In this article, we draw on archival research, participant observation and content analysis to examine urban sustainability, networked infrastructures and environmental justice movements. We do this by focusing on proposal to develop Philadelphia into a natural gas energy hub. The proposal aimed to fully utilize fracking in the Marcellus Shale by privatizing the city’s gas utility (PGW) and expanding gas infrastructure such as petrochemical complexes and large gas transmission pipelines. The proposed development was enabled by federal and state-level legislation favorable to corporate interests, and by support for selling PGW by the Mayor of Philadelphia. Resistance by local- and national-scale environmental and climate justice coalitions and local labor unions soon drew the attention of Philadelphia City Council members, who refused to authorize the sale. This resistance put in motion several important developments that effectively blocked re-making Philadelphia into the next energy capitol. While it should be seen as just one chapter in an ongoing struggle against the complete utilization of fracking in the Marcellus Shale, this case illustrates the power of local resistance to block the flow of fracked gas through cities, and to push for less environmentally destructive economic expansion plans.
Kelly Joyce, PhD, was lured to Drexel in the fall of 2012 to help build the master’s program in science, technology and society (STS). Instead, she went above and beyond and expanded the program into the College’s latest academic center. Joyce shares what attracted her to Drexel and to her field of work.
Q: What brought you to Drexel?
I came here because I admire the University’s support of cross-disciplinary scholarship and out-of-the-box thinkers. Drexel is nimble, eclectic, creative, community-centered and transformative. This is a place where innovative research can thrive. The commitment to excellence in research and teaching, and in cultivating strong community ties with the surrounding neighborhoods, is electrifying.
Q: What are your research interests?
My research investigates the cultural and institutional dimensions of medicine, science and technology. Previously, I conducted a sociological analysis of MRI technology and studied issues related to aging, science and technology, promoting the idea of ‘technogenarians’ to highlight how old people creatively work with technologies that are often not designed with aging bodies in mind.
I have two current projects. The first focuses on autoimmune disease: examining the stakeholders who created and mobilized the category ‘autoimmune illnesses,’ people’s experiences of living with these varied illnesses, and the technologies used to measure environmental exposure in relation to autoimmune illnesses. The second takes up the ethics of algorithms: investigating the ethics and values of the computer scientists, information scientists and software engineers who are creating algorithms to see if and how these values affect their output.
Q: Congratulations on your recent National Science Foundation (NSF) Award for the Algorithms Project. Is it common for social scientists to get funding from the NSF?
The NSF has supported the social, economic and behavioral sciences since its inception in 1950. These fields systematically research topics of national importance, such as how people make decisions, as well as the dynamics of organizations, groups, economies and governments. The NSF is also interested in multidisciplinary teams that include social scientists, natural scientists, computer scientists and engineers, believing that each type of expertise is crucial to innovation and knowledge.
The social, ethical and political dimensions of big data are understudied. The algorithms project (award #1338205) aims to contribute to this broader issue, providing insight into the decisions that shape algorithm design and subsequent data, as well as what gets left out.
Q: Why a Center for Science, Technology and Society?
The Center for STS brings together faculty and students who study the social, ethical and political dimensions of science, technology and medicine. Given how important science and technology issues are in contemporary society, and Drexel’s role as a leader in science and tech, Drexel is a perfect place to investigate these issues. I am looking forward to collaborating with colleagues and students in this effort. The STS Center also highlights the contributions of the humanities and social sciences, demonstrating how these fields generate new insights into the creation and evaluation of technologies, medical knowledge, and science and technology policies.
Q. When you look back on your career, what do you hope to have achieved through your work?
I hope my research helps people look at medicine, health and technologies through new lenses and pushes them to question taken-for-granted ideas. Are claims that suggest that the physical exam is less useful than an MRI exam accurate? Are stereotypes that suggest that old people are technologically challenged accurate? Are algorithms really going to run our lives? What does that even mean? In my work, I gather data to critically examine popular ideas, looking at the people and social worlds that give rise to them.
Joyce was formerly an associate professor and dean of undergraduate studies at the College of William and Mary, and director of both the Science, Technology and Society Program and the Ethics Education in Science and Engineering Program at the National Science Foundation. She received her BA in anthropology from Brown University and her PhD in sociology from Boston College.
Kelly Joyce, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Sociology and in the Science, Technology, and Society program. Professor Joyce is the author of the book "Magnetic Appeal: MRI and the Myth of Transparency" (Cornell University Press, 2008) and is co-editor of "Technogenarians: Studying Health and Illness through an Aging, Science, and Technology Lens" (Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2010). Joyce studies the social, cultural and political dimensions of medical technology innovation. Her research is situated at the crossroads of medical sociology and science and technology studies—it has been funded by the National Science Foundation and NIH.
Joyce previously was an associate professor of sociology at the College of William and Mary. She also served as a program director for the Science, Technology, and Society program and the Ethics Education in Science and Engineering program at the National Science Foundation during 2009-2011. She received the Director's Award for Collaborative Integration for contributing to the education of ethical scientists, interagency collaboration and extraordinary efforts in integrating ethical expertise with scientific knowledge in 2011.