For years, the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) has been saddled with a reputation for empirical narrowness and lack of theoretical ambition. Preoccupied mainly with practices in labs and clinics, STS scholars—according to their critics—have shied away from challenging political questions, preferring the small canvas and empirical focus of object-centered case studies. While this approach produces sometimes brilliant accounts of things as they are, it does little to illuminate alternative visions of worlds as they ought to be. Like all generalizations, this criticism of STS was never fully justified. Broad critical studies of science and technology have continued to be written, though these tend to be more the work of social historians, feminists, and students of postcolonial science than of leading European and American contributors to contemporary sociologies of science and technology. Lately, however, the wheel has turned. Prodded by recurrent debates about the future of science and technology, and by debacles such as the mad cow epidemic in Britain and the rejection of genetically modified (GM) crops across Europe, STS scholars are once again directing their attention to politics. Foremost on the agenda is the issue of democracy. How in today’s technology-saturated societies can people exercise control over futures dominated by expert knowledge grounded in the closed world of the laboratory? This book by Michel Callon, among the most respected names in STS, and his distinguished Parisian colleagues Pierre Lascoumes and Yannick Barthe squarely addresses that question. Opening with scenes from a 1999 STS meeting in Japan, the authors focus on the consensus conference, then recently imported into Japanese debates on gene therapy, as a device for restoring the citizen’s voice in governing science and technology. What, though, is the purpose of such a procedure? Is consensus an end in itself or are deeper issues at stake?
Jasanoff, Sheila. Review of Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy, by Michel Callon, Pierre Lascoumes, and Yannick Barthe. Technology & Culture, 53.1, January 2012: 204-206.