Steven Epstein Affiliated Faculty, Professor of Sociology and ?John C. Shaffer Professor in the Humanities

Steven Epstein is a faculty affiliate in the Gender & Sexuality Studies program and also co-directs the Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN). He studies the "politics of knowledge"—more specifically, the contested production of expert and especially biomedical knowledge, with an emphasis on the interplay of social movements, experts, and health institutions, and with a focus on the politics of sexuality, gender, and race. He is especially known for two books: Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research (Chicago, 2007), which received multiple awards, including the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Book Award; and Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (California, 1996), which also received multiple awards, including the C. Wright Mills Prize. He is a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, residency fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford and at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and a total of eight book prizes. His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In his current primary research project, Epstein is studying the emergence and proliferation of the modern concept of "sexual health," with the goal of understanding the contexts in which the recent emphasis on sexual health has arisen, the consequences of attempts to lay claim to it, and its implications for what we imagine sexuality to be. This work brings together his interests in knowledge formation, health politics, sexual subjectivity, and the genealogy and standardization of concepts.

As co-director of SPAN, Epstein helps promote interdisciplinary research and education on sexuality and health in social context. SPAN funds faculty and graduate student research, holds a postdoctoral fellowship competition, and organizes workshops and reading groups, among other activities. At Northwestern, Epstein is also affiliated with the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, the Science in Human Culture Program, the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing , and the Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research.


  • “The Proliferation of Sexual Health: Diverse Social Problems and the Legitimation of Sexuality” (with Laura Mamo).  Social Science & Medicine 188 (2017): 176-190.
  •  “The New Sexual Politics of Cancer: Oncoviruses, Disease Prevention, and Sexual Health Promotion” (with Laura Mamo). Biosocieties, online 16 May 2016 at doi:10.1057/biosoc.2016.10.
  • “‘For Men Arousal Is Orientation’: Bodily Truthing, Technosexual Scripts, and the Materialization of Sexualities through the Phallometric Test” (with Tom Waidzunas) Social Studies of Science 45, no. 2 (2015): 187-213.
  • “Immigrant Sexual Citizenship: Intersectional Templates among Mexican Gay Immigrants to the United States” (with Héctor Carrillo). Citizenship Studies 18, no. 3/4 (2014): 259-276.
  • “The Pharmaceuticalization of Sexual Risk: Vaccine Development and the New Politics of Cancer Prevention” (with Laura Mamo). Social Science & Medicine 101 (2013): 155-165.
  • Three Shots at Prevention: The HPV Vaccine and the Politics of Medicine’s Simple Solutions (Johns Hopkins, 2010), co-editor.
  • Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research (Chicago, 2007).
  • Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (California, 1996).
  • Learning by Heart: AIDS and Schoolchildren in America’s Communities (Rutgers, 1989).