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Gwen Ottinger, PhD, Wins Rachel Carson Prize for her Book, “Refining Expertise”

April 15, 2015

Gwen Ottinger, PhD

Gwen Ottinger, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of History and Politics and the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, was awarded the Rachel Carson Prize for her book; " Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges". The Rachel Carson Prize is given annually by the Society for Social Studies of Science for “a book length work of social or political relevance in the area of science and technology studies.”

An ethnography of a neighborhood in close proximity to an oil refinery in southeast Louisiana, "Refining Expertise" shows how industrial facilities’ approaches to dealing with concerned communities leave much room for negotiation while shielding industry’s health and environmental claims from criticism. In the process, they undermine local communities’ campaigns for a safer environment; environmental activists’ work for stricter regulations, alternatives to fossil fuels, and greater environmental equity; and far-reaching efforts to democratize science.

The award citation praises the book as “Powerful and beautifully written,” telling “a new and compelling story about expertise, activism, industry, and government.” It further commends Ottinger for making a “bold new move” in how she positions herself in the text, showing how her conclusions were informed not only by observations in the field but interactions with colleagues as well. The citation concludes that, “Her deep reflexivity—intellectual, emotional, social—has produced a work that is stellar in its intellectual and methodological contributions.”

See the 4S prize announcement for more about the award and Ottinger’s acceptance.