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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 theoretical tools central to STS, and to consider ways of taking that theory in new, innovative directions.

Broadly, Advanced Theory in STS is designed for students interested in unpacking some of 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 also examines 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 theoretically nuanced understanding of key themes 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 course 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. Some of these include: Actor-Network Theory and Post-ANT thinkers as diverse as Anne Marie Mol and Giles Deleuze; phenomenology and the philosophy of technology; and pragmatist epistemology. The second half of the course provides students with a range of concepts and methods, which can be employed in science and technology studies. Although focused on theoretical topics, the course aims to give students a strong grasp of 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: Empiricism and rationalism: we consider the much-discussed battle between empiricists and rationalists over experience and knowledge. Particular attention will be given to how Kant aimed to resolve this issue with his own 'Copernican Revolution', thus presenting us with a form of thinking about how and how far human actors shape what we know. This debate continues to resonate in various forms in STS. We also examine empiricist thinker David Hume and W.V.O. Quine.

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. We will discuss some of these criticisms, notably those related to the Strong Programme¿s relationship with the theoretical stance of relativism and its 'interest-based' explanations.

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. We consider what this theory implies for talking about the social, cultural or political context for analysing particular cases.

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 both the theoretical and methodological roots of Actor-Network Theory, including its ontological symmetry between objects and subjects. We will discuss issues around materiality and how things including technologies contribute to how and what we know. 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 lectures discussion of ontologies and methods, this week will address questions around the status of "practices" in STS, and how and whether ANT could or should engage with questions of ethics. We will bring in a number of thinkers who attempt to deal with ethics and practices and consider how we would expand ANT to engage with ethical questions.

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: Democratic Models in STS
Distinct schools of thought within STS have developed around decision-making on and governance of science and technology. This week, we'll examine how the 'deliberative turn' in STS has shaped the ways scholars engage with governmental organizations, scientists and publics through Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). The lecture will explore the implications of this commitment to deliberative democracy and consider how alternative democratic models for decision-making could inform STS scholarship and engagement.

Week 11: Combining theory and data
Bringing theory and data together is notoriously difficult. In this lecture, we will consider how we might use conceptual tools when collecting, analysing and presenting our data. Do we want to use our data to test a theory, build theory or some combination of the two? How will this contribute to our analysis? The lecture will cover the theory/methods connection in the so-called qualitative turn in social research. We will think about why (if) theory is useful discussing our own work. We will explore important STS concepts in particular 'controversy' and 'care'.
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 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  20
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, 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 the rationalism-relativism debate, 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 Institutions, and most importantly, Barry Barnes' notion of 'bootstrapped induction.
  3. Students will be competent in parallel theories of ontology from works by Bruno Latour and Martin Heidegger. As part of this, students will understand how these ideas relate to empirical work in the social sciences.
  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-writing).
Reading List
1. Indicative Readings:

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).

Deleuze, G. (1990 [1969]). Logic of Sense. London: Bloomsbury, ¿Ninth Series of the Problematic¿ (pp. 55-60).

Hughes, J.A. and W.W. Sharrock. (2007). Theory and Methods in Sociology: An Introduction to Sociological Thinking and Practice. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, Chapter 14 (pp. 325-344).

Hume, D. (1999 [1748]). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Oxford: Oxford University Press, ¿Of the Origins of Ideas¿ (pp. 96-100).

Heidegger, M. (1977). ¿The question concerning technology,¿ In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (pp. 3-35). New York: Harper Perennial.

Kant, I. (1998 [1787]). Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ¿Preface to the Second Edition¿ (pp. 106-124).

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.

Lövbrand, E., R. Pielke, Jr., & S. Beck. (2011). ¿A democracy paradox in studies of science and technology.¿ Science, Technology & Human Values 36(4): 474-496.

Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills On completion of this course, the student will also have gained or further developed the following:

1. Generic cognitive skills. This course aims to develop students' abilities to comprehend complex ideas, evaluate them, critically analyse them and then make use of them. All of these skills contribute to students' capacity for critical thinking.

2. Autonomy, accountability and working with others. This course relies heavily on discussion sessions. We employ various methods to organise those sessions. These include methods to develop individual abilities to produce analyses, present arguments and defend claims. Students are asked to present their perspectives on ideas from the course and then to advocate for them through debate. The course also uses group-based learning which depends on students working with each other to explore theories. We expect students to compile joint analyses and explain the process by which consensus was reached. This allows students to develop skills in collaboration and the ability to analyse and learn from those collaborative efforts.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Pablo Schyfter
Tel: (0131 6)50 4262
Course secretaryMiss Kate Ferguson
Tel: (0131 6)51 5122
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