My research unites three strands of sociological inquiry: the political and organizational sociological analysis of scientific practices, the politics of knowledge in environmental sciences, and the relational social theory. It is only recently that scholars began to combine STS and environmental sociology. Theory-based qualitative research of that kind are making significant contributions to the field and beyond. I orient my research to this important pathway.
My works have been presented in the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA), the Midwest STS conference, and the Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S). My written works are published/under review in academic journals, such as Social Studies of Science, Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, Environmental Sociology, and Agriculture and Human Values.
Although sociologists have explored how political and economic factors influence the formation of ignorance in science and technology, we know little about how scientists comply with external controls by abandoning their prior research and leaving scientific innovations incomplete. Most research on ignorance by science and technology studies (STS) scholars has relied on structural and historical analyses, lacking in situ studies in scientific laboratories. Drawing on ethnographic research, this article examines the habitus of ignorance as a mechanism of the social production of ignorance at the Advanced Bioenergy Center (ABC, a pseudonym), one of the largest bioenergy research organizations funded by the Department of Energy (DOE). “Habitus of ignorance” denotes scientists’ set of dispositions that establish the practical sense which enable them to ignore particular scientific content. Leaders of the organization habitually legitimate the abandonment of unfinished projects, while ordinary laboratory scientists internalize the normalized view that the scientific field is inherently opportunistic and unfunded research should be left undone. The mechanism of social control of scientific knowledge consists of this cycle of legitimation and ease of ignorance by actors at distinctive positions within the organization. As the mechanism is habitually self-governed by the rules of the game of current scientific institutions, the result is an indirect, although deeply subjugating, unseen, and consolidating, form of political and economic domination of scientific knowledge during this neoliberal era of the knowledge economy.
(Jeon, J. (2019) Invisibilizing Politics: Accepting and Legitimating Ignorance in Environmental Sciences, Social Studies of Science, https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312719872823 )
(2020 George W. Smith Paper Award (SSSP Institutional Ethnography division, Winner); 2019 Hacker-Mullins Paper Award (ASA Section of Science, Knowledge, and Technology, Honorable mention); 2019 Brent K. Marshall Paper Award (SSSP Environment and Technology Division, Honorable mention))
2. Rethinking Scientific Habitus: Toward a Theory of Embodiment, Institutions, and Stratification of Science
Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus has been less utilized in Science and Technology Studies (STS) despite its potential usefulness. In this essay, I articulate the concept of scientific habitus as a theoretically concrete and empirically useful way to think about scientific practices. I argue that conceptualizing the scientific habitus offers three theoretical contributions which illuminate micro-practices of scientists as well as meso- and macro-level dynamics of the scientific field. First, the concept enables us to think of scientists’ worldviews and bodily techniques as an object of STS analysis. While the majority of STS scholars have focused on the construction of knowledge, scientific habitus allows us to study the construction of the scientists’ body and mind. Secondly, scientific habitus is a useful tool that links individual practices with institutional contexts; it highlights how the micro practices of individuals at scientific laboratories reflect and reproduce macro social structural power dynamics. Third, scientific habitus reveals the mechanism of stratification within the scientific field. It helps unpack scientists’ practical decisions surrounding research topics, ideas, and data. In consequence, scientific habitus explains why and how certain scientific projects are preferred or undone. In summary, scientific habitus has the potential to contribute a more encompassing explanation of the relationship between the structure of society and the internal logic of the scientific field.
(Available: Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, https://doi.org/10.17351/ests2019.303)
3. I Don't Care Who Rules in the White House: Self-Determination, Boundary Work, and Everyday Politics of Knowledge in a Science Laboratory
How do scientists find their place in the social world? How do the institutional contexts of scientists’ work environment, training processes, and peer-group interactions reflect scientists’ understanding of scientific practices, rules of the game of the scientific field, and themselves as scientists? Studies on the politics of knowledge have demonstrated that various social forces are enmeshed with the production of “legitimate” scientific knowledge, and boundary works in the scientific field—the field-wide efforts to distinguish science and non-science—are achieved through conflicts, negotiations, and stabilization. However, scholars have not yet developed an adequate explanation as to how scientists make sense of their own practice of boundary work in relation to their everyday laboratory life. Drawing on ethnographic research at a molecular biology laboratory, this article argues that the scientific habitus governs a scientists’ practical strategies for understanding the social world. With this acquired scientific habitus, scientists manage their scientific work as doable, make sense of their work in relation to perceived rules of the scientific field, distinguish the world to which they belong and the world of uncontrollability, and voluntarily find their symbolic place in society—the place they feel comfortable and confident. Therefore, they remain silent and indifferent under the already established political economic order that deeply structures the scientific field. Their self-confidence as scientists goes hand-in-hand with their self-negation in the political field. This study suggests that the construction and exercise of the scientific habitus reveal the everyday politics of knowledge.
(Presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting for the American Sociological Association, Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology)
4. Sustainability Transition in Agri-Food Systems: Insights from South Korea's Universal Free Eco-Friendly School Lunch Program
Government-sponsored school lunch programs have garnered attention from activists and policymakers for their potential to promote public health, sustainable diets, and food sovereignty. However, across country contexts, these programs often fall far short of their transformative potential. It is vital, then, to identify policies and organizing strategies that enable school lunch programs to be redesigned at the national scale. In this article, we use document analysis of historical newspapers and government data to examine the motivating factors and underlying conditions that allowed South Korea’s universal free, eco-friendly (UFEF) school lunch program to become a tool for advancing social justice and ecological goals at the national scale. We analyze the socio-historical evolution and current status of the Korean school lunch program, combining the multi-level perspective with insights from environmental sociology and critical food studies, in order to shed light on the factors that enabled the program to become an innovative niche and articulate the opportunities and challenges it now faces. We identify the state-sponsored creation of what we call “precautionary infrastructure” as a key anchoring mechanism between the school food niche and agri-food regime. Precautionary infrastructure includes new supply chains, certification standards, and sourcing policies that provide a stable market for eco-friendly farms and small-scale producers, while minimizing the environmental health risks of school lunch by delivering organic and pesticide-free ingredients to on-site kitchens that serve free lunches to all students. This analysis offers insight into how public school-lunch programs can become protected niches that help drive sustainability transitions within agri-food systems.
(Co-authored with Jennifer E. Gaddis; Available: Agriculture and Human Values, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10460-020-10137-2)
5. A Critical Appraisal of Diversity in Digital Knowledge Production: Segregated Inclusion of Knowledge Producers on YouTube
Diversity of knowledge production is a key challenge that science communication is facing. Despite extensive works showing how diversity has been undermined in offline science communication, little is known about whether social media can afford or hinder diversity for science communication. This paper addresses this gap by examining profile and network diversities of knowledge producers on a popular social media platform—YouTube. We performed network analysis to study the citation behavior of these producers and conducted contents analysis on channel profiles. We found that intersectionally diverse profiles are presented in digital knowledge production. However, network among these knowledge producers reveals the rich-get-richer effect. At the intersection of profile and network diversities, we also found that most frequently cited “super connectors” tend to be YouTube channels connected to mainstream media, portrayed with male and race-neutral profiles who explicitly claim to educate science to public. These findings shed new light on the emerging pattern of a juxtaposition of inclusiveness and segregation in online platforms, which we define as “segregated inclusion.” This segregated inclusion phenomenon further question how inequalities in science communication is replicated and amplified in relation to digital platforms.
(Co-authored with Kaiping Chen and Yanxi Zhou, R&R)
How are scientific experts classified from the public? Sociologists and Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholars have shown jurisdictional and network strategies of experts that prohibit the democratic practice of technoscience and have developed various social platforms for the public engagement in science. Despite various institutionalized practices for the public engagement in science, scholars have continued critical appraisals on how these alternative platforms can resolve social inequality, mediated by science and technology. In this context, this paper highlights the boundary-work between experts and the public with the theoretical lens of symbolic violence. In 2017, I conducted a laboratory ethnography at a bioenergy research center, located in the Midwest, United States. I participated in public events by the center and conducted follow-up interviews with participants. Experts and public members discover each other’s habitus during the interaction, and they classify each other. This relational boundary-work takes place in conjunction with symbolic violence that urges the public to define their ‘publicness.’ The public internalizes the attitude of indifference—a practical logic of ‘rational citizens’ who do not engage with scientific debates—that orchestrates massive disengagement of the public from the stage of science. Therefore, experts classify and structurate the public as a subject of symbolic violence. A self-negation by the public is an organized social phenomenon that requires social explanations, instead of individualized psychological accounts. This paper contributes to an understanding of social forces that marginalize the public by manufacturing their voluntary silences.