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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Advanced Theory in Science and Technology Studies (PGSP11371)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course gives postgraduate students the opportunity to pursue a more sophisticated understanding of key theoretical perspectives in science and technology studies (STS). Focusing on a wide range of thinkers and writings, Advanced Theory in STS challenges students to master the details of vital STS theory, and to consider ways of taking that theory in new, innovative directions.

Broadly, Advanced Theory in STS is designed for students interested in unpacking the ideas and arguments that underlie STS's understanding of science and technology. It is also of benefit to students who hope to further hone their critical thinking skills and expand their range of theoretical tools. Although focused on theoretical topics, the class attempts to demonstrate how theory and empirical research work collaboratively. Thus the class is also of relevance to those who hope to produce sophisticated, empirically-grounded research.

This course can be taken as a standalone by students outside of STIS, but it is designed to examine ideas introduced in semester one courses in greater detail. As such, attendance of 'Science, Knowledge and Expertise' and 'Understanding Technology' is recommended (but not required).
Course description This course gives postgraduate students the opportunity to pursue a more sophisticated understanding of key theoretical perspectives in science and technology studies (STS), and to explore the use of ideas from other, related fields. Advanced Theory in STS consists of two parts. First, the class explores the Edinburgh School, including the Strong Programme in the sociology of knowledge and its social theory. Second, the class examines a range of theoretic perspectives from different social sciences and philosophical traditions. These include Actor-Network Theory, phenomenology and pragmatist epistemology. The second half of the class provides students with a range of concepts and methods, all of potential use for science and technology studies. Although focused on theoretical topics, the class draws attention to how theory can follow from, and is applied to, empirical work. Thus the class is also of relevance to those who hope to produce sophisticated, empirically-grounded research.

Outline content

Week 1: Experience and underdetermination: Hume and Quine
In this first lecture, we will consider the relationship between experience and knowledge-a topic that will appear in many different ways throughout this class. Thinking about these issues will allow us to pose a crucial question: what does it mean to engage with a world in order to make knowledge about it?

Week 2: The Strong Programme
The Strong Programme in the sociology of scientific knowledge played a fundamental role in laying the foundation for science studies. In this lecture, we will revisit some key texts, make sense of the Strong Programme's core arguments, and look at how it has been defended against its critics.

Week 3: The Performative Theory of Social Institutions
In this lecture, we examine the basics of PTSI, the Edinburgh School┐s social theory. These include the notion of social institutions, the performative character of knowledge, and the manner in which collectives and individual practices relate.

Week 4: Finitism
In week 4, we examine the basics of finitism, a set of analytic tools from the Edinburgh School. We think about its use in understanding term usage in language, and consider its applicability to the cases of rules and rule-following, and knowledge claims and truth.

Week 5: An introduction to Actor-Network Theory ontologies and methods
This lecture will cover basic of Actor-Network Theory, including its ontological symmetry between objects and subjects. The final part of the lecture will focus on how the issue of controversy is dealt with by ANT.

Week 7: Post-ANT and the question of ethics
Building on the previous lecture┐s discussion of ontologies and methods, this week will address questions around the status of "practices" in STS, and how and whether ANT could engage with the ethical.

Week 8: Historiography and STS
This lecture explores historiography: a body of knowledge was presented as something substantially different from the more sociologically and contemporary-oriented STS. We will debate on the convenience and possibility of reintegrating both fields.

Week 9: Heidegger and 'The Question Concerning Technology'
This week examines Martin Heidegger's phenomenological study of technology, especially his search for the essence of modern technology. Moreover, we will unpick his challenging thoughts, and consider their applicability for work in more social scientific fields, like STS.

Week 10: Pragmatism and knowledge-in-use
In this lecture, we are going to examine the basic of pragmatist epistemology in order to consider knowledge-in-use, rather than knowledge in-the-making (the traditional perspective in SSK). We will also touch on the study of engineering knowledge, a hereto overlooked kind of knowledge in our field.

Week 11: Rethinking 'design'
This week we will examine critical and speculative design, and arguments about how they can be used in STS to study science and technology, and in order to be politically active.

Advanced Theory in STS is designed for students interested in unpacking the ideas and arguments that underlie STS's understanding of science and technology. It is taught through lectures and seminars. The latter involves extended discussions intended for students to hone their critical thinking skills by dismantling each week's ideas.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2016/17, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  16
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 10, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Assessment will be on the basis of a 3,500-4,500 word essay.
Feedback Assessment is on the basis of a 3,500-4,500 word essay on a topic to be agreed between the student and the course organiser. Students can and should contact the organiser to discuss potential assessment topics at the earliest opportunity.

Students are also required to submit a 1,000 word piece after the first half of the class. This essay ought to outline a key concept or perspective from this first half, and then engage with this in an original, critical way. This assignment is assessed by the organiser, but it does not count for the final mark. Rather, it is meant to serve as useful feedback before the final essay.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Students will have a comprehensive understanding of the Strong Programme in the sociology of scientific knowledge, including key concepts such as underdetermination, symmetry, and finitism. Students will also understand how Actor-Network Theory criticises these ideas and posits alternative theoretical tools.
  2. Students will comprehend the Performative Theory of Social Insitutions, and most importantly, Barry Barnes' notion of 'bootstrapped induction.
  3. Students will be competent in parallel theories of ontology and subjectivity, based on work by Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Ian Hacking. As part of this, students will understand how these ideas relate to the Performative Theory of Social Institutions.
  4. Students will consider theories and methodologies currently underemployed in science and technology studies but of possible use. These include historiography and certain varieties of ethics.
  5. Students will have developed their abilities to convey complex ideas through written and oral means (particularly through weekly written responses, seminar discussions, and essay-writting).
Reading List
Quine, W.V.O. (1975). "On empirically equivalent systems of the world." Erkenntnis, 9: 313-328.

Bloor, D. (1976). Knowledge and social imagery. Chicago: Chicago UP, Chapters 1 and 2 (pp. 3-45).

Barnes, B. (1983). "Social life as bootstrapped induction." Sociology, 17(4): 524-545.

Bloor, D. (1997b). Wittgenstein, rules and institutions. London: Routledge, Chapters 2 and 3 (pp. 9-42).

Latour, B. (1992). "One more turn after the social turn..." In E. McMullin (Ed.), The social dimension of science (pp. 272-294). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Schyfter, P. (2009). "The bootstrapped artefact: A collectivist account of technological ontology, functions, and normativity." Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 40: 102-111.

Foucault, M. (1982). "The subject and power." Critical Inquiry, 8(4): 777-795.

Hacking, I. (1999a). "Making up people." In M. Biagioli (Ed.), The science studies reader (pp. 161-171). London: Routledge.

Latour, B. (2009). "A cautious Prometheus? A few steps toward a philosophy of design (with special attention to Peter Sloterdijk)." In F. Hackney (Ed.), Networks of design (pp. 2-10). Boca Raton, FL: Universal.

Vincenti, W. (1990). What engineers know and how they know it. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, Chapter 5 (pp. 137-169).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Pablo Schyfter
Tel: (0131 6)50 4262
Course secretaryMs Carol Ramsay
Tel: (0131 6)51 5066
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