Sheila Jasanoff is an American academic and significant contributor to the field of Science and Technology Studies.
She is Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where she directs the Program on Science, Technology, & Society. Her research focuses on science and the state in contemporary democratic societies. Her work is relevant to science & technology studies, comparative politics, law and society, political and legal anthropology, and policy analysis. Jasanoff’s research has considerable empirical breadth, spanning the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the European Union, and India, as well as emerging global regimes in areas such as climate and biotechnology.
One line of Jasanoff’s work demonstrates how the political culture of different democratic societies influences how they assess evidence and expertise in policymaking. Her first book (with Brickman and Ilgen), Controlling Chemicals (1985), examines the regulation of toxic substances in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The book showed how the routines of decision making in these countries reflected different conceptions of what counts as evidence and of how expertise should operate in a policy context. In Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States (2005), she has shown how different societies employ different modes of public reasoning when making decisions involving science and technology. These differences, which in part reflect distinct "civic epistemologies," are deeply embedded in institutions and shape how policy issues are framed and processed by the bureaucratic machinery of modern states.
Jasanoff has also contributed to scholarship on the interaction of science and law. Science at the Bar (1995), for example, reached beyond the prevailing diagnoses of structural incompatibilities between science and law to explore how these socially embedded institutions interact and, to a certain extent, mutually constitute each other. The concept of regulatory science, conducted for the purposes of meeting legally mandated standards, and the "boundary" drawing activities of science advisory committees are analyzed in The Fifth Branch (1990). More recently, she has explored the "rise of the statistical victim" in toxic torts, as the law with its individualistic orientation has increasingly encountered, and sought ways to accommodate, the statistical vision of such fields as epidemiology. In her work on science and law, as well as her research on science in the state, she takes an approach that links ideas from constitutional law, political theory, and science studies to consider the "constitutional" role of science in modern democratic states.
Jasanoff has considered the politics of science not only in a comparative but also in a global context. Examples include her work on the transnational aspects of the Bhopal disaster (Learning from Disaster 1994); her research on the formation and politics of global scientific advisory bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and her research on national and global environmental movements (e.g., Earthy Politics, 2004).
Jasanoff also has contributed to building Science and Technology Studies as a field. Prior to moving to Harvard, she was the founding chair of the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. She is also the founder of the Science & Democracy Network, a group of scholars interested in the study of science and the state in democratic societies that has met annually since 2002. Her research has been recognized with many awards, including the Bernal Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science.
She is married to Jay Jasanoff, and has two children, Maya Jasanoff, who is a professor in the Department of History at Harvard, and Alan Jasanoff, who is a professor in the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT.
- Brickman, Ilgen, and Jasanoff, Controlling Chemicals. Cornell University Press, 1985.
- Jasanoff, Sheila, Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States, Princeton University Press, 2005.
- Jasanoff, Sheila, Science at the Bar, Harvard University Press, 1995.
- Jasanoff, Sheila, The Fifth Branch: Science Advisors as Policymakers, Harvard University Press, 1990.
- Jasanoff, Sheila, “Science and the Statistical Victim: Modernizing Knowledge in Breast Implant Litigation,” Social Studies of Science, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Feb., 2002), pp. 37-69.
- Jasanoff, Sheila, “In a Constitutional Moment,” in Social Studies of Science and Technology: Looking back, Ahead (Bernward Joerges & Helga Nowotny, eds., 2003).