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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; Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator in Medical Humanities
2.05 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


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

Research Interests

I am interested in the growth of scientific medicine from the late 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. 

I currently hold 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 so-called genomic medicine. 

I have previous 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. 

Recent Publications

“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.

Recent and Current PhD Students

Thokozani Kamwendo, "Psychology and Behavioural Economics" (in progress)

Barbara Haward, "The History of Telegraphers' Cramp" (in progress)

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

Christina Plafky, "From Neuroscience to Juvenile Justice Practice in Scotland" (2013)

Joao Rangel de Almeida, "Choleric Nations: Science, Diplomacy and the Construction of an International Health Sphere: the International Sanitary Congresses 1851-1866" (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)

Topics interested in supervising

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 history of occupational diseases, the development of medical concepts of eating disorders, the nature of dendroclimatological knowledge, and the impact of neuroscience on youth justice policy and practice.

If you are interested in being supervised by Steve Sturdy, please see the links below for more information:

PhD in Science and Technology Studies; MSc (R) Science and Technology Studies