CSE 275: Social Aspects of Technology and Science


Your project should be an essay of about 10 to 30 pages. You must take a position on a significant issue and support it with cogent arguments; unsupported opinions and appeals to authority should be avoided; you should have a good solid bibliography, and make good use of things you have learned in class. Use as much concrete data as possible, such as quotes from original source documents, interviews, etc.; be specific. Use proper format for citations, giving full names of authors, full title, date, page numbers, and publisher, as applicable.

This paper is due on the last day of classes.

There are no very rigid rules about the subject, which can be chosen to match your own interests and talents. It would be a very good idea to look over the course outline and course notes. DO NOT pick a topic that is too general. You must have an outline of the paper approved by me before you begin writing. Here are a few specific suggestions, just to indicate what kind of topic is appropriate:

  1. Study the role of technological determinism in arguments for using computers in education. Do a careful analysis of at least three documents that promote particular products or technologies, such as press releases, newspaper articles, magazine articles, or websites.
  2. Write an essay comparing the views of McLuhan and Ellul on technological determinism, and contrasting them with the more holistic views of technological evolution presented in class.
  3. Write an essay on social aspects of some significant technology, such as cellphones; make use of actor-network theory, paradigm shifts, or some other significant social theories.
  4. Write an essay on Newton as a case study in paradigm shifts. You might want to consult the new book Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcer, by Michael White (Addison-Wesley 1998). Or discuss some other paradigm shifts (in detail).
  5. Discuss some topic in the area of applications of information technology to education; be sure to include some information on the history of this area; make some use of actor-network theory, paradigm shifts, or other significant social theories.
  6. Discuss wireless telephony as a social phenomenon using actor-network theory: who are the actors, how are they connected, what translations must to be done to get and keep them involved? Or apply a similar approach to some other technology, such as electric cars, or the Strategic Defense Initiative (also called "Star Wars"), or Java.
  7. If you have the expertise, discuss economic aspects of some information technology, such as ISPs, video games, web browsers, or email.
  8. Discuss the management of risky technology and the role of institutions, using the case study of NASA by Diane Vaughan (Chicago 1996) as a source; she brings in Kuhn, and actor-network theory in a very relevant way.
  9. If you have research and HTML skills, there may be opportunities to prepare some webpages for future versions of this course as a project.

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Maintained by Joseph Goguen
Last modified 14 October 1999