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Photo of Professor Susan Molyneux-Hodgson

Professor Susan Molyneux-Hodgson

Professor of Sociology, Associate Dean of Research

From August 2020 I am the Associate Dean for Research for the College of Social Sciences and International Studies. I continue as the Industrial Strategy Champion for the social sciences and work closely with colleagues in Innovation, Impact and Business (IIB) to ensure social sciences play a central role in all the University's work on knowledge exchange and industrial strategy. Prior to the ADR role, I was Director of Research for Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology.

I'm a sociologist of science, working in the field of science and technology studies (STS).  My overarching interest is in the everyday worlds of scientific work and how technical knowledge is produced through mundane practices. I focus primarily on communities of natural scientists and engineers - although intersections between those communities and the biosciences are increasingly prevalent. I've received funding from ESRC, NERC, EPSRC, BBSRC and InnovateUK and my research projects often include collaborations with scientists in academia and in industry. Currently, I am building on ESRC and EPSRC funded work to reinvigorate sociological attention to nuclear matter(s). In July 2019 I was elected President of SHARE, which is a research platform for social science and humanities researchers that study all aspects of ionising radiation. An EU project on the ethics of medical uses of radiation and the crossover in use of AI started in Sept. 2020. One output will be a 'strategic research agenda' for the social sciences on medical applications of radiation. Empirical studies on the making of the field of synthetic biology recently finished with completion of two projects that explored the performance of 'responsibility' and 'sustainability' in the bioeconomy. 

My teaching has usually focused on enabling students to develop as researchers and I have led the undergraduate 2nd and 3rd year core research skills modules ('Into the Field' and 'Dissertation') as well as leading on PGR research training for many years. From autumn 2020 however, I will not be teaching for a while and will miss all the interesting conversations with students on how research is enacted in different disciplines.

Research group links

Research interests

My research is in the field of science and technology studies and I am mainly concerned with the everyday enactment of scientific work, particularly in natural/physical sciences and engineering. My interests are focussed on two domains of scientific activity: 1) nuclear work, such as radioactive waste management and disposal; radioecology; medical uses of radiation; radiation protection and 2) synthetic biology, industrial biotechnology and the bioeconomy.

Since 2013 I've been developing a programme of work under the banner of 'Nuclear Societies'. This programme began as an ESRC-funded PhD initiative and now encompasses grants (ESRC; EPSRC); collaborations with technical groups; and intriguing opportunities for ethnographic fieldwork. More information can be found on the Nuclear Societies research page. In the UK, current policy on new nuclear projects, the potential of small modular reactors, and the search for a geological disposal facility for the nation's nuclear waste, mean that attention to critical sociological research on radiological issues is imperative. An EU-funded project on future research needs in medical applications of radiation (e.g. cancer diagnosis and treatment) began in 2020 and I'm responsible for work on the ethical challenges of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and machine learning. I am elected President of SHARE - a European network of social science and humanities researchers that aims to support SSH research on all aspects of ionising radiation. 

I've been tracing the development of synthetic biology since 2007 and through a series of projects have explored some of the ways the emergence of the field has been narrated; how different kinds of physical scientists and engineers have engaged with bioscientific work; and how new forms of bioscience come about through interdisciplinary practice. Two recent funded projects (BBSRC and iUK) involved collaborating with academic and non-academic scientists to understand how ideas of responsible innovation and sustainability were mobilised in their work. 

Across both of the above areas and beyond (water management; ecosystem services; biodiversity) a major challenge I work on is the integration of social sciences into the technical debates and projects. This has led to a strand of work and publications on interdisciplinarity as a process and accomplishment.

A recent book 'Community and Identity in Contemporary Technoscience' (doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-61728-8) was published open access by Springer in 2021. The book gathers chapters that explore whether, and how, contemporary scientific communities are experiencing fundamental shifts in community formation, identity and means of knowledge production. Early career scholars contributed chapters from multiple social science and humanities disciplines. 

 

 

Research supervision

I am keen to work with outstanding doctoral students in areas relating to my research interests and in the following areas more generally:

  • sociology of science and technology
  • engineering studies
  • responsible research and innovation
  • science policy
  • gender and science

Research students

Recent students supervised at Exeter

Current:

Florian Abraham (ESRC) Governing Uranium Mining in Greenland

Past:

Marika Hietala (ESRC) Making Distant Futures: implementing geological disposal of nuclear waste in the UK and Finland

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