Caring for nanotechnology? Being an integrated social scientist

From Social Studies of Science

As policymakers in the Western world increasingly embrace concepts of ‘responsible research and innovation’, integration goes mainstream. Science policy and funding guidelines have come to include calls for integration of the social sciences and humanities in technoscientific research and development projects to maximize societal benefits while minimizing negative impacts and public controversy. Articulating integration as both a kind of care work and as a ‘matter of care’ allowed the author to evince the workings, premises, and goals of integration as well the associated and often .invisible personal, epistemic, and affective costs of this world-making practice. At the core of this article is an attempt to engage empirically, conceptually, and affectively with the cares of integration in nanotechnology from the standpoint of the integrated social scientist.




One of the most significant shifts in science policy of the past three decades is a concern with extending scientific practice to include a role for ‘society’. Recently, this has led to legislative calls for the integration of the social sciences and humanities in publicly funded research and development initiatives. In nanotechnology – integration’s primary field site – this policy has institutionalized the practice of hiring social scientists in technical facilities. Increasingly mainstream, the workings and results of this integration mechanism remain understudied. In this article, I build upon my three-year experience as the in-house social scientist at the Cornell NanoScale Facility and the United States’ National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network to engage empirically and conceptually with this mode of governance in nanotechnology. From the vantage point of the integrated social scientist, I argue that in its current enactment, integration emerges as a particular kind of care work, with social scientists being fashioned as the main caretakers. Examining integration as a type of care practice and as a ‘matter of care’ allows me to highlight the often invisible, existential, epistemic, and affective costs of care as governance. Illuminating a framework where social scientists are called upon to observe but not disturb, to reify boundaries rather than blur them, this article serves as a word of caution against integration as a novel mode of governance that seemingly privileges situatedness, care, and entanglement, moving us toward an analytically skeptical (but not dismissive) perspective on integration.


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Article details
Ana Viseu
Caring for nanotechnology? Being an integrated social scientist
Social Studies of Science October 2015 45: 642-664, first published on August 24, 2015 doi:10.1177/0306312715598666



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