Science, Technology & Society

SOC30 Science, Technology & Society


SOC30 offers an introduction to the history, sociology, and anthropology of science and technology. The class aims to provide students with a critical view of what makes science and technology unique elements of human societies. To do so, the course challenges conventional wisdom about scientific inquiry, explores the long histories behind our societies’ engagement with nature and the environment, and reflects on the possible futures that might spring from today’s scientific endeavors. Traditional sociological approaches to science and technology are critical and this course is no exception: I expect students to finish with a better appreciation of the limitations and realities of scientific practice and discourse, as well as of the complex and unequal politics of technology and innovation. But while critical, the course is also a space for defending science and technology in an age of great uncertainty and as key to our collective survival, seeking to impress the importance of personal and institutional responsibility in how science is performed, discussed, disseminated, and understood.


The course does not assume prior knowledge of the sociology of science and technology (or sociology in general, for that matter). The course does assume, though, that students will conduct independent research, ask questions, discuss topics, read, and perhaps even write.

I expect students to turn up to all sessions having read the relevant materials and ready to discuss them. I also expect academic and personal honesty from all students, as per UCSD’s policies on academic integrity (see for details).


The course is graded with three elements:

  1. Participation and attendance (10%)
  2. Critical book review (due Friday week 3*) (20%)
  3. Midterm report (due on Friday of Week 6, based on the exercise in week 5) (30%)
  4. Final report (due on the date assigned for the exam) (40%).

Deadlines are non-negotiable. An extension of 24 hours will be given to any student who 1) produces a working prototype of an Alcubierre drive; 2) develops and empirically tests a reasonable substitute for the Standard Model using straws and balloons; or 3) is cast in the next Star Wars movie.


Week 1 What’s so special about science?

  • Introduction: challenging the conventional picture of science and technology

*Merton, R. The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations.

Mulkay, M. 1976. “Norms and ideology in science” Social Science Information, 15(4).

  • Science as culture and practice

*Kuhn, T. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Barnes, B. T.S. Kuhn and the Social Sciences

  • Science as politics and intervention

*Hacking, Ian. Representing and Intervening.

*Schaffer, S. and Shapin, S. Leviathan and the Air Pump.

Unit 1 Nature®

Week 2 Inventing wilderness

2.1 Wilderness, colony, and reason

Neumann, R. 2001. “Africa’s ‘Last Wilderness’: Reordering Space for Political and Economic Control in Colonial Tanzania”, Africa 71(4)

2.2 The marketplace of nature

Egerton, F. 2007. “Linnaeus and the Economy of Nature”. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America.

Brockway, L. 1979. “Science and colonial expansion: the role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens”, American Ethnologist 6(3)

2.3 Producing the pristine

Schneider, D. 2000. “Local Knowledge, Environmental Politics, and the Founding of Ecology in the United States: Stephen Forbes and “The Lake as a Microcosm” (1887)”, Isis 91(4).

Kingsland, S. 2005. The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000

Week 3 The power of care

3.1 Of models and mice: care in the lab

Nelson, N. 2013. “Modeling mouse, human, and discipline: Epistemic scaffolds in animal behavior genetics” Social Studies of Science 43(1)

Friese, C. 2013. “Realizing Potential in Translational Medicine: The Uncanny Emergence of Care as Science.” Current Anthropology 54(7

3.2 Are animals machines?

Kirk, R. 2010. “A Brave New Animal for a Brave New World: The British Laboratory Animals Bureau and the Constitution of International Standards of Laboratory Animal Production and Use, circa 1947–1968”, Isis 101(1)

Pickering, A. 2002. “Cybernetics and the Mangle Ashby, Beer and Pask” Social Studies of Science, 32(3)

3.3 Gender in (of) science

Ford, H. and Wajcman, J. 2017. “‘Anyone can edit’, not everyone does: Wikipedia’s infrastructure and the gender gap” Social Studies of Science

Week 4 The responsibility to protect

4.1 Inventing climate

Schinkel, W. 2016. “Making climates comparable: Comparison in paleoclimatology” Social Studies of Science 46(3)

Carey, Mark. 2007. “The History of Ice: How Glaciers Became an Endangered Species.” Environmental History 12(3)

Petersen, A. 2000. “Philosophy of Climate Science.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 81(2)

4.2 Zoos, arks, and the end of time

Sherkow, J. S., & Greely, H. T. 2013. “What if extinction is not forever?” Science, 340(6128)

Braverman, I. 2011. “Looking at zoos”. Cultural Studies, 25(6)

4.3 A planetary garden

Janzen, D. 1998. “Gardenification of wildland nature and the human footprint” Science, 279(5355)

Week 5 – Midterm exercise – What’s so wrong with geoengineering? A discussion on evidence, consensus, and science 

This will involve a week-long simulation of the equivalent of an intergovernmental meeting in an imaginary 2040 when the consequences of climate change are real and catastrophic.

Unit 2 Machines R Us

Week 6 Meet the cyborgs

6.1 What is technology?

Heidegger, M., 1954. The question concerning technology. Technology and values: Essential readings, pp.99-113.

Latour, B., 1990. “Technology is society made durable”. The Sociological Review, 38(S1)

6.2 Machines, action, and networks

Latour, B., 1996. Aramis, or, The love of technology (Vol. 1996). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

6.3 Cyborgs

Haraway, D., 1990. “A manifesto for cyborgs: Science, technology, and socialist feminism in the late twentieth century”. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature,

Week 7 Politics through other means

7.1 Bridges and bicycles

Bijker, W.E. and Law, J., 1992. Shaping technology/building society: Studies in sociotechnical change. MIT press.

Winner, L., 1980. Do artifacts have politics?. Daedalus

7.2 The science of Armageddon

MacKenzie, D. and Spinardi, G. 1988. “The Shaping of Nuclear Weapon System Technology: US Fleet Ballistic Missile Guidance and Navigation: I: From Polaris to Poseidon” Social Studies of Science

MacKenzie, D. and Spinardi, G. 1988. “The Shaping of Nuclear Weapon System Technology: US Fleet Ballistic Missile Guidance and Navigation: II: `Going for Broke’ — The Path to Trident II” Social Studies of Science

Masco, J. 2009. “Bad Weather: on planetary crisis” Social Studies of Science

7.3 Making CRISPR people

Kay, L.E. [1998] 1999. “In the Beginning was the Word: The Genetic Code and the Book of Life.” in Biagioli, Mario (Ed.) The Science Studies Reader

Duster, Troy. 2015. “A post-genomic surprise. The molecular reinscription of race in science, law and medicine” British Journal of Sociology

Week 8 Truck, barter and innovate

8.1 Faster, please

Rosa, H., 2005. The speed of global flows and the pace of democratic politics. New Political Science, 27(4), pp.445-459.

Wajcman, J. 2015. Pressed for time. University of Chicago Press

8.2 Big data, bigger money

Dormehl, L., 2014. The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems–and Create More. Penguin.

Kitchin, R., 2014. The data revolution: Big data, open data, data infrastructures and their consequences. Sage.

8.3 The new geography of automation

MacKenzie, D., 1984. “Marx and the Machine”. Technology and Culture, 25(3), pp.473-502.

Gertler, M.S., 1988. “The limits of flexibility: comments on the post-Fordist vision of production and its geography”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, pp.419-432.

Philip, K., Irani, L. and Dourish, P., 2012. Postcolonial computing: A tactical survey. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 37(1), pp.3-29.

Making Science Public Unit 3

Week 9 Outlines of participative technoscience

9.1 Citizen science?

Riesch, H. and Potter, C., 2014. “Citizen science as seen by scientists: Methodological, epistemological and ethical dimensions”. Public Understanding of Science, 23(1), pp.107-120.

9.2 Science, experts, and democracy

Toumey, C., 2006. Science and democracy. Nature Nanotechnology, 1(1), p.6.

Irwin, A., 2001. Constructing the scientific citizen: science and democracy in the biosciences. Public understanding of science, 10(1), pp.1-18.

Jasanoff, S., 2011. Designs on nature: Science and democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton University Press.

9.3 Responsible innovation

Owen, R., Macnaghten, P. and Stilgoe, J., 2012. “Responsible research and innovation: From science in society to science for society, with society”. Science and public policy, 39(6), pp.751-760.

Week 10 Outlines of strategy

Readings to be determined according to student interest.

10.1 Defending institutions

10.2 Defending values

10.3 Closing remarks