CSE 275: Social Aspects of Technolgy and Science -
- Be sure to give the assignment set number and problem number for each
question; also be sure to include your name, and the date. Do NOT email me a
word document for your homework - homework must be in hardcopy form.
- Do not place your answers in a public place (such as your website) until
after the due date.
- Most of the homework will be 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
concepts introduced in the course notes, lectures and readings.
- Read critically: source material is not all of the same
quality; scholarly articles in well respected refereed technical journals are
much more likely to be accurate that allegedly scholarly articles found on
corporate websites, or in popular magazines and daily newspapers, let alone in
free weekly magazines, random websites, or product advertisements. However,
even a good scholarly paper may contain factural errors and sometimes even
deliberate distortions. Think about what you read, and make up your own mind!
Discussing issues with other students or friends can often help to clarify
your own thought.
- You must give a proper citation for any material you use from a book,
paper, or website in answering a question.
- You must use proper format for citations, including full names of authors,
full title, date of publication, page numbers, and publisher, whenever
applicable; do not just give a URL.
- Always be prepared to discuss your answers in class.
- Due 4 October:
- Give three examples of technological determinism in popular writing.
Good examples can often be found in popular computer books, e.g., by George
Gilder, popular magazines, e.g., Wired, the local computer freebees
(e.g., for job placement), or in advertisements and even news articles in
newspapers. Be sure to include a photocopy or printout, and briefly explain
why each one is an example.
- Write at least one page (400 words) on some example of politics (in the
sense of the definition in the class notes) in an information technology
workplace. Your own experience would be easiest, but you can also interview
someone and base your essay on their experience. If all else fails, you can
use a technical article, such as the one 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 11 October:
- Give and explain some real world example of a cause/effect statement that
oversimplifies some complex social situation, but also helps to explain it.
You may get a quotation from a newspaper, magazine, website, a colleague at
work, etc., but you must not just make up a quotation. You must also include
an explanation of the social situation and how the statement you chose
relates to it.
- (For extra credit) Discuss the metaphorical dimension of words and
phrases used in your examples of technological determinism. (Guidelines
doing on such analyses can be found in Metaphors we Live by by Lakoff
and Johnson. Two examples of loaded verbs are "push" and "drive.")
- Due 18 October: Write one paragraph answering each of the following
questions; you may have to do a little research to obtain information that is
not in the assigned readings.
If you are not already familiar with the history of Galileo, you may want to
look at St
Andrews website on Galileo. You may also want to skim Worlds without End, from a book by James Burke (no
need to read all of this, you can search for Galileo in it, for example using
Netscape's Find command; parts of it may seem a bit unreliable and/or
unreadable); you could also try to find the new location of Joseph Dauben's
multimedia Art of Renaissance Science; the old URL was bang.lanl.gov/video/stv/arshtml/galileo1.html.
- How did Galileo's discoveries 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 (i.e., how did he earn money)?
- What was revolutionary about Descartes' philosophy and what was
- How did Descartes' philosophy challenge Aristotle?
- What is a (Kuhnian) paradigm? What is pre-paradigmatic science?
- What is a paradigm shift? How do paradigm shifts come about?
- Why is science justifiably reluctant to abandon paradigms?
- Due 25 October: Write a short essay on each of the following topics:
- 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 this loss of 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 the leaning tower of Pisa.
- Counting is about the simplest scientific procedure that one can imagine,
and so one might think that it could not possibly be much entangled with the
social processes and difficulties that so often appear in more complex
situations. Yet the ballot counting now going on in Florida is an
fortuitious reminder that even the simplest scientific procedures cannot be
separated from their social context. An amazingly complex dance is going on
between seemingly social and seemingly technical issues, with an extremely
high public visibility. I have collected some material in a webpage, Counting in Florida; the content of the
essays and links here goes far beyond what has appeared in our local
newspaper, or even the national newspapers. Please comment on some one
incident in the Florida recount that you think illustrates the intertwining
of technical and social particularly well.
- Due 1 November: The first six 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 paragraph
on the first five questions; note that the last question is on a different
topic, and requires a longer answer.
- What does "as if by magic" mean when applied to technology in the context
of this paper? Is this the same as the "magic" of a good waiter or butler?
- What work do classifications and standards do? Relate this to "magic".
- 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
- Optional: 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.
- (Not optional.) Write a short essay giving your own views on the
"science wars." You should at least show that you understand what Sokal did,
the kind of thing that he and others said about it, and what its significance
is. Your views should be supported with good reasons.
- Due 8 November:
- 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,
and what is the scale of that change.
- 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. Also 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 diagrams "sociograms".
- Give a title and abstract for your project in writing. You should use
material from the class, such as ANT and Kuhn, but of course in a relevant
and precise manner. Include your email address so I can give you feedback on
your project proposal.
- Due 15 November:
- Write a paragraph on some point related to Agre's paper The Market and the Net.
- Ted Lewis's Alice in
Wired World was written in 1996. Find at least two predictions (or
almost predictions) he made that turned out to be wrong; then find one more
and discuss whether or not it is correct. Also discuss whether or not he is
guilty of technological determinism in this piece and/or in the Preface to
his book The Friction-Free Economy (verdicts like "half guilty" or ".7
guilty", etc. are also valid for this purpose). See also the excerpt from and some advertising for the book.
- Give and comment on Douglass North's definition of "institution," and
give an example related to the internet.
- Give two examples of convergence, and explain why they are examples.
- Comment on Posner's "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.
- Optional: Contrast the views about the speed of technological change in
with Agre's view in his Editorial on
- Due 22 November:
- Discuss some 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 with 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 (you may assume that this sentence reveals how the DigiCash
- Name three myths discussed by Raymond in The
Magic Cauldron. What is the "tragedy of the commons," and how does
it relate to open source software? Discuss some of the economic principles
that lie behind the myths that you named, and the "tragedy."
- Due 29 November:
- With the rapid advances in the computerisation of medical data, the
privacy of medical records becomes ever more important. Having large amounts
of sensitive information online could open the door to many different form of
"invasion of privacy". For the purpose of this exercise, consider the
hypothetical situation of registering at a major medical institution, where
your entire medical profile will be kept in their database. Now discuss the
- How private are my medical records?
- Who has access to your data?
- How could be the information on your record be used? (Use a hypothetical
situation in which some significant information is available.)
- What are some advantages of having such databases?
- 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.
- Contrast the techno-centric view of the Fraunhofer
project with the ANT view of the Berg & Bowker paper.
- List and briefly discuss three things you learned in the class that have
been the most interesting or important to you, and say why.
To CSE 275 homepage
Maintained by Joseph Goguen
© 2000 Joseph Goguen
Last modified 2 December 2000