Susan Leigh Star

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Susan Leigh Star (1954–2010) was an American sociologist. She specialized in the study of information in modern society; information worlds; information infrastructure; classification and standardization; sociology of science; sociology of work and the history of science, medicine, technology, and communication/information systems. She commonly used the qualitative methods methodology and feminist theory approach.


Early life and education[edit]

Star grew up in a rural working class area of Rhode Island.[1] Starved for philosophy she befriended an ex-nun during high school and eventually obtained a scholarship to Radcliffe College where she began taking philosophy classes.[1] Not fitting in and deterred from taking a Religion degree, Star dropped out, married and moved to Venezuela where she co-founded an organic commune.[1] It was here that Star asked many of the questions that formed the basis of her research. Her work is guided by interests in both technology and feminism, and it was during this time that the women's movement and Kate Millett's Sexual Politics inspired her to ask questions about technology, and the effects that both good and bad technology have on oneself and on the world.[1]

Star later returned to school and graduated magna cum laude from Radcliffe in 1976 with a degree in Psychology and Social Relations.[1] She then moved to California and began graduate school in the philosophy of education at Stanford University. The program was not the right fit and she pursued her graduate education in sociology at the University of California.[1] She completed her dissertation, under Anselm Strauss, in 1983.[2]

Academic work[edit]

From 1987 to 1990, Star was an assistant professor at UC Irvine's Department of Information and Computer Science.[2] She taught a variety of subjects including: social analysis of technology and organizations, computers and society, research methods and gender and technology. In 1987-1988 Star held a fellowship at Centre de sociologie de l’innovation in Paris and worked with Bruno Latour and Michel Callon.[2]

After Irvine, Star held a Senior Lectureship and the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the University of Keele. In 1992, Star and partner Geoff Bowker went to the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Illinois until 1999.[2] After leaving the University of Illinois, they moved back to California and into the Department of Communication at the University of California San Diego where they remained until 2004. Star and Bowker moved north in 2004 and worked at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology and Society. In 2009 they moved to the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Information Sciences, where Leigh was awarded the Doreen Boyce Chair.[2]

In addition, she has been an invited speaker at many universities and industrial firms, such as: Harvard, MIT and Xerox PARC.[3] She was also co-Editor-in-Chief of Science, Technology, and Human Values and was president of the Society for the Social Studies of Science from 2005-2007.[3]

Star has been particularly influential in the area of information infrastructure, frequently noting that although the study of infrastructure often entails examining things that seem commonplace, those everyday items have widespread consequences for humans and human interaction.[3] Star has worked to develop ways of understanding how people communicate about infrastructure, and has helped develop research methods aimed to examine the role infrastructure plays in mediated human activities.[3] But her work extends far beyond the realm of information infrastructure. Star's interest in the connection between technology and lived experience led her to work in a wide array of disciplines, including library sciences, computer sciences, neuroscience, philosophy and women's studies.[2]

In the article “Institutional Ecology, 'Translations' and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39”, Star and her co-author Griesemer introduce the concept of boundary objects. In this article, Star and Griesemer analyze the formative years of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology by expanding the model of interessement developed by Latour and Callon, to form their concept of boundary objects.[4] Star and Griesmer initially defined boundary objects as “objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and the constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites...The objects may by abstract or concrete.”[4] For the purpose of this article, Star and Griesmer defined four kinds of boundary objects: “repositories, ideal types, coincident boundaries and standardized forms,”[4] however Star later commented that she never intended this to be a comprehensive list; rather she imagined the article as starting “a kind of catalog of some of the characteristics of boundary objects”.[5]


  • Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis (1982) (co-edited with R. Ruth Linden, Darlene R. Pagano, and Diana E. H. Russell)
  • Regions of the mind: brain research and the quest for scientific certainty (1989)
  • Institutional Ecology, 'Translations' and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39 (1989) (co-author with James Griesemer)
  • Cultures of Computing (1995) (Editor)
  • Ecologies of Knowledge: Work and Politics in Science and Technology (1995) (Editor)
  • Social Science, Technical Systems, and Cooperative Work: Beyond the Great Divide (Computers, Cognition and Work Series) (1997) (co-editor with Geoffrey Bowker, Les Gasser and William Turner)
  • Layers of Silence, Arenas of Voice: The Ecology of Visible and Invisible Work (1999) (co-editor with A. Strauss)
  • Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (MIT Press, 2000) (co-author with Geoffrey Bowker)
  • Enacting Silence: Residual Categories as a Challenge for Ethics, Information Systems, and Communication (2007) (co-editor with Geoffrey Bowker)
  • Standards and their Stories: How Quantifying, Classifying and Formalizing Practices Shape Everyday Life (Cornell University Press, 2009) (co-editor with Martha Lampland)
  • This is Not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept (2010)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Balka, Ellen (July 2010). "Susan Leigh Star (1954-2010)". Social Studies of Science. 40 (4): 647. doi:10.1177/0306312710376010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Balka, Ellen (July 2010). "Susan Leigh Star (1954-2010)". Social Studies of Science. 40 (4): 648. doi:10.1177/0306312710376010. 
  3. ^ a b c d Zachry, Mark (October 2008). "An Interview with Susan Leigh Star". Technical Communication Quarterly. 17 (4): 437. doi:10.1080/10572250802329563. 
  4. ^ a b c Star, Susan; Griesemer, James (1989). "Institutional Ecology, 'Translations' and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39". Social Studies of Science. 19 (3): 387. doi:10.1177/030631289019003001. 
  5. ^ Zachry, Mark (October 2008). "An Interview with Susan Leigh Star". Technical Communication Quarterly. 17 (4): 440. doi:10.1080/10572250802329563. 

Further reading[edit]

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