Sphere transgressions in health and social care: reflections on the role of the embedded social scientist

Rik Wehrens*, Iris Wallenburg, Lieke Oldenhof

*Corresponding author for this work

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Social scientists are increasingly involved in large health technology consortia to enhance the societal relevance and acceptability of the innovations that are developed, tested, or implemented. In this paper, we critically reflect on the role of such ‘embedded social scientists’ in various digital health technology initiatives. We reflect on our experiences in several large-scale consortia and smaller local partnerships we were involved in studying the development of digital technologies in health and welfare. Informed by our background in pragmatist interventionist research, we suggest that there are additional tensions and action repertoires for social scientists beyond the identification of transgressions, as proposed by the Sphere Transgressions framework. However, the Sphere Transgression framework focuses primarily on signaling potentially problematic conversions of advantages, it produces fewer immediately relevant clues on what other kinds of contributions social scientists can make to responsible and ethical forms of innovation, and how they can do so. We describe three tensions emerging from the conflicting agendas, goals, and expectations of different stakeholders, zooming in on how we navigated this normative complexity. In the discussion, we tie our reflections to the role of power dynamics in technology consortia and the boundaries of embedded research.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Feb 2024

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


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