Mira Vale

I am a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan. I study how organizations and social institutions adapt in the face of technological change, combining approaches from economic sociology, medical sociology, and science and technology studies.

My work starts from an observation of a longstanding pattern: technological innovation outpaces social systems of moral and legal evaluation. The systems that regulate and make sense of new technology develop after we discover what new technology makes possible. Using ethnographic and mixed qualitative methods, my research asks: How do norms and values around new technology get settled?

My dissertation and book project examines the construction of ethics in digital health, a discipline that develops and adapts technology for healthcare. Although the field of digital health is growing rapidly, it is largely unregulated. My dissertation draws on extensive ethnographic fieldwork and interviews across the United States to explore how digital health researchers tackle questions about privacy, algorithmic bias, and the marketization of personal data in the absence of clear social or legal prescriptions. Amidst calls for an “ethics of AI,” my dissertation offers an empirical investigation into how powerful social actors are already making the rules for digital technology in healthcare and beyond.

I’ve also explored questions about ethics, technology, and healthcare through a number of different research projects. This work has been published in Social Science & Medicine, Socius, and the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, among other venues, and it has received awards from three sections of the American Sociological Association. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the American Sociological Association, and the Institute for Citizens and Scholars.