Sheila Jasanoff

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Sheila Jasanoff
Sheila Jasanoff in 2010
Alma materRadcliffe College, University of Bonn, Harvard University
OccupationAmerican social scientist, science and technology studies
EmployerCornell University, Harvard University
Spouse(s)Jay H. Jasanoff
ChildrenMaya Jasanoff, Alan Jasanoff

Sheila Sen Jasanoff is an Indian American academic and significant contributor to the field of Science and Technology Studies. In 2021 she was elected to the American Philosophical Society.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Jasanoff was born in Kolkata, and lived in Ballygunge with her family. She moved to Bombay in 1954 with her family, where she lived for two years before moving to the United States.[2]

Jasanoff attended Radcliffe College, where she studied mathematics as an undergraduate, receiving her bachelor's degree in 1964. She then studied linguistics, receiving her M.A. at the University of Bonn (then part of West Germany). She returned to Harvard to complete a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1973, on the grammar of the Bengali language, elucidating why Bangla did not share certain features with its closest relatives in the Eastern Indo-Aryan language family, Assamese and Odia.[3]

She completed her J.D. at Harvard Law School in 1976. She practiced environmental law in Boston from 1976 to 1978. She and her husband then accepted positions at Cornell University, where she became a pioneer in the newly emerging field of Science and Technology Studies. In 1998, Jasanoff joined the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as a professor of public policy. In 2002, she became Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies.[4][5]


Jasanoff founded and directs the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.[6] 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, sociology 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.[7] 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.[8][9] 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.[10][11] 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).[12][13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

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);[16] 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).[17]

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, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Albert O. Hirschman Prize from the Social Science Research Council.


She is married to Jay H. 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.[4][5]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Sheila Jasanoff : Sheila's World". Retrieved 2020-12-08.
  3. ^ "Sheila Jasanoff : Road to STS". Retrieved 2020-12-08.
  4. ^ a b Le, Quynh-Nhu (May 29, 2014). "Sheila S. Jasanoff '64, Professor at Harvard Kennedy School". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 28 April 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b "It Runs in the Family". Harvard Magazine. July 30, 2010. Retrieved 28 April 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ "Director: Sheila Jasanoff". Program on Science, Technology & Society. Kennedy School of Government Harvard University.
  7. ^ Brickman, Ilgen, and Jasanoff, Controlling Chemicals. Cornell University Press, 1985.
  8. ^ Ezrahi, Yaron (7 May 2008). "Controlling Biotechnology: Science, Democracy and 'Civic Epistemology'". Metascience. 17 (2): 177–198. doi:10.1007/s11016-008-9201-6. S2CID 170163161.
  9. ^ Jasanoff, Sheila, Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States, Princeton University Press, 2005.
  10. ^ Keniston, Kenneth (9 May 1996). "Book Review Science at the Bar: Law, science, and technology in America By Sheila Jasanoff. 285 pp. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1995. $29.95. 0-674-79302-1". New England Journal of Medicine. 334 (19): 1274. doi:10.1056/NEJM199605093341918. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Jasanoff, Sheila, Science at the Bar, Harvard University Press, 1995.
  12. ^ Burger, Edward J. (23 May 1991). "Book Review The Fifth Branch: Science advisers as policy-makers By Sheila Jasanoff. 302 pp. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1990. $27.95". New England Journal of Medicine. 324 (21): 1518. doi:10.1056/NEJM199105233242124.
  13. ^ Jasanoff, Sheila, The Fifth Branch: Science Advisors as Policymakers, Harvard University Press, 1990.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Jasanoff, Sheila, "In a Constitutional Moment," in Social Studies of Science and Technology: Looking back, Ahead (Bernward Joerges & Helga Nowotny, eds., 2003).
  16. ^ Young, Oran R. (1989). International cooperation : building regimes for natural resources and the environment (3rd reprint. ed.). Ithaca, Ny: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801495212. Retrieved 29 April 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ Knight, Eric (2013). Why we argue about climate change. Melbourne: Black Inc. ISBN 9781863956086. Retrieved 29 April 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

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