Science, Technology, and Society Syllabus

Course Description

What makes something a scientific fact? What is the social impact of new technologies? Who in society benefits and who is harmed by the rapid development of modern science and technology? These are just some of the questions tackled by researchers in the field of Science and Technology Studies, an interdisciplinary field that uses concepts from anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and history to understand the interconnections between science, technology, and society. STS researchers and practitioners are engaged with analyzing and solving some of the most challenging technological problems of our time: designing the infrastructure of the future, assessing the role of human enhancement and cybernetics in human society, figuring out how to deal with climate change and the Anthropocene, defining human obligations to non-human species, and analyzing how science and technology shape cultural ideas about race and gender.

In this introduction to the field, students will (1) become familiar with the key concepts and methods in the field, (2) explore some of the current research and debates in the field, and (3) gain facility with using STS concepts and methods through discussion, research, and writing. This class will survey a variety of cases and examples, organized into thematic sections on science, technology, and medicine. It will provide students with a solid basis for pursuing an STS major and/or incorporating STS perspectives into their professional practice. Students will be assessed via in-class participation, four short writing assignments, and a final exam.

Course Objectives

By taking this class, students will:

  • Become familiar with key concepts and case studies in STS scholarship.
  • Understand how STS concepts are developed through and used in social science research on science, technology, and medicine.
  • Analyze how power, identity, and politics shapes the development of new scientific facts and technical artifacts.
  • Constructively engage with critiques of scientific progress and the authority of technical experts.
  • Gain experience using STS research techniques, including interviews, ethnography, speculative methods, and literature research.
  • Gain experience writing short papers that incorporate STS concepts, cases, and real-world evidence.

Assignments

While I’ve removed most of the boilerplate syllabus language, I have included the following assignments since they might be of interest for other instructors. I have developed them over the course of several years in this class and others, often first as in-class assignments.

Assignment 1: Interview a scientist

For this assignment, you will interview a scientist (or an engineer, designer, or doctor who does research regularly as part of their practice) and write up a 5 page essay summarizing and analyzing your conversation. You should refer to course materials covered so far for ideas about what to ask, how to listen, and how to interpret what you hear. 15% of your grade.

Assignment 2: Infrastructure walk

Pick a partner and a neighborhood in New York or nearby. Plan a ½ mile walk (use Google Maps or equivalent to pick a route of appropriate distance) and take a walk together. Take notes, pictures, sketches, screenshots, etc, of the infrastructures and maintenance work that you observe along the way. Together, write up a 5-6 page description of what you find, citing at least 2 essays from the class to help you analyze what you see. 15% of your grade.

Assignment 3: Ethics guide for a future technology

Following our in-class technology speculation exercise, you will write up an ethics guide governing the design, use, and/or distribution of the technology you designed. Each member of your group should come up with their own guide. The guide should be written for the appropriate future audience and should be 2-3 pages long. You should include some statement explaining why the guide was written, in addition to your recommendations. You can format it however you like (manifesto, statement of principles, guidelines, bulleted list of rules) as long as it makes sense for your technology and intended audience. 15% of your grade.

Assignment 4: Public health brief

Pick a medical condition or controversy and write a 2-page public health brief describing the problem and suggesting solutions using STS scholarship. You will have to cite at least 3 items from the course and at least 5 outside sources. You will be evaluated on whether the intervention could plausibly make an impact and whether it is driven by STS research about technology, science, and/or medicine. Follow the public health brief templates available here. 15% of your grade.

Course Schedule

Part 1: Science

Week 1: What is STS?

Tuesday, January 29

PICK TWO OF THE FOLLOWING PROFILES OF STS SCHOLARS TO READ AND DISCUSS IN CLASS

  • Ava Kofman – Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science [https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/magazine/bruno-latour-post-truth-philosopher-science.html]
  • Ethan Watters – The Organ Detective: A Career Spent Uncovering a Hidden Global Market in Human Flesh [https://psmag.com/economics/nancy-scheper-hughes-black-market-trade-organ-detective-84351]
  • Hari Kunzru – You Are Cyborg [https://www.wired.com/1997/02/ffharaway/]
  • Ceridwen Dovey – An Anthropologist Investigates How We Think About How We Think [https://www.newyorker.com/culture/persons-of-interest/an-anthropologist-investigates-how-we-think-about-how-we-think]

Thursday, January 31

  • Joseph Dumit – Writing the Implosion [https://culanth.org/articles/741-writing-the-implosion-teaching-the-world-one]
  • IN CLASS: Imploding the iPhone

Week 2: Laboratory Studies

Tuesday, February 5

  • Bruno Latour & Steve Woolgar – Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts [selections] [PDF]
  • IN CLASS: Engineering Life: Be an anthropologist for a day! In groups of 2-3, station yourselves in one spot on campus for 20 minutes. Record what you observe about engineering life. Then, come back to the classroom to debrief, share, and discuss.

Thursday, February 7

  • Natasha Myers – Conversations on Plant Sensing: Notes from the Field [PDF]
  • Steven Shapin – The Invisible Technician [https://www.jstor.org/stable/27856006]

Week 3: Sociology of Science

Tuesday, February 12

  • Robert Merton – The Normative Structure of Science [PDF]
  • Thomas Kuhn – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [selections] [PDF]
  • IN CLASS: Discussion: What are the norms for engineers? What are the revolutions?

Thursday, February 14

  • David Bloor – The Strong Programme in the Sociology of Knowledge [PDF]

Short Assignment 1 – Interview a Scientist due Thursday, 9 am

Week 4: Objectivity

Tuesday, February 19

  • Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison – The Image of Objectivity [PDF]

Thursday, February 21

  • Michelle Murphy – Immodest Witnessing : The Epistemology of Vaginal Self-Examination in the U.S. Feminist Self-Help Movement [PDF]
  • GUEST SPEAKER: Daniel Goldberg, University of Colorado

Part 2: Technology

Week 5: Sociology of Technology

Tuesday, February 26

  • Susan Leigh Star – Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On Being Allergic to Onions [PDF]
  • IN CLASS: Ursula K. Le Guin – A Rant About “Technology” [http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Note-Technology.html]
  • GUEST SPEAKER: Martina Svyantek, Virginia Tech

Thursday, February 28

  • Wiebe Bijker and Trevor Pinch – The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might Benefit Each Other [PDF]
  • Bruno Latour – Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer [PDF]

Week 6: The Politics of Infrastructure

Tuesday, March 5

  • Langdon Winner – Do Artefacts Have Politics? [PDF]
  • Bruno Latour – Technology is Society Made Durable [PDF]
  • IN CLASS: Infrastructure Walk

Thursday, March 7

  • Rayvon Fouché – The Wretched of the Gulf: Racism, Technological Dramas, and Black Politics of Technology [PDF]
  • Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel – Hail the Maintainers [https://aeon.co/essays/innovation-is-overvalued-maintenance-often-matters-more]
  • GUEST SPEAKER: Ingrid Burrington

Week 7: Technology and Labor

Tuesday, March 12

  • Marie Hicks – Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing [excerpt] [PDF]
  • Alana Semuels – The Internet is Enabling a New Kind of Poorly Paid Hell [https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/01/amazon-mechanical-turk/551192/]
  • IN CLASS: Peter Bowes – Meet the Mechanical Turk, an 18th Century chess machine [https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-21882456/meet-the-mechanical-turk-an-18th-century-chess-machine]
  • IN CLASS: Bassam Tariq – Turking for a Living [https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/video-turking-for-respect]

Thursday, March 14

  • Alex Rosenblat – There’s an App for Wrecking Nannies’ Lives [https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/opinion/gig-economy-domestic-workers-uber.html]
  • Drew Harwell – Wanted: The ‘Perfect Babysitter.’ Must Pass AI Scan for Respect and Attitude [https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/11/16/wanted-perfect-babysitter-must-pass-ai-scan-respect-attitude]
  • Brian Merchant – Predictim Claims Its AI Can Flag ‘Risky’ Babysitters. So I Tried It on the People Who Watch My Kids [https://gizmodo.com/predictim-claims-its-ai-can-flag-risky-babysitters-so-1830913997]

Short Assignment 2 – Infrastructure Walk due 9 am Thursday

WEEK 8 – SPRING BREAK!

Week 9: Digital Sociology

Tuesday, March 26

  • Virginia Eubanks – The Allegheny Algorithm, from Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor [PDF]
  • IN CLASS: Reading: Terms of Service and Codes of Conduct

Thursday, March 28

  • Les Back – Aryans reading Adorno: Cyber-Culture and Twenty-First Century Racism [PDF]
  • Charlie Warzel – “A Honeypot for Assholes”: Inside Twitter’s 10-year Failure to Stop Harassment [https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/charliewarzel/a-honeypot-for-assholes-inside-twitters-10-year-failure-to-s]
  • GUEST LECTURE: Os Keyes, University of Washington

Week 10: Frontiers

Tuesday, April 2

Thursday, April 4

  • Ronald Kline – Where Are the Cyborgs in Cybernetics? [PDF]
  • Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline – Cyborgs and Space [PDF]
  • IN CLASS: Workshop: Speculative Technologies

Week 11: Cyborgs and Cybernetics

Tuesday, April 9

  • Donna Haraway – A Manifesto for Cyborgs [PDF]
  • IN CLASS: Neil Harbisson – I Hear In Color
  • IN CLASS: Moon Ribas – Earthbeat

Thursday, April 11

  • Mallory Kay Stevens, Ashley Shew, and Bethany Stevens – Transmobility: Possibility in Cyborg (Cripborg) Bodies [link TBD]

Part 3: Medicine

Week 12: Race Science

Tuesday, April 16

  • Londa Schiebinger – The Gendered Ape, from Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science [PDF]
  • Dorothy Nelkin and Susan Lindee – The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon [excerpt] [PDF]

Thursday, April 18

  • Jenny Reardon and Kim TallBear – “Your DNA Is Our History”: Genomics, Anthropology, and the Construction of Whiteness as Property [PDF]
  • Amy Harmon – Indian Tribe Wins Fight to Limit Research of Its DNA [PDF]
  • IN CLASS: Debate: What should the Havasupai researchers do?

Assignment 3 – Ethics Guide due 9 am Thursday

Week 13: Medicine and Ethics

Tuesday, April 23

  • Allan Brandt – Racism and Research: The Case of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study [PDF]
  • Vanessa Gamble – Under the Shadow of Tuskegee: African Americans and Health Care [PDF]

Thursday, April 25

  • The Nuremberg Code [PDF]
  • The Belmont Report [https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/belmont-report/index.html]

Week 14: Medical Activism

Tuesday, April 30

  • Steven Epstein – The Construction of Lay Expertise: AIDS Activism and the Forging of Credibility in the Reform of Clinical Trials [PDF]
  • Larry Kramer – 1,112 and Counting [PDF]
  • IN CLASS: Watch How To Survive a Plague [excerpts]

Thursday, May 2

  • Alondra Nelson – Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination [excerpt]
  • GUEST SPEAKER: Beza Merid

Week 15: Wrap Up

Tuesday, May 7

This day is intentionally left open for overflow, review, additional discussion, or anything else we want to spend one day pursuing as a class.

Assignment 4 – Public Health Brief due 9 am Tuesday

Thursday, May 9

Final exam review

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