Studying Field Emergence: HPV and the Expanding List of Oncoviruses

Recently, an expanding and seemingly settled set of scientific facts has coalesced around the causative role of sexually transmitted viral infectious agents in the development of human cancers. The most well known case is the human papillomavirus (HPV), which gained public awareness in 2005 with a large-scale direct-to-consumer "awareness" campaign launched prior to the FDA approval of a vaccine technology. This case of a virus-cancer connection while most well-known is joined by at least five other "oncoviruses" (HBV,HCV, HHV-8, EBV, and HTLV-1) that together constitute an expanding conceptualization of cancer causation and field of research. In addition, these six cases unite sex and cancer in ways that, while not new, provoke analysis.

Studying Field Emergence examines the politics of biomedical knowledge, with an emphasis on the politics of sexuality, gender, and race as various social worlds - scientific and professional experts, activists and social movements, government and industry, collide and collaborate with this emergent biomedical knowledge.

Research Questions

1. What are the knowledge-making practices and distinct scientific disciplines that give rise to conceptual understandings of cancer as linked to sexually transmitted viral infections? 

2. In what ways are expert and public understandings of cancer and/or infectious disease transformed?

3. What are the gender, race, and sexual dynamics of this knowledge production?

4. What are the social implications of the emergent regime of cancer causation for biomedical science, industry, and practice for health discourse, health care, and health equity? 

These questions are pursued through ethnographic research and in-depth interviews using a social worlds approach. The research not only contextualize how new scientific fields emerge and with what social implications, but also show they are constitutive of industry, publics, and cultural ideas. The broader social impact of this research is to influence the ways publics understand the complexities of human cancers and the current scientific approaches to cancer causation theories and cancer prevention technology.    

Latest News

Stay tuned for updates and the latest news as the project progresses.

The Team

Lead Faculty: Laura Mamo, PhD, Principal Investigator  

Affiliated Project Staff

  • Jesus Gaeta, Graduate Student Assistant 


National Science Foundation (Science, Technology and Society Program)