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School of Social and Political Science: Staff profiles


Steve Sturdy

Steve Sturdy
Professor Steve Sturdy
Professor of the Sociology of Medical Knowledge
Science Technology and Innovation Studies School of Social and Political Science University of Edinburgh
2.82 Old Surgeons' Hall High School Yards Edinburgh UK
+44 (0)131 651 4741
Research Interests
History of science and medicine, Medical sociology, sociology of scientific knowledge, genomics, Historical sociology

Guidance and Feedback Hours

  • Tuesdays, 2-4 pm


I am an interdisciplinary scholar working at the intersection of the history and sociology of science and medicine. Originally trained in the biological sciences, I found myself increasingly interested in understanding what science is, how it produces trustworthy knowledge, and what work it does in the wider world. I began to find answers to these questions by studying for a Master's degree in the philosophy of science followed by a PhD at the University of Edinburgh's renowned Science Studies Unit. I subsequently spent seven years researching and teaching at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, before returning to the University of Edinburgh with a Wellcome Trust University Award in the History of Medicine. I have remained here ever since, as the Science Studies Unit has expanded and amalgamated with other units to become one of the world's largest and most dynamic centres of research and teaching in science, technology and innovation studies. 


  • MA (Natural Sciences) University of Cambridge
  • MA (Philosophy of Science) University of Western Ontario
  • PhD (Science Studies) University of Edinburgh


Research Interests

History of science and medicine, Medical sociology, sociology of scientific knowledge, genomics, Historical sociology

Research Overview

I am interested in the development of medical knowledge and medical practice from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. In particular, I use insights from the sociology of scientific knowledge to examine how developments in medical science have informed and been informed by wider changes in medical practice and medical policy. 

My earlier research focused on the growth of so-called "scientific medicine", and especially on the growing use of laboratories in medical research and practice, from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. More recently, I have been researching the development of "biomedicine" from the mid-twentieth century to the present, with a particular focus on medical genetics and genomics. 

Current Projects

I am currently writing up findings from a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award in Medical Humanities for a research project entitled Making Genomic Medicine. This project aims to disentangle the scientific, technological, social and political processes that have led, over the past forty years or so, to the current ferment of activity around medical genomics and genomic medicine. 

I am also co-director, with Sarah Cunningham-Burley, of the University of Edinburgh Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society, with funding from a Wellcome Trust Discretionary Award. 

Completed Projects

I have previously conducted historical research into the development of physiological holism, the making of early twentieth-century British health policy, medical science in the First World War, and the constitution of medical cases as objects of scientific knowledge.

I also contributed, with Richard Freeman and Jennifer Smith-Merry, to the Europe-wide Know&Pol project, looking at the role of different kinds of knowledge in mental health policy in Scotland and Europe. 

Other Research Activities

From 2006 to 2012 I was deputy director of the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, a novel initiative which acted to integrate diverse strands of ESRC-funded social science research into the new life sciences; to develop links between social scientists and scientists working across the entire range of genomic science and technology; and to connect research in this area to policy makers, business, the media and civil society in the UK and abroad.


Guidance and Feedback Hours

Tuesdays, 2-4 pm

Undergraduate Teaching

PhD Supervision

PhD Topics

I welcome enquiries from PhD applicants interested in conducting research on any aspect of the history or sociology of modern (post-1800) medicine and the life sciences. Topics studied by my current and recent PhD students include the implementation of genomic technologies in British healthcare, the history of occupational diseases, and the nature of dendroclimatological knowledge.

Find out more about the programmes that I am involved with:

PhD in Science and Technology Studies; MSc (R) Science and Technology Studies; MSc (R) Sociology and Anthropology of Health and Illness

Current PhD Students

Anna Kuslits, “Anatomy in the eighteenth century”

Jarmo De Vries, "Implementing the NHS Genomic Medicine Service"

Janet Philp, "Fascia and anatomy"

Completed PhD Students

Rhodri Leng, “Selective citation and the shaping of scientific knowledge: Citation network analysis and the diet–heart debate” (2020)

Barbara Haward, "Telegraphists’ cramp: the emergence and disappearance of an occupational disease between 1875 and 1930" (2019)

Thokozani Kamwendo, “Heuristics and Biases to Behavioural Economics: A Sociology of a Psychology of Error” (2017)

Meritxell Ramirez Olle, "The Making of Dendroclimatological Knowledge: A Symmetrical Account of Trust and Scepticism in Science" (2016)

Christina Plafky, "From Neuroscientific Research Findings to Juvenile Justice Practice in Scotland" (2013)

Joao Rangel de Almeida, "The 1851 International Sanitary Conference and the Construction of an International Sphere of Public Health" (2012)

Isabel Fletcher, "Obesity: A Historical Account of the Construction of a Modern Epidemic" (2012)

Monica Garcia, "From Medical Geography to Germ Theory in Colombia, 1860-1900" (2009)

Gethin Rees, "Corroboration, Consent and Community: A 'Meaning Finitist' Account of the Forensic Medical Examination of Acute Sexual Assault Complainers in Scotland" (2009)

Graeme Beale, "Tinbergian Practice, Themes and Variations: the Field and Laboratory Methods and Practice of the Animal Behaviour Research Group under Nikolaas Tinbergen at Oxford University" (2009)

Donna Messner, "Fast Track: The Practice of Drug Development and Regulatory Innovation in the Late Twentieth Century U.S." (2008)

Angela Cassidy, “Of Academics, Publishers and Journalists: Popular Evolutionary Psychology in the UK” (2003)

Lorna Campbell, “Principle and Practice: An Analysis of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Euthanasia Debates” (2003)

Ki-Heung Kim, “From Scrapie to Prion Disease: The Social Construction of a Novel Infectious Agent” (2002)

Morrice McCrae, “The Scottish Roots of the National Health Service” (2000)

Patricia Soley Beltran, “Transsexualism and the Heterosexual Matrix: A Critical and Empirical Study of Judith Butler's Performative Theory of Gender” (2000) 

Jonathan Adams, “Unconventional Therapies in General Practice: Boundary Construction, Identity and Authentication” (1999)

Elaine Thomson, “Women in Medicine in Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century Edinburgh: A Case Study” (1998)


“Local mutations: On the tentative beginnings of molecular oncology in Britain 1980-2000”, New Genetics & Society, in press

“Finding the global in the local: constructing population in the search for disease genes”, in Jean-Paul Gaudillière, Claire Beaudevin, Christoph Gradmann, Anne M. Lovell, Laurent Pordié (eds), Global Health and the New World Order: Historical and Anthropological Approaches of a Transition (Manchester University Press, 2020), pp. 154-182.

“Half a century of Wilson & Jungner: reflections on the governance of population screening”, Wellcome Open Research, 2020, 5:158, DOI 10.12688/wellcomeopenres.16057.2 (with Fiona Miller, Stuart Hogarth, and twenty-six others)

"Seeing utility: regulatory reform and genetic tests in the USA, 1989-2000”, Sociology of Health & Illness, e-pub ahead of print (2020), DOI 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.112924

“Patient organization involvement and the challenge of securing access to treatments for rare diseases: report of a policy engagement workshop”Research Involvement and Engagement, 3 (2017): 14, DOI 10.1186/s40900-017-0065-z (with Koichi Mikami)

The Therapeutic Implications of Muscular Dystrophy Genomics, Wellcome Witnesses to Contemporary Medicine, vol. 62 (London: Queen Mary University of London, 2017), edited with Apostoulos Zarros, Caroline Overy, Koichi Mikami and E.M. Tansey

“Biotechnology and the transformation of vaccine innovation: the case of the hepatitis B vaccines 1968-2000”Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 64.1 (2017), 11-21 (with Farah Huzair)

“Personalized medicine and the economy of biotechnological promise”, in Therese Feiler, Kezia Gaitzkell, Tim Maughan and Joshua Hordern (eds), Personalized Medicine: The Promise, the Hype and the Pitfalls, Special Issue, The New Bioethics: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Biotechnology and the Body, 23.1 (2017), 30-37

“Doing comparison: producing authority in an international organization”, in Annabelle Littoz-Monnet (ed.), The Politics of Expertise in International Organizations (London: Routledge, 2017), pp. 187-202 (with Richard Freeman)

“Importing forensic technologies into border control: genetic ancestry and isotope testing in the UKBA’s Human Provenance Pilot Project”, in Benjamin N. Lawrance (ed.), Adjudicating Refugee and Asylum Status: The Role of Witness, Expertise, and Testimony (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 202-220 (with Richard Tutton and Christine Hauskeller)

Knowledge in Policy: Embodied, Inscribed, Enacted (Bristol: Policy Press, 2014), edited with Richard Freeman

“Suspect technologies: forensic testing of asylum seekers at the UK border”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37.5 (2014), 738-752 (with Richard Tutton and Christine Hauskeller)

Genetics and the Sociology of Identity, Special Issue, Sociology, 47.5 (2013), edited with Christine Hauskeller and Richard Tutton.

“Reciprocal instrumentalism: Scotland, WHO Europe, and mental health”, International Journal of Public Policy, 9.4-6 (2013), 260-276 (with Jennifer Smith-Merry and Richard Freeman)

"Making knowledge for international policy: WHO Europe and mental health policy, 1970-2008", Social History of Medicine, 26.3 (2013), 532-554 (with Richard Freeman and Jennifer Smith-Merry)

"Recovery in Scotland: the rise and uncertain future of a mental health social movement", Society and Mental Health, 3.2 (2013), 114-132 (with Jennifer Smith-Merry)

"Stakeholder consultation as social mobilization: framing Scottish mental health policy", Social Policy and Administration, 46.7 (2012), 823–844 (with Jennifer Smith-Merry and Richard Freeman)

"The meanings of 'life': biology and biography in the work of J.S. Haldane", Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 21 (2011),171-191.

“Implementing recovery: an analysis of the key technologies in Scotland”, International Journal of Mental Health Services, 5 (2011), article 11 (with Jennifer Smith-Merry, Richard Freeman)

"Looking for trouble: medical science and clinical practice in the historiography of modern medicine", Social History of Medicine, 24 (2011), 739-757.

"Scientific method for medical practitioners: The case method of teaching pathology in early twentieth-century Edinburgh", Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 81 (2007), 760-792.

"Knowing cases: biomedicine in Edinburgh, 1887-1920", Social Studies of Science, 37 (2007), 659-689.

"Making sense in the pathology museum" in Anatomy Acts: How We Come to Know Ourselves, ed. Andrew Patrizio and Dawn Kemp (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2006), pp.107-115.