Guided tour of my service and institutional development work VI

VI. Promoting interdisciplinary connections between history, philosophy, social studies, and biology

(continuing a guided tour of my work presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent)

The International Society for History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB) has biennial summer meetings that, as the website states: “bring together scholars from diverse disciplines, including the life sciences as well as history, philosophy, and social studies of science.” Interesting sessions—or sets of sessions—have been held within one of the disciplines, but what attracted me to the summer meetings and what my contributions to ISHPSSB have promoted are “innovative, transdisciplinary sessions” and “fostering [of] informal, co-operative exchanges and on-going collaborations.” Here I review my service to ISHPSSB, which, in a later post, I put in the context of a larger transdisciplinary life/work project.
In 1984 Michael Bradie, one of a series of philosophers of science who took sabbaticals at Richard Lewontin’s lab where I was working on my Ph.D. in ecology, encouraged me to attend the next meetings of what was then HPSSB. At St. Mary’s in 1985 I gave my first history of science talk (on H.T. Odum) and was excited to hang out with people who were attracted to—or, at least, comfortable with—crossing boundaries among history, philosophy, sociology, and biology. These meetings gave me confidence—and foolhardiness—to pursue a career path that has not respected disciplinary boundaries. I became a regular IS/HPSSB participant and began to organize sessions that fostered the discipline-transgressing qualities I valued. (The phrases from the website quoted above were written by me while, I think, serving as a program organizer for the 1991 meetings.) I also worked to ensure that institutionalization did not undermine the original impulse of promoting innovative, cross- disciplinary sessions and discussions. In that spirit, my ISHPSSB contributions have included:

  • Organizing or co-organizing sessions “Shifting frames in history, philosophy, and social studies of biology” (plenary session) and “Making sense of biologists making diagrams” in 1989; “Ecology in changing environments” and “Teaching interdisciplinary studies of biology” in 1991; “Changing Life in the New World Dis/order” in 1993; “The politics of conservation” in 1995; “Biology and agents without history” (plenary session) in 1997; “Genes, Gestation, and Life Experiences: Perspectives on the Social Environment in the Age of DNA” in 1999; “Teaching History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology” pre-conference workshop in 2001; “Knowing, Interpreting and Engaging with New and Old Biocomplexities” 2005; “Revisiting scientific and social debates about heritability in light of the under-recognized implications of heterogeneity,” 2009.
  • Editing or co-editing collections of publications arising from these ISHPSSB sessions:
    • “Pictorial representation in biology” Biology & Philosophy, 6, 1991 (with A. Blum).
    • “Science studies,” section of Social Text, 42, 1994-95.
    • “Ecological visionaries and the politics of conservation,” Environment and History, 3, 1997 (with R. Rajan)
    • Changing Life: Genomes, Ecologies, Bodies, Commodities Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (ed. with S. Halfon & P. Edwards), 1997.
    • “Natural Contradictions: Links between Ecological science and Environmental politics,” Science as Culture, 7 (4), 1998 (with Y. Haila).
    • “Philosophy of Ecology,” Biology & Philosophy, 15 (2):155-238, 2001 (with Y. Haila).

    (Also, from the 1989 meetings, I contributed to A. Clarke & J. Fujimura (eds.) The Right Tools for the Job: At Work in Twentieth Century Life Sciences, Princeton University Press, 1992.)

  • Establishing, while on the Executive from 1989-91 and 1993-99 (including President 1995-97): core committees and procedures; the Marjorie Grene graduate student prize; a Presidential plenary; the quoted wording above and other traditions that have continued under the subsequent “administrations.” (I also pinch hit during and after my term as President when there were gaps in coverage by the secretary/treasurer and in other places.)
  • Establishing an Education Committee in 1997 and serving on it until 2005.
  • Chairing and serving on the Marjorie Grene Prize Committee, 2005-9.

Although I continue to participate in ISHPSSB meetings, my focus in promoting “innovative, transdisciplinary sessions” and “fostering informal, co-operative exchanges and on-going collaborations” has, since 2001, shifted more to the smaller and more focused New England Workshop on Science and Social Change [which I describe in a later post] and its precursors.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

One Response to Guided tour of my service and institutional development work VI

  1. Pingback: Guided tour of my service and institutional development work VII: Transdisciplinary Development–A Context for ISHPSSB and Related Contributions « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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