Presents concepts and theories used to investigate the creation, application, and governance of science and technology. Addresses the nature of scientific and technological knowledge, social construction of science and technology, democracy and science, and public understanding.
Traditionally, Western thinkers have viewed science as a special kind of knowledge. Science, we have been taught, examines natural truths that exist independently of the human social realm. In this traditional model, social and political contexts are seen as outside factors that disrupt or corrupt “good science."
The modern field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) offers an alternative approach to understanding science. STS scholars argue that all science—whether “good" or “bad", accurate or inaccurate—is a product of social relations and negotiation. In this introduction to the field of Science and Technology Studies, we will study historical, sociological, and anthropological accounts of science and scientific practice in order to learn more about the ways in which science is an inherently social endeavor. Through studying the relations and negotiations that go into scientific fact-making, we will come to a better understanding of how science is made, why it is authoritative, and what it includes and excludes.
In this course, we will focus specifically on the production of knowledge within the life sciences and biomedicine. Our explorations will include the history of the discovery of the DNA double helix, scientific debates over racial difference and inequality, and the politics of international scientific research.
Student learning goals
To understand how science is a social endeavor, and be able give concrete examples of this.
To contrast STS-informed understandings of how science is made and what makes it reliable with popular and idealized views of the nature of science.
To identify STS-informed perspectives and locate STS scholarship and resources on topics of interest to you.
To read scholarly writings in the social sciences—even complex ones—and understand their main points and major contributions.
To think critically about relationships between scientific knowledge and power, especially within the life sciences and biomedicine.
General method of instruction
Instruction will include a mixture of guided large-group discussion, small group discussion, and lecture. In-class activities may also include occasional film excerpts, special guest speakers, and writing exercises.
Capacity for college-level reading and writing; curiosity about the place of science and technology in our world.
Class assignments and grading
This course will include several short writing assignments (some completed individually and some in groups), a group presentation, a mid-term, and a final exam.