James Griesemer

James Griesemer Portrait

Position Title
Distinguished Professor Emeritus

2297 Social Science and Humanities
1 Shields Avenue, Davis CA 95616


  • Ph.D. 1983, Conceptual Foundations of Science, University of Chicago
  • M.S. 1981, Biology, University of Chicago
  • A.B. 1977, Genetics, University of California, Berkeley


James Griesemer joined the UC Davis Department of Philosophy faculty in 1983. He is the founding director of the program in History and Philosophy of Science at UC Davis and participated in its evolution into the Science and Technology Studies Program. He works at the intersection of historical, philosophical, and social scientific problems of understanding the development of the modern biological sciences. He has lived through and studied numerous “scientific revolutions,” from the emergence of the impact theory of dinosaur extinction, to the rise of statistical thinking in ecology and systematics, to the emergence of multi-level evolutionary theory, to evolutionary transition theory of the origins of levels of biological organization, to epigenetic inheritance, to the fusion of evolution and development in “evo-devo,” and now the microbiome and holobiont revolutions in our understanding of biological “individuality.” He is intrigued with how much, how fast, and in what ways biological practices, theories, and knowledge change and yet how much they remain the same. He is at least as interested in how “low tech” can lead to “high science,” as in the impact of advanced imaging and information technologies on the biological sciences, so he studies the mundane as well as the spectacular in scientific practices, such as visual representation of observations in optical microscopes and pedigrees in genetic experiments, how specimens stored in the drawers of natural history museums embody sophisticated abstract theoretical models, and why – for all the excitement of systems biology, genomics and bioinformatics – biology is nevertheless fundamentally a science of material, reproducing organisms. He is amused by the fact that his most cited paper appears in a sociology of science journal and co-authored with a sociologist. You just never know how scholarship will turn out.

Research Focus

Professor Griesemer’s areas of specialization include philosophy, history and social studies of the biological sciences. He is also affiliated with the following:

Center for Population Biology, http://cpb.ucdavis.edu/

Population Biology Graduate Group, https://pbg.ucdavis.edu/

Science and Technology Studies Program, http://sts.ucdavis.edu/

Center for Science and Innovation Studies, https://csis.ucdavis.edu/

Cultural Studies Graduate Group, https://culturalstudies.ucdavis.edu

REACH IGERT, http://www.igert.org/


  • Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (2015) Reprint of Star and Griesemer 1989, Institutional ecology, “translations,” and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907 – 1939 (originally published in Social Studies of Science 19: 387-420), Chapter 7, pp. 171-200, In Geoffrey C. Bowker, Stefan Timmermans, Adele E. Clarke and Ellen Balka (Eds.) Boundary Objects and Beyond: Working with Leigh Star. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Griesemer, J. (2015) Reproduction in complex life cycles: A developmental reaction norms perspective, Philosophy of Science, online first http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/687865
  • Griesemer, J. (2015) Sharing spaces, crossing boundaries, Chapter 8, pp. 201-218, In Geoffrey C. Bowker, Stefan Timmermans, Adele E. Clarke and Ellen Balka (Eds.) Boundary Objects and Beyond: Working with Leigh Star. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Griesemer, J. (2015) What salamander biologists have taught us about evo-devo, In Alan C. Love (Ed.) Conceptual Change in Biology: Scientific and Philosophical Perspectives on Evolution and Development (Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science, vol. 307). Springer Verlag, Dordrecht, pp 271-301.
  • Griesemer, J. (2014) Reproduction and scaffolded developmental processes: An integrated evolutionary perspective, Ch. 12 In Alessandro Minelli and Thomas Pradeu (Eds.) Towards a Theory of Development, Oxford University Press, pp. 183-202.
  • Griesemer, J. (2014) Reproduction and the scaffolded development of hybrids, In L. Caporael, J. Griesemer, and W. Wimsatt (Eds.) Developing Scaffolds in Evolution, Culture, and Cognition, MIT Press, pp. 23-55.
  • Griesemer, J. (2013) Integration of approaches in David Wake’s Model-Taxon Research Platform for Evolutionary Morphology, Studies in History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44: 525–536.
  • Griesemer, J. (2012) Formalization and the meaning of “theory” in the inexact biological sciences, Biological Theory. OnlineFirst
  • Griesemer, J. (2011) Heuristic reductionism and the relative significance of epigenetic inheritance in evolution, in Hallgrímsson, Benedikt and Brian K. Hall (Eds.), Epigenetics: Linking Genotype and Phenotype in Development and Evolution, Berkeley: University of California Press, 14-40.
  • Shavit, A., & Griesemer, J. (2011) Mind the gaps: Why are niche construction processes so rarely used? In Snait Gissis and Eva Jablonka (Eds.) Transformations of Lamarckism: From Subtle Fluids to Molecular Biology, MIT Press, 307-317.


Professor Greisemer teaches courses in philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, and scientific reasoning in the Philosophy department. He also teaches a course on Darwin in the Science and Technology Studies Program.


  • 2011 – 2014 Herbert A. Young Society Dean’s Fellow, UC Davis
  • 2005-present, Member of the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Austria
  • 2007 – 2009 President, International Society for History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology
  • 1998 – Visiting Fellow, Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin (month of May)
  • 1994 – 1995 Fellow, Collegium Budapest (Institute for Advanced Study) (guest of the Rektor)
  • 1992 – 1993 Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study)