Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, University of Wisconsin Madison

Sainath Suryanarayanan

Postdoctoral Research Associate
346C Agricultural Hall
1450 Linden Drive
Madison WI 53706

(608) 698-0592


PhD., 2009, University of Wisconsin-Madison


C&E Soc 248: Environment, Natural Resources and Society (Spring 2013)

STS 201: Where Science Meets Society (Spring 2009)


Initially trained as a social insect biologist, for the past few years, I have been publishing historically grounded sociological scholarship on the environmental problem associated with accelerated die-offs of honey bees and other insect pollinators. My recent work, in collaboration with Daniel Lee Kleinman and supported by the National Science Foundation, has appeared in a variety of journals including Social Studies of Science, Science, Technology & Human Values, Issues in Science & Technology, and The Guardian (UK).

Research Areas:

Politics of Scientific Expertise

One strand of my research has sought to understand the factors that shape the circumstances under which different actors are listened to and ignored in technical debates that affect their lives and livelihoods. In particular, I have utilized an ongoing controversy over the role played by certain insecticides in colony collapse disorder (CCD)--an environmental phenomenon of accelerated honey bee deaths in the United States-- to understand how the social and historical organization of scientific knowledge production marginalizes the perspectives of certain stakeholders. This work showed that-- (1) separate approaches taken by different groups to assessing the factors responsible for complex social-ecological phenomena are underpinned by divergent professional norms, interests, and specific histories of the fields in which they practice; and (2) which understandings are given priority are questions of power and politics, and histories of domination and subordination.

A sample of this research:

Suryanarayanan, Sainath and Daniel Lee Kleinman. 2013. "B(e)ecoming Experts: The Controversy Over Insecticides in the Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder", Social Studies of Science 43: 215-240.

Social Production of Ignorance

Another related strand of my research contributes to emerging scholarship in the sociology of ignorance by studying how ignorance-- understood as the absence of knowledge--is systematically embedded in the very machineries of knowledge production. This work centers on the dominance of the experimental approach taken to studying the purported links between newer 'systemic' insecticides and ongoing honey bee deaths. Even though bee scientists conceptualize the problem as being multifactorial, in practice their approach is designed to isolate single factors and their direct, causal role through precise control of all other potentially confounding environmental variables--a 'control-oriented' approach. Consequently, complex scenarios, such as those proposed by beekeepers' epistemologies, wherein the insecticides by themselves may not be causing CCD, but may do so through intricate interactions with multiple other environmental factors across a honey bee's lifecycle and over a longer-term, tend to be excluded. These gaps in the biological knowledge on CCD are maintained, in part, by the career structure of academia. The high stakes involved in securing publications, grant funding and tenure orient disciplinary researchers toward adopting narrowly conceived epistemologies and practices, because they have a higher likelihood of leading to conclusive results.

A sample of this research:

Kleinman, Daniel Lee and Sainath Suryanarayanan. 2013. "Dying Bees and the Social Production of Ignorance", Science, Technology & Human Values 38(4): 492-517.

A Transdisciplinary Deliberative Model for Just Research and Policy

My current research is also supported by a National Science Foundation award. Along with Daniel Kleinman, I am examining the potential of deliberative strategies to serve as a broadly applicable method for improving the influence of a wide array of stakeholder perspectives in scientific research and policy. Approximately 15 scientific and non-scientific participants with diverse approaches and professional backgrounds are being sought from relevant stakeholder groups to engage in a series of face-to-face structured deliberations, which will be interlaced with a pilot field study on honey bees and other insect pollinators over a period of two years. Semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, and participant observation will be used to gauge the impact of the deliberations on participants' understandings, agricultural practices and policies, and on the kinds of control, measurement, and interpretation that constitute the agreed-upon experimental design. This research extends the reach of Science and Technology Studies (STS) to efforts to resolve a real world ecological problem while advancing scholarship on democratizing science. It aims to broaden the participation of primarily affected and often-excluded citizens in the production of research and policy and stands to make important contributions to environmental problem solving.

A vision of this research is outlined here:

Suryanarayanan, Sainath. 2013. "Balancing Control and Complexity in Field Studies of Neonicotinoids and Honey Bee Health", Insects 4 (1): 153-167.