Steve G. Hoffman
Steve G. Hoffman is an associate professor in sociology at the University of Toronto.
He teaches undergraduate courses on the Mississauga campus and is part of the tri-campus graduate program on the St. George campus. Professor Hoffman received his Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University. His areas of interest include social theory, science and technology studies (STS), cultural, organizational, and political sociology, critical disaster studies, and comparative ethnography. 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 through 2023, 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 and Society, Engaging Science, Technology, & Society, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Social Studies of Science, Contexts, Sociological Forum, Sociological Theory, Cultural Sociology, Politics and Society, 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 2023-24 academic year, Hoffman is teaching courses on organizational sociology, science and technology, contemporary sociological theory, disasters, and environmental sociology.
Despite nostalgia for the avocado and tangerine trees of his southern California youth, Hoffman has largely imbibed what it means to be a dual citizen of the Great Lakes region of Turtle Island. While he does not typically speak in the third-person omniscient, he does derive modest pleasure from poking fun at this odd form of scholarly legitimation.