About the Department of Science and Technology Studies

In contemporary societies, societal change, political governance but also everyday decisions are ever more strongly based on scientific and technological knowledge. Innovations and discoveries receive high public attention, as their application potential is scrutinised and often taken as an indicator of future possibilities for societal development. These discourses of progress are however also accompanied by more critical voices, which stress the potential risks spawned by new techno-scientific knowledge, and which open up a range of fundamental questions on the relations of sciences and societies. Which knowledge do we as societies want to produce, and which structures are needed to successfully do so? How should this knowledge impinge on processes of governance? Where should societies allow techno-scientific developments to develop freely, where should they set limits? And who should have voice in all of these fundamental decisions? These are but a few of the most crucial questions we are confronted with today.

Science and Technology Studies (STS) address precisely these questions. As an interdisciplinary social science field, they aim at contributing to a more fine-grained understanding of the complex and multi-layered interactions of science, technology, and society. This on the one hand implies to analyse how social, economic and ideological contexts frame and shape scientific knowledge production. On the other hand, Science and Technology Studies aim to understand how techno-scientific developments impinge on life in contemporary societies. Though the Science and Technology Studies have strong ties to other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, political sciences, history or philosophy, their strength lies in transgressing established disciplinary boundaries, as well as in a clear problem-oriented approach to issues of science-society relations.

Institutionally speaking, the field of Science and Technology Studies has been established at the University of Vienna since 1987, at first as part of the Department of Philosophy and Social Studies of Science. Helga Nowotny was the first professor for Social Studies of Science. After succeeding Helga Nowotny as chair for Science and Technology Studies, Ulrike Felt founded the research group VIRUSSS: Vienna Interdisciplinary Research Unit for the Study of (Techno-)Science and Society. In 2004, VIRUSSS then became the core of the new department of Science and Technology Studies at Vienna University’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

Based on high-quality research, our aim is to foster critical reflexive debate concerning the developments of science, technology and society with scientists and students from all disciplines, but also with wider publics. Our research is mainly organised in third party financed projects, often based on interdisciplinary teamwork and aims at comparative analysis. Beyond this we offer our expertise and know-how in particular to practitioners working at the crossroad of science, technology and society.

For a detailed presentation of the history and profile of our department, please see: EASST Review