Trevor J. Pinch: Visionary STS scholar, Influential Mentor, and Passionate Musician, Remembered

Professor Pinch was a precious resource for East Asian STS. Before serving as an advisory editor to EASTS, a role he took on at our inception, Trevor had traveled to East Asia and lectured to STS communities in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. These connections also led to his supervising several East Asian graduate students at Cornell, the university where he worked for over thirty years. Being a researcher who was not an East Asia specialist, EASTS benefitted greatly from Trevor’s generous and straightforward sharing of his views on STS. This memorial essay was initiated by three of Professor Pinch’s students—EASTS editor Honghong Tinn, Eunjeong Ma, and Hannah Rogers, who contributes the major part of this review of his career. He will be remembered not only for his ground-breaking work but also his enthusiasm for living a meaningful STS life, which he so amply demonstrated to us.

— EASTS Editorial Office

Trevor J. Pinch, eminent Science & Technology Studies scholar—a field he was instrumental in founding and shaping—musician, long-time chair of the influential Cornell University STS Department, Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences, and beloved teacher, passed away on December 17, 2021. Pinch trained in Physics and later Sociology in Britain before relocating with his wife, the STS scholar Christine Leuenberger, to the United States. Pinch is also survived by his daughters Annika and Benika.

Professor Pinch was one of the best-known scholars in the STS community in East Asia. He maintained strong ties with European STS scholars while teaching at Cornell University, demonstrating his commitment to international scholarship. He taught at the summer school of Korea University in 2005 and 2006 and participated in an EASTS workshop in Taiwan in 2006. The Golem book series which he co-edited with Harry Collins—including The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science, The Golem at Large, and Dr. Golem—has been translated, published, and taught in Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan since 1997. Pinch’s works have been widely taught in classrooms in Taiwan and Korea. During his 2006 East Asia trips with Christine Leuenberger he delivered a talk entitled “Researching Scientific Controversies: The S&TS Perspective” on the Hwang Woo-Suk human embryonic stem-cell research scandal. This greatly enabled the publication of the third issue of EASTS (Wu, Citation2019). After joining Cornell’s STS program in 1990 he served on several committees of PhD students whose research interests lay in Asian or East Asian science, technology, and medicine.

Several of these students later became contributors to EASTS, including, for example, Eunjeong Ma, Honghong Tinn, Anto Mohsin, and Ling-Fei Lin. His active scholarship in the areas of technology studies and user studies especially fit into East Asian scholars’ interests in histories, practices, and cultures beyond innovation.

Professor Pinch’s publications are numerous and his honors many. His early contributions, combined with those of his peers, led to the expansion of Science Studies into Science & Technology Studies. Pinch was the recipient of the 2018 J.D. Bernal Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S). He served as president of 4S from 2012 to 2013. He was the co-founder and editor of the MIT book series Inside Technology, which facilitated the introduction of new ideas and principles from an enormous range of scholars. In 1982, Pinch and Collins authored the classic STS text Frames of Meaning: The Social Construction of Extraordinary Science, which included his study of rationality analysing parapsychology and paranormal sciences. This text continues to appear on undergraduate and graduate syllabuses around the world.

Around the same time, in 1982, Pinch and Wiebe Bijker met and began to work together on their influential paper “The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts,” calling for integrating the sociology of science and the sociology of technology. After inviting Thomas P. Hughes to join as an editor, Bijker and Pinch’s collaboration brought into being The Social Construction of Technological Systems in 1987. Pinch’s co-authored article with Ronald R. Kline in 1996, “Users as Agents of Technological Change: The Social Construction of the Automobile in the Rural United States,” became a widely cited historical study elaborating users’ contributions to and modification of technology. How Users Matter, co-edited with Nelly Oudshoorn in 2005, was important for the formation of user studies, and the book was so easy to read and contained so many important concepts that it found its way into graduate and undergraduate science and engineering classrooms.

Many East Asian STS scholars will have heard of Pinch’s talks on Moog synthesizers in 2005 and 2006. Pinch had a passion for music which he nurtured though his own practice and which yielded further important scholarly research like Analog Days (with Frank Trocco, 2002) and the exhibition Electrifying Music: The Life and Legacy of Robert Moog (2021). At the same time, Pinch was thinking more broadly about the implications of sound, and in 2012 he co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies with Karin Bijsterveld. Together these two texts led the way for the realization of Sound Studies and inspired a generation of STS scholars to consider how art might intersect with science and technology. Pinch helped to launch these conversations at 4S by offering his expertise on many panels populated with junior scholars. His active participation showed his vision for the creation of this new field.

Pinch was always testing: he explored the worlds of sociology, music, and STS through his tests. “Testing - One, Two, Three … Testing!” was the title of an article he wrote in 1993 to discuss testing technologies and outline the sociology of testing. This phrase also alludes to Pinch’s later contribution to Sound Studies and his own work as a musician. Pinch’s ambitious tests in various research areas beyond those mentioned above include online consumers’ reviews of books and CDs (in 2005, around the time of the dramatic expansion of online shopping), the facilitation of dialogues between STS and economic sociology, and an reevaluation of Erving Goffman’s early emphasis on materiality and technology. These texts brought STS-centered, intellectually stimulating ideas into many allied disciplines.

Pinch was a wonderful mentor and an engaging lecturer. At Cornell, his course “What is Science?” was popular with engineering students. He often taught a packed hall, peppering his STS talks with personal stories and jokes, as well as examples from his on-going research. When he gave a talk titled “Why Social Scientists Need to Pay More Attention to Technology” in Taiwan in 2016, he took the microphone passed to him by Dr. Dong-Sheng Chen, who had just introduced him, and started his talk by saying “I hope you can hear me okay. I now understand the whole tradition in Taiwan of karaoke, which we did last night, is to practice holding a microphone!” Pinch then explained that the venue, a coffee shop with sound systems for live music performers near the National Taiwan University, was reminiscent of the “Lost Dog” in Ithaca NY, where he used to play electronic music. (This talk can be accessed at

Pinch was always prepared to ask intellectually provocative questions in talks, in classes, and in graduate students’ presentations. He looked focused and, therefore, perhaps tense when he proposed his insightful questions. But he was also always prepared to sprinkle his inquisitiveness with a humorous ending. Precisely thanks to his insights, the authors of this article, among the many graduate students he worked with, benefited greatly from the comments Pinch generously offered. Tinn remains thankful for his valuable help in her exploration and elaboration of the concept of tinkering with technology when she was working on her dissertation. In the fall of 2021, she told Pinch that his photo appears frequently in her STS teaching slides because she regularly teaches his Golem at Large in her “Ethics of Science and Technology.” Rogers had the good fortune to be pushed by Pinch during her first-year exam about being sure that she studied artists who would interest her in preparation for her second-year project. These queries led her toward her current research. Ma is deeply indebted to Pinch’s teachings both in academic and social settings, and remembers him as a great mentor and an attentively interactive scholar. While reading her doctoral dissertation, his sharp yet warm comments helped Ma to better understand the concept of (in)commensurability and its historical genealogy in STS scholarship. Many of Pinch’s works about technology and science are frequently used in Ma’s undergraduate and graduate courses for engineering students, such as “Engineering Ethics” and “Technology Design Studio.”

Pinch was always on the lookout for new developments in STS and new subjects to research. He was ready to serve on panels with far more junior scholars and even graduate students, a gracious act which added his intellectual weight to their projects, and his involvement drew the attention of yet more members of the STS community. He was especially attuned to finding and encouraging a spark of interest in his students. In the fall of 2021, Pinch kindly agreed to compose the foreword for the Routledge Handbook of Art, Science, and Technology Studies, which counted among its editors and contributors five former Cornell University graduate students. Pinch remained engaged with his mentees well into their careers and was ready to offer his insights to new fields. Pinch will remain a major figure in the field of STS, who, in the words of his colleague and friend Prof. Mike Lynch, put the “T” for technology into STS, but he will also be remembered as a fun conversationalist, ever-ready musician, and kind friend to colleagues and mentors alike.

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