In this “New Faculty Spotlight,” the UC Davis Humanities Institute interviewed two new faculty members who focus on science and technology studies. Hired in the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program and the Science and Technology Studies Program respectively, Sara Giordano and Gerardo Con Díaz expand the depth of research at UC Davis on the social and political life of science and technology.
Sara Giordano, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies
Sara Giordano joins the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program as an assistant professor. Trained as a neuroscientist, Giordano is located in the field of feminist science and technology studies (STS) where her academic work and activism center on developing ‘bottom-up’ research that is driven by community questions.
“I found feminist STS as the place to do my most critical science work, with opportunities to create new kinds of knowledge as scientific knowledge,” Giordano explained.
Giordano’s work addresses “science in context,” or, how scientific knowledge is created in a specific social, cultural, and political context with repercussions for how it produces categories like race, gender, ability and disability. Her active research projects explore “new” democratic sciences, and the broader move to democratize the biological sciences through community or Do-It- Yourself (DIY) laboratories. She has carried out ethnographic work with various “tinkerers” in the biological sciences who are challenging traditional ways of doing science with attention towards playfulness, discovery, and entrepreneurship.
Giordano juxtaposes the new tinkerer figure with previous feminist and social justice activists “who claimed epistemic authority over the places they live and created movements and texts—like Our Bodies Ourselves—as articulations of democratic science,” she said. These ideas are extended in her book manuscript, The Politics and Ethics of ‘Labs of Our Own’: Post/feminist Tinkerings with Science, which also addresses mainstream democratic movements in synthetic biology, tensions in the public communication of science, and feminists, like herself, who have ‘defected’ from the sciences.
Giordano will teach her first course at Davis in the winter, an upper-division class in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program titled “Science, Gender, and Social Justice.” In addition to having students interact with scientists, and rethink/retheorize their relationship to science, Giordano intends to cultivate a critical science literacy among her undergraduates.
Critical science literacy emphasizes the political work of scientific knowledge and teaches students to evaluate that knowledge and engage in the process of production at some level. Giordano’s future plans include creating a “feminist science shop” at UC Davis where students can take up interdisciplinary research projects—claiming scientific knowledges about their bodies and environments—with the directive for research given by local community members. This format still works within an academic model of training, but engages with humanistic methodologies to think more broadly about who is a scientist and where scientific questions come from.
Gerardo Con Díaz, Science and Technology Studies
Gerardo Con Díaz, a historian of technology, joins the UC Davis Science and Technology Studies Program as an assistant professor this fall. Con Díaz’s research uses the history of software patenting to investigate how technology, business, and law shape each other over time.
Con Díaz’s academic training includes experience with technical fields like mathematics and computer programming, as well as humanistic approaches into the social, economic, legal, and political contexts of technology. Studying law and technology is an interconnected and expansive undertaking that requires a broad view, Con Díaz noted, and his approach to the history of technology highlights questions about how we govern ourselves. “My simultaneous focus on governance and on the conceptual and qualitative issues that arise in legal and commercial spaces enables me to employ methods in the humanities and social sciences alike,” he said.
His book manuscript, a history of software patenting that Yale University Press will publish in the spring of 2019, analyzes the impact that American patent law has had on the country’s software industry. It inquires into how firms, programmers, managers, and judges have conceptualized what it means to own a computer program and the implications that these different conceptions have had on the industry itself.
“Back in the 1960s, why would a firm want to patent a computer program when they knew they wouldn’t ever sell it?,” Con Díaz asked. His book examines how American software firms relied on intellectual property to establish a growing international industry.
“Even though computer programs are my object of inquiry—I have to go into each program and understand its structure—what interests me most is how people engage with the program, what they think it is and what it does, and how they try to make a future for that program in the market,” he explained.
Con Díaz is already teaching in the Science and Technology Studies (STS) Program, and will lead a special topics course on computer data and law in the winter. In addition to STS majors, he hopes that his interdisciplinary course will draw engineers and computer scientists, and those interested in business and law school. He intends to create a space in that course for students from different backgrounds to think through how law and technology impact one another and our social systems.
He hopes to also teach courses on the history of computing, business and technology, as well as a class on gender and information technology that asks historical questions (why did the number of women in computing drop so sharply in the United States at the end of the twentieth century?) as well as theoretical questions (What gender dynamics arise and persist in virtual worlds, YouTube, and in gaming?).
– Stephanie Maroney, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies