CSE 275: Social Aspects of Technology and Science

A paper is due on the last day that this class meets. You must take a position on a significant issue and support it with cogent arguments, or do a case study. You must apply some of the significant concepts from this course. 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 some specific suggestions, just to indicate the kind of topic that is appropriate:

  1. Study the values in urban legends, using methods given in class based on Labov's structural analysis of narrative, and focusing on values and/or stories that especially relate to information technology. Use some of the online urban legend archives as data.
  2. 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. Here is one example, a call for papers for a Conference on Educational Technology, Curriculum and Assessment.
  3. Write an essay comparing the views of Marshall McLuhan and Jacques Ellul on technological determinism, and contrasting them with the more holistic views of technological evolution presented in class.
  4. Write an essay on social aspects of some technology, such as cloning, cellphones, webTV, computer games, Linux, or genomics; make significant use of actor-network theory, paradigm shifts, or other social theories emphasized in this course.
  5. Write an essay on Newton as a case study in paradigm shifts. You might want to consult Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, by Michael White (Addison-Wesley 1998). Or discuss some other paradigm shift (in detail). Try to bring in some actor-network theory to explain the shift.
  6. 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 from this course. Three papers by David Noble on the theme of "digital diploma mills" are available in archives of the Red Rock Eater Digest (edited by Phil Agre).
  7. Discuss wireless telephony as a social phenomenon using actor-network theory: who are the actors, how are they connected, what translations must be done to get and keep them involved? Or apply a similar approach to some other technology, such as electric cars, the Strategic Defense Initiative (also called "Star Wars"), Java or Netscape.
  8. If you have the expertise, discuss economic aspects of some information technology, such as ISPs, video games, web browsers, or email.
  9. Discuss the ethical aspects of some information technology, such as large databases, encryption, or web browsers; some specific issues to consider include privacy, crime, and political manipulation.
  10. 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 relevant and interesting ways.

Guidelines for Writing your Term Paper
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