Background and activities

Wiebe E. Bijker (1951) is Professor-II at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture, Norwegian University of Science and Technology. On 12 May 2017 he became emeritus Professor of Technology & Society at Maastricht University, The Netherlands. For his valedictory lecture and the Symposium "Adventuring into STS" with Harry Collins, Knut Sørensen, John Law, Rosalind Williams and Shiv Visvanathan, see this link. 

He was educated as an engineer (physics) at Delft University of Technology, then studied philosophy of science at the Universities of Amsterdam and Groningen, and received a PhD in the history and sociology of technology from Twente University.

Bijker’s teaching and research focus on the relations between science, technology and society, encompassing the full spectrum from fundamental theoretical and empirical research to applied and policy-related projects. His work straddles the natural, social and humanistic sciences.

He played a central role in designing the teaching programme of the Netherlands Graduate School of Science, Technology and Modern Culture (WTMC), in establishing the European Association on Society, Science and Technology (with its European MA programme ESST), and in creating and directing the accredited research master Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST). He has always continued some undergraduate teaching activities and responsibilities. At NTNU Bijker participates in teaching the master course KULT-3304, "Technology, innovation and social change", in teaching the PhD course KULT-8873, "Technology, Science, and Culture", and in coaching PhD students.

Bijker held a variety of administrative offices in Maastricht University, nationally, and internationally. He was Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (1996 – 2000). Internationally his Presidency of the Society for Social Studies of Science and various roles in the Society for the History of Technology stand out.

Bijker’s PhD research used historical case studies (aluminium, bicycle, Bakelite, Sulzer weaving machine, transistor) to ask sociological questions about technology development. Bijker formulated in 1983 the ‘social construction of technology’ (SCOT) heuristics and theory. Joining forces with sociologists of science and historians of technology, this led to the 1987 volume The Social Construction of Technological Systems that came to be considered the beginning of ‘the new sociology of technology’. In 2012, at the occasion of MIT’s 150 anniversary, the faculty of MIT selected this book as one of the 50 most influential books ever published by MIT Press, and exhibited the book in the MIT Museum. In the 1990’s Bijker contributed to broadening both the research agenda and the theoretical and empirical scope of technology studies. The research questions were broadened to also address normative and political issues of technology, science and society. Theoretically this required new conceptions of technological culture, power, democracy, and vulnerability. New strategic research sites for Bijker’s empirical studies included health and medicine, town planning and architecture, gender and technology, sound studies, coastal engineering, water sanitation, sustainable energy and development studies. The successful demonstration by constructivist science and technology studies that knowledge and technology can be understood as social processes could easily—though erroneously!—lead to the conclusion that anything goes and that there is nothing special about scientific knowledge or technical expertise. A detailed analysis of the inner workings of the Health Council of the Netherlands serves as an antidote to this misreading and gives a new conceptualization of the role of scientific expertise in modern societies.

An important effect of the broadening of the research programme—and one in which new connections between research and teaching are emerging—is the engagement of technology studies with other scholarly disciplines (such as economics, political sciences, philosophy), and with practitioners (such as engineers and scientists), policy makers, and civil society groups. For his advisory work Bijker actively draws on his triple background in physics, philosophy, and history & sociology of technology. Especially in his chairing advisory committees of the Health Council of the Netherlands he is thus able to build bridges between the natural sciences and the humanities and social sciences. Recently completed EU projects aim deliberately at forging cooperation between the natural and social sciences (e.g. MILESECURE-2050). He is also member of the Board of the Rathenau Institute, the Netherlands organisation for technology assessment.

In his Presidential Address to the Society for Social Studies of Science Bijker argued in 2001 for a new role of STS researchers as public intellectuals. Following the events of ‘9/11’ he helped to formulate new ways for science and technology studies of engaging with questions of security, risk and vulnerability and with issues of development in the global south. This led to Bijker’s involvement in the formulation of new research programmes for NSF/ESF and the building up of a new research line in his research group in Maastricht. This engagement between academic work and the practices of science and technology for development is supported by his role as co-founder of the Knowledge in Civil Society Forum (KICS, Hyderabad, India), as scientific adviser to the African Technology Policy Studies network (ATPS), and by various EU-FP7 projects (e.g. SET-DEV and BESSE). In a NWO-WOTRO project (2009-2014) on nanotechnologies for development these research lines converged. This work is, in some sense, continued in an NWO-funded project on responsible biogas production in India (2016-2017). Since 2012 Bijker is Chairman of the Board of the research council NWO | WOTRO Science for Global Development.

In 2006 Bijker received the John Desmond Bernal Prize, awarded jointly by the Society for Social Studies of Science and the Thomson Scientific, for his distinguished contribution to the field of science and technology studies. In 2009 Bijker became Officier in de Orde van Oranje Nassau. In 2012 he was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci Medal by the Society for the History of Technology for his “outstanding contribution to the history of technology, through research, teaching, publications, and other activities.”

For publications, see: Research Gate