Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Spring, 2024
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

Office: 11–1409
[email protected]


I will put announcements about the class in this space. Please check here periodically as the term progresses.

Science, Technology and Society

Course Description

Science and technology are essential components of modern society. Indeed, one could argue that the development of science and proliferation of technology are the defining characteristics of modern society. Certainly, very nearly the only value that all countries currently share is an interest in increasing scientific knowledge and improving technological development. In order to effectively communicate and work in today’s globalized world, it is essential for students to understand how science and technology have shaped modern society, and how society, in turn, has shaped science and technology.

Science and technology are essential components of modern society. In this course, we will explore various aspects of the relationship between science, technology and society. Science, Technology and Society Studies (STSS) addresses the question of the role of techno-science in our modern societies from an interdisciplinary matrix of historical, philosophical, sociological, and cultural viewpoints.

We will begin with some lectures on theoretical ideas and approaches that have been used to study scientific practice and the development of technology. We will then study the development of large independent technological systems that have been characteristic of 20th century technology. This will be followed by lectures on information technology and biotechnology, two very current fields that are having a pervasive influence on the way we live

In order to develop a picture of current developments in science and technology, each class I will also spend 10-20 minutes talking about the latest science and technology news from around the world.

Required Texts

Many of the class readings come from An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies by Sergio Sismondo, (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.) This book is available in the SILS reading library, 11-B1, and all of the assigned readings can be downloaded from the class website.

Web Sources for Science and Technology News

  • The British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Science and Environment page, and Technology page.
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Technology Review.
  • Science News: Magazine of the Society for Science and the Public.
  • Science Daily: Your Source for the latest Research News.
  • For a look at recent work in many areas see the TED talks: Ideas worth spreading. (A collection of talks given each early at the TED conference, where leaders in science, industry and the arts meet every year to discuss their ideas)
  • Grading

    Active participation


    Midterm exam (in-class)


    Final exam (in-class)



    The exams will be in-class exams. You will have 1.5 hours to work on the exams. There will be three sections: multiple choice (or connections), short answers (1-2 sentences), full descriptions (2-3 paragraphs).

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a lecture. Students are expected to attend the lectures, engage in class discussions, and write a midterm and final exam. Electronic aids (devices, dictionaries, etc.) will not be allowed.

    Classroom Etiquette

    Please follow basic rules of decorum – do not sleep, eat, or carry on individual conversations in class. Finally, DO NOT use mobile phones, smart phones, or laptops in class. (Unfortunately, a large percentage of students use their laptops to do unrelated things during class, and this distracts both them and everyone behind them.)

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    Week 1: Apr 16

    General introduction to Science, Technology and Society Studies (STSS)

  • Reading: Sergio Sismondo, “Thomas Kuhn’s revolution in science studies” (An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, chap. 2).
  • Introduction to science and technology studies

    Week 2: Apr 23

    The social role of scientists

  • Reading: Steven Shapin’s article (Seed Magazine), “The state of the scientist”.
  • The social role of technoscientists

    Week 3: Apr 30

    The social construction of scientific knowledge and actor-network theory

  • Reading: Sergio Sismondo, “The strong program of sociology of knowledge” and “Actor-network theory” (An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, chaps. 5 and 6).
  • Social constructivist theories of technoscience

    Week 4: May 7

    What is technology?

  • Reading: Sergio Sismondo, “Two questions concerning technology” (An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, chap. 9).
  • Introduction to thinking about technology

    Week 5: May 14

    Large technological systems
    Selections from two movies, Manufactured Landscapes and Unser Täglich Brot (Our Daily Bread, 『いのちの食べ方』).

  • Reading: Thomas Hughes, “Technology as systems, controls, and information” (Human-Built World, chap. 4); Erik Van Der Vleuten, “Large Technological Systems”.
  • Large technological systems

    Week 6: May 21

    Energy in history

  • Reading: Vaclav Smil, “World History and Energy”.
  • Energy and civilization

    Conference Trip: May 28

    No Class

  • No Reading
  • Week 7: Jun 4 (Midterm exam)

    Midterm exam: In-class written exam, no electronic aids.

  • No reading.
  • Week 8: Jun 11

    History of electronic computers

  • Reading: David F. Channell, A History of Technoscience, “Electronics”.
  • History of electronic computers

    Week 9: Jun 18

    Information technology and society

  • Reading: Mark McLelland, Haiqing Yu, and Gerard Goggin, “Alternative histories of social media in Japan and China”.
  • Supplementary reading (optional): Baohua Zhou, Shihui Gui, Fumitoshi Kato, Kana Ohashi, and Larissa Hjorth, “The development of the mobile internet in China and Japan”.
  • Information technology and society

    Week 10: Jun 25

    History of modern biology

  • Reading: Stephen Downes, “Biological Information” (from The Philosophy of Science, an encyclopedia, Sarkar, S., Pfeifer, J., eds.).
  • History of modern biology

    Week 11: Jun 28 (Make-up class, different day)


  • Reading: Robert Bud, “History of biotechnology” (from the Cambridge History of Science, vol. 6).
  • Supplementary material (optional): Motherboard documentary on The Future of Medicine; documentary by DW on Big Pharma.
  • A history of biotechnology

    Week 13: Jul 9

    Studying human sexuality: Biological or social?

  • Reading: Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, “The ape in the mirror” and “On Mona Lisa’s mind” (from Sex at Dawn).
  • Supplementary reading (optional): Maryanne L. Fisher, “Woman’s intrasexual competition for mates”.
  • Studying human sexuality

    Week 14: Jul 16 (Final exam)

    Final exam: In-class written exam, no electronic aids.

  • No reading.