CSE 175 Homework Notes

Assignment #1

Generally no problems with question #2 (politics in an IT workplace); examples cited: conflict between marketing/design branches, gender relations, various types of resources (funding, promotion, status, office space, etc.)

Question #1 was problematic for some:
" a couple failed to recognize TD as a critique, i.e. that these sorts of claims are problematic;
" many needed to elaborate somewhat, point out exactly why these were TD claims, and the sorts of other factors they neglected.

Assignment #2

Question #1: People had some difficulty laying out what the causal logic was in some of the quotes they suggested. Some also failed to illustrate how the claim oversimplified a complex situation (e.g. by noting other possible causal / contextual factors). YOU HAVE TO DO THIS - it is not enough just to attach the article.
Question #2: People generally did better with this one, though the best answers showed how the technical and social were caught up in each other, rather than separating them off (giving lists of technical phenomena, then lists of social phenomena).
Bonus question: A few of you attempted this, with mixed results. There were a couple of very good responses, that showed a solid understanding of the concept of metaphor - others misused the term, failing to see what was specific in the arguments around metaphor (i.e. NOT just another case of tech determinism).

Assignment #3

Question #1: People on the whole did an adequate job with this one, though some of you needed to add some brief description to explain how values were embedded in your narrative (i.e. go beyond just drawing the chart). Be sensitive too to evaluative elements embedded in narrative clauses (seen in such things as choice of adjectives, etc.). A few people encountered difficulty by choosing research articles to analyze - remember that this kind of analysis is really best suited for narratives of personal experience, and may or may not be applicable to more formalized written styles.
Question #2: Generally well done, though some of you needed to reflect somewhat more on the types of ethical arguments you yourself were drawing on, as specified in the assignment.

Assignment #4

Some interesting responses in this set, and generally well done. Point by point:
Question #1: This was generally quite well done, though a cautionary note to recognize nurses as a specific occupational group with specific professional interests - a few of you tended to line this up as doctor privilege vs. patient interests, with nurses as the disinterested advocates of patients. Medical work environments are complex places - you should be aware of the professional interests of a variety of occupational groups…
Question #2: Okay, but be sure to address the question of universalization (really the heart of the categorical imperative): Would I want to live in a world in which this ethical principle universally applied? If you can cite exceptions to the rule, mitigating circumstances, etc. then the rule is disproved, according to the logic of the categorical imperative.
Question #3: Very interesting responses. A few people had some difficulties with consistency (e.g. arguing that the programmer was responsible for the 'downstream' implications of his work in part b, but saying he had no business to interfere in part a; this isn't an impossible position, but the apparent contradiction should be recognized and addressed). One of the interesting questions on which the ethical question seemed to hang had to do with who the 'real' designer of the system was - is the programmer just a cog, mechanically implementing the ideas which are effectively designed by others, or is the programmer the chief agent and mover, and therefore responsible for the uses/outcomes of his system? BTW, while most of you thought the programmer was wrong to act as he did, about 20% agreed with his actions…

Assignment #5

A few people failed to recognize that 'as if by magic' resulted not just from the operation of technical work and expertise, but also various bits of social work that go into making systems work apparently seamlessly.
On the third part, 'who does this work', most of you correctly noted the important roles of 'men in grey suits', official standard setting bodies, etc. A few also astutely pointed out that the work of classification (including the work of accepting, contesting, and reconfiguring previous acts of classification) is in fact distributed more widely, carried out in part by the end users of systems, and those marginal to system operations (which ties in to the question of residual categories).

Assignment #6

This assignment was generally well done, and many of you produced extremely detailed and well thought out sociograms of the Nicaraguan briquette story (including acknowledgement of one-way and failed translations - nice job!). The question of identifying values in the network proved more elusive. Recall in general that values needn't be restricted to the express wishes and goals of human actors, but are frequently (and powerfully) conveyed at the level of design. Values such as efficiency, equity, conservation, etc. can be 'written into' the non-human actants within the actor-network…

Assignment #7

People did a fair job with this one, though several of you needed to provide more detailed readings of the ethical issues and the methodological debates raised by the science wars. The Goguen and the Collins pieces are useful sources in this regard, and several of you drew effectively on them to develop very thoughtful and nuanced readings of the Sokal affair and subsequent controversies. BTW, about 80% of the class thought that Sokal acted incorrectly, or at least in bad faith, and violated important codes of trust, although a minority within that 80% also thought his 'experiment' nevertheless raised important issues worthy of discussion. About 20% felt Sokal was for the most part in the right, and made a telling, if not entirely conclusive, point.

Assignment #8

Mixed results on this assignment. A generally solid reading of the contradictions of freedom posed by Agre (and Posner), though a number of you needed to read Agre's arguments re: substantive vs. formal conceptions of freedom somewhat more closely. A generally good grasp on the principle of transparency associated with the panopticon (which several of you correctly noted was originally a model of prison architecture, and more recently a general figure for a particular kind of relationship between knowledge and power within social theory).

Assignment #9

With a few notable exceptions, this assignment was generally less well done. Several of you failed to understand the nature of Geer's distinction between risk and security - and so were unable to give a good account of the troubles with DigiCash (this is an important point - be sure to go back over this until you understand it). Mixed results on the Raymond question. Several of you roughly identified the myths outlined by Raymond, but failed to provide an explanation for WHY these are myths, according to Raymond. Be careful too to explain the tragedy of the commons as what social scientists would call a collective action problem - how to deal responsibly and sustainably with shared resources, when every individual actor has the incentive to 'cheat' and take from the commons without putting back into it. Why DOESN'T this apply to open source, according to Raymond?

Last modified: Mon Dec 1 16:16:51 PST 2003