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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 Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
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 an in-depth understanding of sociology of knowledge theories. Advanced Theory in STS explores the many facets of the Edinburgh School, including the Strong Programme in the sociology of knowledge and different components of the School`s social theory. The class also examines theoretic perspectives on knowledge from other social scientific and philosophical traditions. These include different philosophies of science, ethnomethodology and pragmatism. 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: Experience and understanding

We consider the much-discussed battle between empiricists and rationalists over experience and knowledge. Particular attention is given to writings by David Hume and W.V.O. Quine, as well as Mary Hesse, whose ideas were crucial to the development of the Edinburgh School. The class delves into issues fundamental to the sociology of knowledge and to the practice of science, such as empirical observation and its place in creating knowledge and finding truths.

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 class, we will revisit some key texts and make sense of the Strong Programme's core arguments. In particular, we will examine its defining tenets, its perspective on the role of the material in making knowledge and its conceptualisation of `truth`.

Week 3: Criticisms of the Strong Programme

We explore a range of criticisms of the Strong Programme. We focus primarily on criticisms from rationalist epistemology, which challenged the Strong Programme`s social understanding of knowledge and concepts like symmetry. We also consider criticisms by Bruno Latour, who felt that Bloor and his colleagues didn`t go far enough.

Week 4: The Performative Theory of Social Institutions

In this class, 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 5: Finitism

In week 5, 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 how finitism has potential to explain many other important aspects of knowledge.

Week 7: A debate over rules I: Bloor and finitism

The statement of a rule in itself does not completely determine its correct interpretation or execution. Rather, people do - with their conventions, institutions, and social structures. Over two classes, we will discuss a key debate (between Michael Lynch and David Bloor) involving different sociology of science theories about what makes an interpretation of a rule correct or incorrect, and how this affects how we explain science and society. In this first class, we will explore some of Wittgenstein`s writing on rules and rule-following and investigate David Bloor`s finitist interpretation of them.

Week 8: A debate over rules II: Lynch and ethnomethodology

In this class, we will study the second part of Bloor-Lynch debate over rules and rule-following. In doing so, we will examine some key developments in the ethnomethodology of science - a radically empirical approach to the sociology of knowledge - and discuss its complicated relationship with theory and practice. In reviewing this famous debate, we will also consider the challenges that ethnomethodology continues to present for science studies and the sociology of knowledge.

Week 9: Relativism and the Edinburgh School

Relativism is a contentious term. It lacks a single definition or understanding. It is criticised by many different people for many different reasons. In this class, we will examine how the Edinburgh School has engaged with relativism, its understanding of it, why and how it defends relativism and what its commitment suggests about the two traditions. The class will investigate leading criticisms of relativism and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Last, we consider what this perspective means beyond theoretical debate.

Week 10: The Edinburgh School and technology

The Edinburgh School`s sociology of knowledge has focused almost entirely on scientific knowledge, and has engaged little with issues related to technology, be that technological knowledge or technological artefacts. In this class, we consider the limited efforts to employ Edinburgh School ideas, particularly from PTSI, to study technology. We examine Kusch`s notion of artificial kinds to think about technological ontologies and on some ideas from pragmatist epistemology to consider technological knowledge.

Week 11: Putting theory to work

In this class, we will want to think about how we might use some of the conceptual tools we have acquired when collecting, analysing and presenting our data. Bringing theory and data together is notoriously difficult. 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? We look at a final topic that will be important and useful for this class` essay, and for producing the final MSc. dissertations.
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 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  30
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
Indicative Readings:

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

Bloor, D. (1976). Knowledge and Social Imagery. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Bloor, D. (1997). Wittgenstein, Rules and Institutions. London: Routledge.

Hesse, M. (1974). The Structure of Scientific Inference. Berkeley, CA: The University California Press.

Hume, D. (1999 [1748]). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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.

Laudan, L. (1981) "The pseudo-science of science?" Philosophy of the Social Sciences 11(2): 173-198.

Mol, A. (2008). The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice. London: Routledge.
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 secretaryMr Adam Petras
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