CSE268D: Social Aspects of Technolgy and
- Please give the assignment set number and problem number for each
question; also be sure to include your name, and the date.
- Homework is being graded, but will not be returned; for feedback on how
you are doing, see me after class, or some other time.
- Homework grades will be strongly influenced by your ability to make use
of the concepts that you are (hopefully!) learning from the readings and the
class discussions. Homework should be provided in hardcopy form.
- Do not place your answers in a public place (such as your website)
until after the due date!
- Read critically: not everything in a scholarly paper is necessarily
true, anymore than in a newspaper article, or an advertisement! Think about
what you read, and make up your own mind!
- Use proper format for citations, giving full names of authors, full title,
date, page numbers, and publisher, as applicable.
- Due 7 October:
- Write approximately one page (400 words) on some aspect or example of
technological determinism. Good examples of technological determinism can
often be found in popular computer magazines like Wired or the local
freebees; be sure to include photocopies of any articles that you choose to
- (For extra credit) Study the system of metaphors that is used in arguments
that support or use technological determinism. (See Metaphors we Live
by by Lakoff and Johnson for guidelines on such analyses.)
- Due 14 October:
- Find and submit a copy of an example of technological determinism, with
a brief explanation.
- Write approximately two pages (800 words) on some example of politics in
information technology. Your own experience would be best; next best is to
interview someone and base your essay on their experience. If all else
fails, you can use a technical article, such as that by Hales in Star (ed),
Cultures of Computing, or by Button and Sharrock in Jirotka and Goguen
(eds), Requirements Engineering: Social and Technical Issues.
- Due 21 October: Write essays of at least one paragraph on each of
the following. You may have to do a little research on the web to obtain
some answers that are not in the assigned readings.
If you are not already familiar with the history of Galileo, you should look
at the Galileo sections of Joseph Dauben's Art of Renaissance
Science. You may also want to skim Worlds
without End, from a book by James Burke, via Illinois State
University (no need to read all of this, you can search for Galileo in it, for
example using Netscape's Find command).
- How did Galileo's discovereis with his telescope contradict Aristotle's
view of the heavens?
- Why were Aristotle's views accepted for so long?
- Why did the Church put Galileo on trial? Why did his work seem so
- During what period and in what countries did Descartes live and work?
What was his profession?
- What was revolutionary about Descartes' philosophy and what was
- How did Descartes' philosophy challenge Aristotle?
- What is a (Kuhnian) paradigm? What is a paradigm shift?
- How do paradigm shifts come about?
- Why is science justifiably reluctant to abandon paradigms?
- Due 28 October: Write essays of at least one paragraph on each of the
- What is a "retrospective reinterpretation" (also called a "rational
reconstruction"), in relation to a Kuhnian paradigm shift?
- Explain how the burying of Newton's alchemy and his unorthodox theology
can be seen as part of a rational reconstruction; explain what the paradigm
shift involved here is, and how the loss of this information fits into it.
- Give an example of a pre-paradigm phase for some field of science, and
explain why it is an example.
- Explain how realism, rationalism, empiricism and monism enter (or do not
enter) into Galileo's famous experiment at Pisa.
- Due 4 November: These questions concern the paper How things (actor-net)work: Classification, magic and the
ubiquity of standards, by Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star. The
questions posed at the beginning are not specifically answered in the paper,
although (I claim) they are implicitly answered. Write at least one large
paragraph on each of the following:
- What does "as if by magic" mean to a sociologist of technology? Is this
the same as the "magic" of a good waiter or butler?
- What work do classifications and standards do?
- Who does that work?
- What happens to cases that don't fit? Why is this important?
- What criticisms does the paper make (usually stated quite mildly) of
- The word "paradigm" occurs 4 times in the paper. Discuss each
use of the word (the last 2 are really on the same topic), noting whether it
is strictly Kuhnian, somewhat metaphorical, or very metaphorical.
- Due 11 November:
- (Optional) A few of you still did not manage to exhibit your understanding
of technological determinism ("TD") after two tries. So this is a
chance to try again, if you wish; I will try to be very clear about what this
question requires. You must include a copy of some instance of someone (not
you!) making some assertion that involves TD; this could be from the web, a
newspaper, magazine, etc. You must comment on this text, showing clearly that
you understand the definition of TD, and in particualr you understand that TD
is a theory not a fact, though of course you are allowed to
agree with the theory if you wish; your commentary must also make it clear in
what particular way the particular text you chose exhibits TD. (This could be
either the autonomy of technology, the unidirectional influence of technology
on society, or both.) The theory that technology has social effects is so
obviously true that it doesn't even deserve a name; an instance of technology
effecting society is not a solution to this question.
- Argue that high definition TV (HDTV) is, or is not, a paradigm shift for
TV. In particular, consider what is likely to change (if anything), and why.
- Argue for or against my claim that Papadimitriou in his paper Database Metatheory: Asking the Big Queries did not
use the term "crisis" (in his Section 9) the same sense that Kuhn uses that
term. Explain the relevance (if any) of his Figures 2 and 3 to his claim that
there is a crisis
- Draw a diagram of the major actors and their most important relations in
the Nicaragua briquette network (due to Madeleine Akrich) as described by John
Law in Traduction / Trahison
- Notes on ANT; explain your diagram. Michel Callon calls such
- Give a title and an abstract for your project.
- Due 18 November:
- Write a paragraph on some point related to Agre's paper The Market and the Net and be prepared to discuss
it in class.
- Ted Lewis's Alice in Wired
World was written in 1996. Find at least two predictions (or almost
predictions) that he made, and comment on whether or not they turned out to be
true. Also discuss whether or not he is guilty of technological determinism
in this piece and/or in the Preface to
his book ("half guilty", ".7 guilty", etc. are also valid verdicts for this
- Give and comment on Douglass North's definition of "institution", and give
an example related to the internet.
- Give two examples of convergence.
- Comment on Posner's notion of a "panopticon marketplace" (you
should look up "panopticon" unless you already know the definition); rather
than reading Posner in the original, you can rely on Agre's The Market and the Net.
- See me after class (or some other time) to discuss your project, if you
haven't already done so.
- Optional: Contrast the views about the speed of technological change in
with Agre's view in his Editorial on Internet
Businesses; what do you think?
- Due 25 November (this class will be taught by Dr Almira Karabeg):
- With the rapid advances in the computerisation of medical data, the
question of protection of medical records privacy becomes important. Storing
a large amount of sensitive information in a central location (databases)
could open the door to "invasion of privacy". Discuss the following:
- How private are my medical records? (Do this even if you do not have
any medical records or interesting medical history. For the purposes of
this exercise you can discuss the hypothetical situation of having to
ragister at a major medical institution, where your whole profile will be
kept in their database.)
- Who has access to your data?
- How could be the information on your record be used? (Again use
- What are some advantages of having such database?
- What are some disadvantages?
- Click on
genomics at www-sci.lib.uci.edu/~martindale/GradBioscience.html#OVERVIEW,
and read several news articles, for example, on cloning (of lambs, pigs, even
people ....). Find examples of technological determinism (and provide
quotes); also discuss some of the moral, ethical and social issues that arise
for cloning and genetic manipulation.
- Due 2 December:
- List and discuss four things you learned in the class that have been the
most interesting or important to you.
- Discuss the limitations of the supply and demand model of market
equilibrium; make at least two specific points (and do not merely repeat my
general critique of underlying assumptions of neo-classical economics).
- Comment on the use of supply and demand in the interview on Quality of Service Andrew Odlyzko by Dan Tebbutt.
- Apply the analysis of security vs. risk in Geer's Risk Management is where the Money is to the demise of
DigiCash described in Agre's Editorial on
Internet Businesses, especially noting the sentence "If a particular
licensee can find a legal jurisdiction to offer utterly anonymous digital
bearer instruments backed by totally anonymous reserves, then, as long as the
licensee pays up, god bless 'em." in the attached email by Robert Hettinga
(assuming that this sentence reveals how the DigiCash protocols work).
- Comment on how the US government seems to be approaching the issue of
data privacy, as revealed in EU/US Privacy Safe
Harbor and other sources that your find yourself.
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Maintained by Joseph Goguen
Last modified 19 November 1998