Bernal Prize 2020: Sharon Traweek and Langdon Winner

The Society for Social Studies of Science annually awards its Bernal Prize to an individual who has made distinguished contributions to the field of STS. Past winners have included founders of the field, along with outstanding scholars who have devoted their careers to the understanding of the social dimensions of science and technology. The 2020 Prize goes to Langdon Winner and Sharon Traweek.

Sharon Traweek

Professor Sharon Traweek teaches in the Department of Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has also been on the faculties of UCLA’s History Department, Rice University’s Anthropology Department, and MIT’s Program in Anthropology and Archeology and Program in Science, Technology, and Society. In 2015 she was invited as visiting researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. She has held visiting faculty positions at Lund University, the Mt. Holyoke Five College Women’s Studies Research Center, the Anthropology Department at the University of California at San Diego, the Program in Values, Technology, Science, and Society at Stanford University, and the Sokendai Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan. She received her PhD from the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Professor Traweek has been an extraordinary educator. She has taught, mentored, and fostered the growth of so many STS undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars.  She has given generously of her time and talents to countless young scholars in the field who were not formally her students. We applaud her generosity.

Sharon Traweek’s research on transnational science and on high energy physics demonstrated the cultural life of science in ways that other STSers of her generation had not. She wrote and talked about high energy physicists’ cultural practices in ways that make the physicists human and fallible, about their production of knowledge as practice and not episteme. Her extensively cited book, Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists (Harvard University Press, 1988), reconfigured the theoretical and storytelling possibilities for lab ethnographies. It examines three intersecting cultures: Japanese physicists, US physicists, and the international physics community. She famously analyzes these scientists’ self-perceived separation from culture as itself a cultural element—a culture of no culture. In doing so, the book profoundly influenced both science and technology studies and the anthropology of science. Her work is much closer to Ludwig Fleck’s discussions of science, in contrast to Thomas Kuhn’s idea of science as ideation. Instead of separating mind from body in Cartesian fashion, Traweek’s work puts the humans back into science and the scientists back into their cultures and sociocultural practices. This also is represented in Traweek’s research on gender in science. Traweek’s ethnographies of science demonstrate how lab ethnographies are not one thing, that they can differ depending on the theoretical frames of the authors. More recently, Traweek has been studying how education is changing and what that means for science and politics.

Langdon Winner

Langdon Winner is an American political theorist and one of the most accomplished and recognized scholars in the field of Science and Technology Studies. He is Thomas Phelan Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. In 1990, he was research fellow at the Center for Technology and Culture at the University of Oslo, Norway. In 2010 he was Fulbright Scholar at the Complutense University in Madrid. He is also visiting Professor of Informatics and Society at the Pontifical University of Salamanca in Madrid and Visiting Professor at the Department of Philosophy of Technology, Northeastern University in Shenyang, China.

Winner’s most cited article Do Artifacts Have Politics? of 1980 has inspired a wide spectrum of critique and analysis of technological arrangements as, among other things, political orderings of our society. Since then, his career has focused on the political dimensions of science and technology, technology policy and the politics of technology. Winner has addressed key intellectual questions of classical and modern political theory in order to debate how order, power, freedom, authority and justice had resonance within technological devices. More specifically, he has brought a new dimension into the field by addressing how these classic questions in political theory are often deeply embedded in technical and material frameworks. His work emphasizes that because technological innovation is inextricably linked to processes of social reconstruction, any society that hopes to control its own structural evolution must confront each significant set of technological possibilities with scrupulous care.

Since the 1977 Autonomous Technology and The Whale and the Reactor of 1986, he has constantly argued against technological sleep-walking, reminding us that technological systems and designs are also political choices and should viewed as debated as such, measured against the public values we hold dear. His caution against the exuberant celebration of the coming of de-centralized information society in articles such as Mythinformation foretold the nasty political situation we are facing today, which are variously described as post truth and such. His later dedication to the teaching of design studies with an STS perspective is also heavily centered on the idea that designing artifact is simultaneously designing the way we live together as human beings. Aside from being a perceptive scholar, Winner is an especially dedicated teacher, influencing generations of STSers as well as undergraduate students who go on to all walks of life.

Winner writes not only in dialogue with fellow academics to address crucial intellectual issues in our fields, but most importantly for a wider public about political values in a technological society. His work is published in a wide variety of forms: from scholarly treatises, magazine columns, blog entries, radio interviews to techno-satires such as the video Automatic Professor Machine critiquing the fad of online teaching when it was just over the horizon, not after it has become disconcerting reality of daily lives for the vast majority of us in the year 2020. Winner’s persistence on public intellectual work is especially vital in the era of COVID-19 when the public mistrust of expertise and the political forces playing on it has ceased to be just fringe phenomena but have by now resulted in massive human tragedies in too many countries.

Bernal Prize Committee Members: María Belén Albornoz (4S Council, Chair), Hsin-Hsing Chen (4S Council), Katie Ulrich (6S Chair), Joan Fujimura (4S President).

Acceptance statements:


It is a great honor to accept the Bernal Prize. It is a daunting list to join; over half the awardees were in my dissertation bibliography.   I have been inspired by decades of STS scholarship on epistemological, theoretical, and methodological reflexivity, as well as by the ongoing challenges raised by long term participant-observation, auto-ethnography and action research.  I am embedded in and challenged by feminist STS, especially the part that explores unexamined epistemic assumptions and the damage that can be done by them.  STS taught me that technologies are stunning devices, not applied sciences.  I both study and practice collaborative, transnational STS, exposing the harsh presumptions of metropoles and peripheries, laced with ideological narratives of diffusion and dependency.

Gloria Anzaldua, Sandra Harding, and Jacques Derrida have taught us that embracing our mixtures, borderlands, and margins can provide an excellent standpoint for examining the assumptions and practices of privilege, entitlement, authority, and expertise. As the late John Lewis recommended, I like to find good trouble—to live on the epistemic faultlines where conceptual ruptures appear both routinely and unexpectedly. Since finding 4S journal in a UCSC library, STS has taught me and sustained me through a complex meshwork of epistemic friendships. I cannot imagine my work without 4S. I thank you profoundly for the respect that this award represents.  I am truly grateful for this great honor, although I do not know now how to wear it, and most likely never will.


Flabbergasted but delighted, I want to send my sincere thanks to the Bernal Prize committee and, indeed, to the membership of 4S as whole for the recognition this distinguished honor represents.  Yes, my route into field of science and technology studies has been rather idiosyncratic.  It began with starting points in political thought that eventually called attention to the issues of order, authority, freedom, oppression, equality/inequality, and justice embedded in material and technical things.  Overcoming early resistance from those who found the whole project completely nuts, I persisted long enough to see the insight finally recognized as valid, even obvious, but one in need of far more rigorous methodology than I’ve been able to provide.  Along that path I’ve occasionally found it useful to challenge alternative paradigms that sought to open the black box, provocations that I hope have been helpful (at least in the long run).  My consistent goal has been to foster democratic perspectives in the design, development and application of technologies of all kinds.

I am especially grateful to the people and institutions that have supported my work over the years.  Among political scientists Todd LaPorte, Sheldon Wolin, and Hannah Pitkin patiently encouraged my early fumbling efforts.  As I committed to work within the academic venues of STS the inspiring presence of Charles Weiner, Leo Marx, Larry Bucciarelli, Joseph Weizenbaum, and Richard Sclove helped orient my thinking.  During three decades at Rensselaer my generous colleagues Shirley Gorenstein, Sal Restivo, Tom Carroll, David Hess, Ned Woodhouse, Nancy Campbell, and grad students too numerous to list have been greatly helpful.  Members of the Society for Philosophy and Technology, including Don Idhe and Mark Coeckelbergh, have worked assiduously to blaze a disciplinary setting for inquiries of this kind beyond the social sciences proper.  Among the sources of research support, grants from The National Science Foundation and a fellowship from the Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture at the University of Oslo have been greatly helpful to me over the years.  Special thanks to my wife, Gail Stuart, and three sons – Matthew, Brooks and Casey – who  understood why I so often vanished into my study.  And not to forget – the music, poetry and painting of Don Van Vliet have served as a continuing reminder of the comic surrealism at the heart of modern material culture.

Traweek Bio

My interdisciplinary PhD is from the History of Consciousness program at the University of California Santa Cruz. In the 1980s I taught in the MIT Programs in Anthropology & Archeology as well as Science, Technology & Society, and then in the Anthropology Dept at Rice University. Since then I have taught in the Departments of Gender Studies and History at UCLA.  I also have held visiting positions in Japan, Europe, and the US. My first book, Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists (1988; Chinese translation 2003) still cited for its ethnographic approach to the study of daily knowledge making practices in Japan, Europe, and the US, including disciplinary, career, and subject formations in globally distributed collaborations and the global assemblage of ‘big science’ infrastructures whose scale transforms their sites, from villages to universities.  I continue to study those issues in the physical sciences, conducting multi-sited ethnographic studies of how gendered epistemic privilege is generated and maintained through fashioning extremely expensive and huge devices, from detectors, accelerators, and observatories to massive data sets that circulate everywhere, but are always quite locally, historically situated while transforming scholarship across the academy. I have published widely on these topics. Now I am collaborating with Knut Sorensen in an ethnographic study of how universities are changing as sites of knowledge making, juxtaposing my concepts of faultlines and meshworks with his ideas about domestication and morphing; that book is under contract with Routledge. My research has been funded by the Danforth Foundation, the Fulbright Association, the Luce Foundation, NSF, and the Japanese government, among others. My work always has been vastly improved by a wonderful and treasured set of postdocs, graduate, and undergraduate students.

Winner Bio

Langdon Winner is a political theorist who focuses upon social and political issues that surround modern technological change.  As Thomas Phelan Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences, he teaches  in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  Among his writings are Autonomous Technology, a study of technology-out-of-control in modern thought, and The Whale and the Reactor (now in second edition).  He is past president of the Society for Philosophy and Technology.  Langdon received his B.S., M.S. and PhD in political science from the University of California, Berkeley.  A sometime rock critic, his writings on music and culture have appeared in Rolling Stone and The Atlantic.  He was consultant to the director for Godfrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance.  His satires include the rock supersession album The Masked Marauders and tech spoof The Automatic Professor Machine. Active in politics, he was part of the Stop The Plant movement that prevented construction of a huge coal burning cement factory near Hudson, New York.  Winner has lectured widely in the U.S., South America, Europe, and China.  His travels include research and teaching positions at the University of Leiden, U.C. Santa Cruz, Harvey Mudd College, Skidmore, College of the Atlantic, M.I.T., Northeastern University in Shenyang, and the Science Council of Spain.