CSE 275: Social Aspects of Technolgy and Science -
- Please give the assignment set number and problem number for each
question; also be sure to include your name, and the date.
- Most of the homework will be graded, but it 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! Do not send me your homework by email - I want
- 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 internet websites, or product advertisements.
Furthermore, 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.
- Use proper format for citations, giving full names of authors, full title,
date of publication, page numbers, and publisher, as applicable.
- Due 13 October:
- Write approximately one page (400 words) on an example of the implicit
use of technological determinism in some piece of writing, such as an
advertisement of news article. Good examples can often be found in popular
computer magazines like Wired or the local computer freebees; be sure
to include a photocopy of anything you choose to write on. Be prepared to
discuss your examples in class.
- (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 20 October:
- Write approximately two pages (800 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 27 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 webpage on Galileo.
- 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?
- 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 3 November: Write essays of at least one paragraph on two 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 this information loss 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.
- Due 10 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 of the following, and be prepared to discuss your answers in
- 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
- (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 17 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 the shift.
- 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 24 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) 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 (verdicts like "half guilty" or ".7 guilty", etc. are also valid for
- 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 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.
- Optional: Contrast the views about the speed of technological change in
with Agre's view in his Editorial on Internet
- Due 1 December:
- 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 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 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, plus other sources that you will need to find yourself to provide
- What are 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
- Due 8 December:
- With the rapid advances in the computerisation of medical data, the
question of protection of medical records privacy becomes ever more
important. Storing large amounts of sensitive information in one place could
open the door to "invasion of privacy" in various forms. Discuss the
- 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
- 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 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.
- List and discuss four things you learned in the class that have been the
most interesting or important to you.
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Maintained by Joseph Goguen
Last modified 2 December 1999