Structural Inequalities and Technoscience

— Nathalia Hernández Vidal and Kelly Moore —

Social and material life has enduring, but not utterly obdurate, qualities that mean that the benefits and harms of technoscience are unevenly distributed, as are the options for redirecting them. These qualities include capacities to participate in and be recognized for technoscientific contributions, physical and cultural harms and benefits, to move about virtually and face to face, and to have one’s humanity recognized. STS’ explicit concern with these issues was evident in dozens of panels and panel streams at 4S, which asked how technoscience came to formulate, reproduce, and upend power relations.

The panel on Structural Inequality and STS examined this theme using varied theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding patterns of continuities and opportunities for rupture of structural inequalities. Moving beyond single cases, Hess offered methodology to understand the distribution of patterns of intellectual suppression and the qualities of the work and the creator most associated with it. Williams traced a related phenomenon: using the case of inventor Patricia Bath, she showed how raced and gendered cumulative disadvantage produce invisibility in the “global value chain” to which inventors contribute. Using Singapore as his case, Amir shed light on how we can use political economy and geography to understand senses of vulnerability at a state level, senses which get turned into materialities of “security.” Frickel, Apollonya, Niznik, and Teller showed us how to employ large-scale demographic and institutional data to understand how shifts in political economy have shaped the logics of expert involvement in social movements. Hernández Vidal and Moore used feminist/decolonial ethnography to trace the racial politics of seed liberation in Colombia.

Taken together, the panel made visible how science and technology are created and enacted in conjunction with interlocking economic, racial, gender, and geographic systems that are characterized by deep levels of inequality and social suffering—and ongoing and sometimes highly intensive forms of resistance. Thus, the panel emphasized that although enduring structures of inequality are very hard to disrupt, the efforts of social movements’ members, inventors, and scientists produce meaningful opportunities for those structures to be redirected.