CSE 275: Social Aspects of Technolgy and Science - Fall 2000
Course Outline

Note: The numbers on topics do not correspond to weeks, and the outline is subject to change as the course develops.

1. Introduction: motivation, issues, problems, approaches. Our civilization is deeply involved with technology, and recently, especially with information technology; therefore so are all of us. But do we understand what is happening?

2. Technological determinism. This is the theory that technology is an autonomous force that changes society. Also determinism, social determinism, autonomy, reductionism, holism, emergentism, and media determinism.

3. Cause and Effect. Causality, the form of physical laws, eco-systems, co-emergence, and more on reductionism. Also narratology, anthropomorphism, and some guidelines and examples for research on social issues.

4. Inseparability of the Technical and the Social. Social issues permeate any technology, including its origin, its use, and its demise. Social issues occur in the workplace, the marketplace, in standards, and in system design. Conflicts and therefore politics are ubiquitious, and are social in nature. Conflicts may be among group interests, commercial interests, or personal interests. Also, economics is often a key factor. Requirements engineering must deal with the social aspects of technology.

5. Technology and Science. Some history and philosophy of science. The Cartesian subject-object split and objectivity. Scientific method; falsifiability. Kuhnian paradigms and paradigm shifts. The myth of progress. The role of statistics; problems with statistical testing; statistics and causality.

6. Social Theories of Science and Technology. Some sociology of science, especially the actor-network theory (ANT) of Latour and Callon. Actors (both human and nonhuman), networks, mobilization, delegation, boundary objects, and more. The "science wars."

7. Some Case Studies. A possible crisis in theoretical computer science. Law's review of four case studies, including technology transfer. Bowker and Star on revising ANT with infrastructural inversion, classifications, and standards, with a case study on nursing. The role of DBs in healthcare, and in other organizations. Information technology for developing countries. Open source software development; Linux. Baudrillard and "the spectacle".

8. The Net, the Web and Economics. Convergence. Adam Smith's free market, and neo-classical economics; theories of Coase and North; perfect information and ethical implications for privacy. Classical supply and demand, Keynesian economics, theories of diminishing and increasing returns, commodity. Disintermediation and reintermediation. Quality of service for internet traffic. Ecash and microcash; security vs. risk

9. Ethical Issues. Spam, chatrooms, and ecommerce regulation. Ubiquitious computing Data protection standards. Medical informatics, bioinformatics and ethics; medical databases, privacy of patient records. Genomics, cloning gene manipulation. Safety of medical devices. Professional codes of ethics.


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© 2000 Joseph Goguen
Last modified 1 December 2000