CSE 275: Social Aspects of Technolgy and Science - Fall 1999
Course Outline

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.

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. Case Studies and Applications. Applying concepts from Kuhn, ANT, etc. to real situations in technology. Papadimitriou on the crisis in theoretical computer science. Law's review of four case studies, including one on technology transfer. Bowker and Star on reinventing ANT via infrastructural inversion, classifications, and standards, with a case study on nursing in the world of HMO healthcare. The role of DBs in healthcare, and organizations in general. Information technology for developing countries.

8. The Net, the Web and Economics. What the net and the web are, and how they are evolving; protocols and convergence. Adam Smith's free market, and neo-classical economics, with applications to the net; the theories of Coase and North; perfect information and its ethical implications for privacy; ubiquitious computing. Disintermediation and reintermediation.

9. Economics and Ecommerce. Classical supply and demand, Keynesian economics, theories of diminishing and of increasing returns, the notion of commodity. Applications to the computer industry and the internet. Spam, ecash and microcash.

10. More on Economics, Privacy, Security, Ecommerce, and the Internet. Issues of security, risk, and regulation for ecommerce. Sociology and economics of open source software development; Linux. Quality of service. Data protection standards. Baudrillard and "the spectacle".

11. Medical Informatics, Bioinformatics and Ethics. Medical databases, privacy and ethics issues for patient records. Genomics, cloning gene manipulation, and some of their ethical problems. Safety of medical devices. Professional codes of ethics.


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Maintained by Joseph Goguen
last modified 10 December 1999