Isabel Fletcher
University of Edinburgh Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems, Business School, United Kingdom

Adele Clarke, 1946 – 2024

by Isabel Fletcher


Adele Clarke, feminist science and technology studies (STS) scholar and women’s health activist, died on January 19, 2024 in San Francisco at the age of 78. In the course of a long and distinguished career, Clarke made important contributions to feminist STS, the history and sociology of medicine and qualitative research methods. In recognition of this impressive body of work, she received the 2012 Bernal Prize for Outstanding Contributions from the Society for Social Studies of Science.

Like many people I came to Adele’s work through reading what is probably her best-known publication Disciplining Reproduction: American Life Scientists and the ‘Problem of Sex’. This prize-winning book, based on her PhD research, was an important milestone in both the history of medicine and the social study of reproduction. I read it as a Master’s student in STS and, although I do not work on reproduction, I found it an exemplary account of the growth of a new disciplinary specialism.

I never met Adele in person but did briefly collaborate with her when I was asked to interview her for a series of interviews with founding figures in STS developed by colleagues at the University of Edinburgh (Mazanderani et al., 2018). As I have written elsewhere this was important to me because it combined my academic interests in the history of twentieth century medicine with my feminist politics (Fletcher and Clarke, 2018: 236-7). Throughout this process, I found Adele to be a generous and patient collaborator who, whilst being careful to maintain her high standards, was also very approachable and willing to take considerable time to share her experience and knowledge with a novice researcher.

Studying science technology and medicine with rigour

Adele came to academia from a background in women’s health activism, and this shaped her career in important ways. She described her central research interest as ‘STS-inspired reproduction studies’ and with a range of collaborators she published on topics such as pap smears, RU486 (Mifepristone) and clitoral anatomy, as well as contributing to the women’s self-help manual Our Bodies, Ourselves. She insisted on the importance of the social study of medicine – preferring the name science technology and medicine studies (ST&MS) rather than STS – because it is both an area of practice that has become increasing dominated by science and technology, and also the place where most people encounter it in their everyday lives. Her understanding of the importance of technoscience in American medicine was formalised in concept of ‘biomedicalization’ (Clarke et al, 2010). This concept was an important and influential account of the major changes that have taken place in the constitution, organisation, and practices of contemporary biomedicine since the mid-1980s. 

Adele saw herself as rooted in STS, but she had issues with conventional accounts of the field. The segregation she saw between feminist STS and other forms of STS worried her, as did the absence of academics of colour.For her, STS is part of a progressive political project of ‘imagining alternative and better worlds’ (Fletcher and Clarke, 2018: 239). Analysing interactions between science, technology and gender – and later race, post-coloniality and indigeneity – is a key element of this project as it allows us to understand how science and technology travel and are adapted in different contexts.

Acting on her convictions, Adele was involved in what we would now describe as initiatives to decolonise STS, first by increasing the participation of scholars of colour in the 2001 Society for the Social Study of Science conference and secondly by supporting the establishment of the journal East Asian Science, Technology and Society. When we spoke, in 2016,she was enthusiastic about the development of scholarship in Asia and South America, and predicting that Africa would be the next important site of innovation in STS.

Finally, Adele was also an expert in research methods. Her PhD supervisor, the sociologist Anselm Strauss, developed Grounded Theory and, through her further development of these methods into an approach, Adele labelled Situational Analysis, she later contributed significantly to interactionist sociological methods (Clarke, 2005; Clarke et al. 2017). Adele’s methods expertise meant that she was deeply concerned with the rigour of social science research and argued for better training in STS for new entrants to the field, especially in its key “theory-methods packages” (Fletcher and Clarke, 2018: 230-1) in order to maintain this rigour.

A well-loved collaborator and colleague

As well as her choice of research topics and innovative teaching, Adele’s activism also influenced how she conducted research. Throughout her career she worked with a wide range of collaborators. She clearly enjoyed the process of collaborating and valued the relationships it sustained: throughout our interview she was careful to acknowledge her co-authors, colleagues and those who had inspired her work (Fletcher and Clarke, 2018). Through her mentoring of many less-established colleagues, Adele has also created a network that is well-placed to take forward the approaches that she pioneered in post-colonial STS and beyond.

Whilst writing this piece, I read obituaries describing Adele’s ‘refreshingly nonlinear’ career (Caspar, 2024), but also some very moving shorter online in memoriam messages from academics at all stages of their careers as well as those from outside academia (ForeverMissed, 2024). All these accounts show how Adele was highly valued as a colleague, mentor and friend. All the communities she belonged to have lost an important and loved member who will be hugely missed, even by those of us who only knew her briefly.


Casper, M.J. (2024) Remembering Adele Clarke. BioSocieties, 19, pp. 154–158

Clarke, A.E. (1998) Disciplining Reproduction: American Life Scientists and the ‘Problem of Sex, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Clarke, A. E. (2005). Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the postmodern turn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications,

Clarke, A.E., Mamo, L., Fosket, J.R., Fishman, J.R. and Shim, J.K. (eds) (2010) Biomedicalization: Technoscience, Health, and Illness in the U.S. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Clarke, A.E., Friese, C. and Washburn, R.S. (2017) Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the interpretive turn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Fletcher, I. and Clarke, A.E. (2018) Imagining Alternative and Better Worlds: Isabel Fletcher talks with Adele E. Clarke. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 4, 222-45: ForeverMissed(2024). Adele Clarke. [online]. forevermissed. com. Available at: [Accessed 7th May 2024].

Mazanderani, F., Fletcher, I. and Schyfter P. (eds) (2018) Introduction: Talking STS. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 4, 179-182:

Author biography

Isabel Fletcher is a qualitative social scientist whose research is based in science technology and innovation studies, but also incorporates approaches from sociology, food policy and inter- and transdisciplinary research. She has two main research interests: 1) interactions between food system actors (policymakers and industry) and nutrition research and the effects of these interactions on everyday eating, and 2) the ways in which interdisciplinary research is used to address complex social problems, such as unhealthy diets, or the negative environmental impact of food production.

Isabel is currently co-investigator on the UKRI- funded TRAnsforming the DEbate about livestock systems transformation (TRADE) project (PI Professor Dominic Moran, UoE Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems). She also leads the Policy Unit of the Wellcome-funded Living Good Food Nation Lab project (PI Prof Mary Brennan, UoE Business School). Finally, she co-convenes the Food Researchers in Edinburgh (FRIED) research network and organises its online seminar series.