Steve HoffmanAssistant Professor Sociology
Professor Hoffman received his Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University. His areas of interest include social theory, science and technology studies, cultural and political sociology, critical disaster studies, and comparative ethnography.
Hoffman’s scholarship links context, interpretation, and interaction into holistic, multi-level explanations of specific strips of social action. All of his work is united by an interest in the cultural politics of knowledge production. He is the Principal Investigator on a mixed-method, but primarily ethnographic, project entitled “Managing the Unimaginable: Knowledge Production, Prediction, and Anticipatory Technology among Toronto Area Disaster Management Professionals.” This multi-year project, supported by a SSHRC Insight Grant and UTM’s Peel Social lab, documents the epistemic cultures of disaster managers in the Greater Toronto Area. Hoffman is also interested in how knowledge about large-scale disaster events get mobilized for institutional change, for example how Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster shaped the divergent responses in German and American energy policy. Connected to these projects is Hoffman’s ongoing re-thinking of social constructionism for 21st century social science, rooted in his studies of the “practical use of other realities.” This work synthesizes an eclectic array of empirical cases ranging from simulation techniques in sports training, like boxing, to large scale exercises used to prepare for major catastrophes. Finally, Hoffman has published a series of articles, book chapters, and essays based on his comparative ethnography of Artificial Intelligence labs. That project showed how university scientists navigate the increasingly fraught waters of commercial relevance, societal impact, and academic capitalism. He continues to write and think about how the “real fictions” of AI shape a variety of social configurations and political institutions. His publications have appeared in numerous sociology and transdisciplinary venues, including Theory & Society, Sociological Theory, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Social Studies of Science, Sociological Forum, Cultural Sociology, Politics and Society, Law and Society Review, and Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale.
Professor Hoffman’s pedagogical philosophy rests on the principle of “learning by mistakes.” As the economist Kenneth Boulding stated, “Nothing fails like success because we don't learn from it. We learn only from failure.” Hoffman attempts to create an intellectually-safe environment where mistakes, curiosity, and speculation are all vital features of long-term learning. In the 2020-21 academic year, Hoffman is teaching courses on classical social theory and the sociology of disaster.
Despite Hoffman’s occasional nostalgia for the avocado and tangerine trees of his youth in Southern California, he considers himself lucky to be growing old in the Great Lakes region of North America.
Steve G. Hoffman. Forthcoming (2020). “A story of nimble knowledge production in an era of academic capitalism.” Theory & Society.
Steve G. Hoffman. 2019. “Broadening the Imaginary in Disaster Management.” The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge Broadsheet #5: Accounting. Issue 05 (July): 8-9.
Steve G. Hoffman and Paul Durlak. 2018. “The Shelf Life of a Disaster: Post-Fukushima Policy Change in the United States and Germany.” Sociological Forum. DOI: 10.1111/socf.12419
Steve G. Hoffman. 2017. “Managing Ambiguities at the Edge of Knowledge: Research Strategy and Artificial Intelligence Labs in an Era of Academic Capitalism.” Science, Technology, & Human Values. 42, 4: 703-740.
Steve G. Hoffman. 2016. “The Practical Use of Other Realities: Taking Berger and Luckmann into the Wild.” Cultural Sociology. 10, 1: 109-124.
Steve G. Hoffman. 2015. “Thinking Science with Thinking Machines: The Multiple Realities of Basic and Applied Knowledge in a Research Border Zone.” Social Studies of Science, 45, 2: 242-269.