful regulatory agency in the world. How did the FDA become so influential? And how exactly does it wield its extraordinary power? Reputation and Power traces the history of FDA regulation of pharmaceuticals, revealing how the agency's organizational reputation has been the primary source of its power, yet also one of its ultimate constraints. Daniel Carpenter describes how the FDA cultivated a reputation for competence and vigilance throughout the last century, and how this organizational image has enabled the agency to regulate an industry as powerful as American pharmaceuticals while resisting efforts to curb its own authority. Carpenter explains how the FDA's reputation and power have played out among committees in Congress, and with drug companies, advocacy groups, the media, research hospitals and universities, and governments in Europe and India. He shows how FDA regulatory power has influenced the way that business, medicine, and science are conducted in the United States and worldwide. Along the way, Carpenter offers new insights into the therapeutic revolution of the 1940s and 1950s; the 1980s AIDS crisis; the advent of oral contraceptives and cancer chemotherapy; the rise of antiregulatory conservatism; and the FDA's waning influence in drug regulation today. Reputation and Power demonstrates how reputation shapes the power and behavior of government agencies, and sheds new light on how that power is used and contested. More book information: Princeton University Press webpage

Unruly Democracy event poster
Speakers include: Henry Donahue (Discover), Francesca Grifo (Union of Conserned Scientists),"Dr. Isis" (ScienceBlogs), Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard Kennedy School), Thomas Levenson(MIT), and Chris Mooney (MIT and Discover). View the final program for the complete list.
April 30, 2010, 9:30am–4:00pm
Bell Hall, Belfer Building, 79 JFK Street, Harvard Kennedy School

The blogosphere represents a new kind of deliberative space that is both enlarging and constraining public discourse in unprecedented ways. One key factor about this space, the issue this workshop seeks to explore, is its lack of norms. It is an unruly space in the sense that there are no well defined rules of entry, access, or conduct, except for extreme forms of behavior that are positively illegal. The consequences of this unruliness have been specially severe for scientific communication, which depends on high standards of truth-telling and civility for its progress. In turn, the erosion of scientific standards destabilizes the foundations of democratic deliberation. Can norms of discourse that would advance science and democracy be developed in the blogosphere? Can blogs induce deliberation or must they encourage fragmentation, extremism, and rage to the detriment of public reason? Is science helped or hurt by the new media? What particular distorting factors enter the picture as blogging becomes a business?

Cultures in Common: 50 Years of Reflection on Science, Technology, and Society event poster

On May 7, 1959, C.P. Snow, the prominent Cambridge (UK) scientist, novelist, and government adviser, gave a lecture that introduced a memorable phrase into discussions of science's place in society. Entitled "The Two Cultures," Snow's lecture described a growing gulf between the cultures of the sciences and the humanities, a divide that Snow saw as dangerous and a hindrance to responsible education and problem solving. The 50th anniversary of that lecture marks an occasion for us to take stock and to see whether Snow's arguments hold water today. On May 7-8, 2009, the Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Science, Technology and Society, together with the Harvard University Center for the Environment, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Humanities Center at Harvard, and the STS Program at MIT, will present a panel discussion and workshop on the "two cultures." Under the heading "Cultures in Common," a distinguished roster of speakers from Harvard, MIT, and beyond will explore the many ways in which the cultures of science—far from standing apart from the rest of the academic disciplines—are in constant conversation with the cultures of the humanities, the social sciences, the arts, the law, and, not least, engineering and applied sciences. The occasion will help frame an agenda for 21st century Cambridge (Massachusetts) conversations on education and research at the intersections of science, technology, and society.

Kenneth Prewitt event poster
Kenneth Prewitt
February 23, 2009, 4:30pm-6:30pm
Starr Auditorium, 79 John F. Kennedy Street,Belfer Building, 2nd Floor

Since 1790 race statistics have been central to various policy regimes across American history. But the turn to immigrant driven diversity, identify fueled multiculturalism, and majority-minority demographics have rendered obsolete a taxonomy rooted in 18th century natural science. What today we are learning from racial statistics is not what we need to be learning.

Beyond the Creation-Evolution Controversy event poster
April 28, 2008, 4:30pm-6:30pm
Thompson Room, Barker Center for the Humanities

The public school systems of the United States have experienced more than 80 years of corrosive conflict over teaching evolution in biology classes. During this time, actors and strategies have changed, legal arguments have been sharpened or redefined, and even the name used to characterize the religious position has shifted, from creationism to intelligent design. What remains constant is the framing of the dispute as being between regressive religion and progressive science or, more dramatically, between faith and the Enlightenment. Positions have polarized around two major arguments, neither yielding significant hope of reframing or compromise. The pro-religion position denies the factual status of Darwinian evolution, and claims that—since it is only a theory—other theories concerning the origins of life on Earth are entitled to equal respect. The pro-science position claims that religious opposition to evolution is grounded in ignorance of the scientific method, and support for doctrines like intelligent design in the schools constitutes an impermissible establishment of religion. Attempts to make peace between these irreconcilable positions by designating spaces as clearly scientific or clearly religious have repeatedly foundered. The biology classroom is the most visible site of a broader struggle. In an effort to break through this impasse, this panel brings together an impressive, interdisciplinary group of experts from law, sociology, history of science, and journalism. Speakers will describe from their professional perspectives and personal experience, what is at stake—socially, politically, and epistemically—in the debate over evolution, and how a more nuanced understanding of this phenomenon might lead to more productive conversations between science and religion. The panel will consider how claims about the superiority of one form of knowledge over another are wrapped up in the American politics of cultural authority and with concerns regarding the freedom of thought and belief.

April 18, 2008, 10:00am-4:30pm
Center for the Environment, 24 Oxford Street

The workshop will focus on multiple sectors of emerging S&T, as well as on theoretical and empirical contributions from several disciplines. Participants will bring varied backgrounds in STS, history, anthropology, political science, public policy, law and sociology. The aim is to showcase the latest interdisciplinary thinking on regulation through new conceptual lenses that pay attention to the strategies, cultural contexts, and discourses of regulation.

Explaining Religion event poster
Barbara Herrnstein-Smith
April 14, 2008, 4:00pm-6:00pm
Fong Auditorium, Boylston Hall

Smith's talk is concerned with a series of recent studies that offer to explain various features of religion on the basis of current research and theory in evolutionary biology and cognitive science, a project that she calls the New Naturalism. In discussing the project and some of the conceptual, methodological, and ideological issues it raises, she focuses on Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (2001). She also discusses Walter Burkert, Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions (1995), which she takes as representing a significantly broader intellectual tradition in the naturalistic study of religion.

For older workshops, view the Workshops Archive.