Steven Epstein Professor of Sociology and 
John C. Shaffer Professor in the Humanities

Area(s) of Interest:  Science, knowledge, and technology; Health and biomedicine; Sexualities; Social movements; Theory; culture; Inequalities

Relevant Links

Science in Human Culture Program

Gender & Sexuality Studies Program

Cells 2 Society (C2S) 
The Center on Social Disparities and Health

Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN)

Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities


Ph.D (Sociology), University of California, Berkeley (1993). Professor Epstein is the director of the Science in Human Culture Program and of the interdisciplinary graduate cluster in Science Studies; a faculty member at the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; a faculty affiliate in the Gender & Sexuality Studies program; and a faculty associate in Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research. He is also a co-director of the Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN). Before joining the Northwestern faculty in 2009, Epstein spent the preceding 15 years on the faculty at the University of California, San Diego. He is a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a residency fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and a total of eight book prizes. His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Professor Epstein studies the “politics of knowledge”—more specifically, the contested production of expert and especially biomedical knowledge, with an emphasis on the interplay of social movements, experts, and health institutions, and with a focus on the politics of sexuality, gender, and race. Recently, he is a co-editor of Three Shots at Prevention: The HPV Vaccine and the Politics of Medicine’s Simple Solutions (Johns Hopkins, 2010). He is especially known for two books: Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research (Chicago, 2007), which received multiple awards, including the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Book Award; and Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (California, 1996), which also received multiple awards, including the C. Wright Mills Prize. He also coauthored Learning by Heart: AIDS and Schoolchildren in America’s Communities (Rutgers, 1989). Epstein has published in such journals as Social Studies of Science, Body & Society, Sociological Forum, Theory and Society, and Sexualities.

In his current primary research project, Epstein is studying the emergence and proliferation of the modern concept of “sexual health,” with the goal of understanding the contexts in which the recent emphasis on sexual health has arisen, the consequences of attempts to lay claim to it, and its implications for what we imagine sexuality to be. This work brings together his interests in knowledge formation, health politics, sexual subjectivity, and the genealogy and standardization of concepts.

Epstein currently serves on the editorial boards of a number of journals, including Social Studies of Science, Sexualities, and Science, Technology, & Human Values. He is a past chair of the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association. At Northwestern, he and Prof. Héctor Carrillo are co-directors of the Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN), a new initiative that promotes interdisciplinary research and education on sexuality and health in social context. SPAN funds faculty and graduate student research, holds a postdoctoral fellowship competition, and organizes workshops and reading groups, among other activities.

Courses Taught

Sociology Courses:

SOCIOL 220: Health, Biomedicine, Culture, and Society Syllabus

SOCIOL 476: Topics: Sociology of Health, Illness, and Biomedicine Syllabus

SOCIOL 476: The Politics of Knowledge: A Sociological Introduction to Science and Technology Studies Syllabus

Humanities Courses:

HUM 220: Health, Biomedicine, Culture, and Society Syllabus

HUM 395: Race/Gender/Sex & Science: Making Identities and Differences Syllabus


THREE SHOTS AT PREVENTION: The HPV Vaccine and the Politics of Medicine's Simple Solutions
Johns Hopkins Press, 2010

INCLUSION: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research
University of Chicago Press, 2007

IMPURE SCIENCE: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge
University of California Press, 1996

LEARNING by HEART: AIDS and Schoolchildren in America’s Communities
Rutgers University Press, 1989


For Men Arousal Is Orientation’: Bodily Truthing, Technosexual Scripts, and the Materialization of Sexualities through the Phallometric Test (with Tom Waidzunas)
Social Studies of Science, 2015

Immigrant Sexual Citizenship: Intersectional Templates among Mexican Gay Immigrants to the United States (with Héctor Carrillo)
Citizenship Studies, 2014

The Pharmaceuticalization of Sexual Risk: Vaccine Development and the New Politics of Cancer Prevention (with Laura Mamo)
Social Science and Medicine, 2013

Thinking Sex Ethnographically
Commentary for special issue marking the 25th anniversary of Gayle Rubin’s essay “Thinking Sex.”
GLQ, 2011

A World of Standards but not a Standard World: Toward a Sociology of Standards and Standardization
(with Stefan Timmermans), Annual Review of Sociology, 2010

Culture and Science/Technology: Rethinking Knowledge, Power, Materiality,
and Nature
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 2008