Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Fall, 2012
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11, 1416
[email protected]


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

Seminar on Matter and Information:
Philosophy of Technology

Course Description

Science studies covers a broad range of topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of the sciences wherever and whenever they have been practiced. Because of this scope, there is great diversity in the styles of scholarship practiced and the views about science put forward by scholars in the field. For these reasons, this seminar will be based around a particular theme each term.

The theme for the 2012 Fall Term will be “Technology Studies.” In this course, we will address the question of the nature and status of modern technology. We will be particularly interested in how technology is changing society and the relationship between technology and politics.

We will be interested both in how technology is shaped by society and also in how technology, in turn, modifies society. Another important goal of science and technology studies is an understanding of the complicated relationship between technoscience and politics, or, more sharply, between knowledge and power.

We will examine various topics in the philosophy of technology. We will begin by reading some classic papers that seek to define technology and the task of philosophy of technology, by philosophers such as Heidegger and Arendt. We will then look at special topics in the philosophy of technology, such as the question of technological determinism, the nature of the relationship between technology and human beings, technology and the environment, technology and power, and feminist perspectives on technology. We will conclude the class by exploring the relationship between modern techno-science and democracy by reading Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy by Callon, Lascoumes and Barth.

Required Texts

A number of papers will be available for download from this site.

  • Callon, Lascoumes, and Barth, 2009. Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy (MIT Press: Cambridge, MA).
  • Suggested Readings

    Many of the readings for this term have been adopted from the following book:

  • R.C. Scharff and V. Dusek, eds., 2003. Philosophy of Technology: The technological condition, An anthology (Blackwell: Maden, MA).
  • Grading:

    Participation 50%
    Final paper 50%

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a seminar discussion. Attendance and participation in class are mandatory and graded. Each week, we will discuss a piece of text, and other topics of interest. Students are expected to do all the readings, participate actively in the discussions and to submit a final paper.

    Final Paper

    Writing project: 3,000-5,000 words

    The writing project will be done in two phases: (1) a topic proposal and bibliography, and (2) a final paper. You should come up with your own idea for a final project that is based on the work we are studying. The best kind of project will be on a subject in which you are personally interested.

    Once you have selected a topic, you should write up a short description of your project (100-300 words), which should be followed by a bibliography (5-10 items). You should hand in a copy of your topic and bibliography two weeks before the final project is due.

    Please also read the general guidelines for written assignments.

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    As you read through the readings, you should ask yourself the following questions:

      1. What is the overall point that the author is trying to make?
      2. What is the author’s argument? What evidence does the author use? What are the strong points of the argument, the weak points?
      3. Is the argument convincing? Why, or why not?
      4. Why would the author make this kind of argument? What is the broader context in which this is interesting?
    Week 1: Oct 2

    General Introduction

  • No reading.
  • Week 2: Oct 9

    Different Approaches to Philosophy of Technology

  • Reading: M. Bunge, Philosophical inputs and outputs of technology, H. Jonas, Towards a philosophy of technology.
  • Week 3: Oct 16

    Heidegger, I

  • Reading: A. Borgmann, On Heidegger's philosophy of technology, M. Heidegger, The question concerning technology (pp. 287-294, first paragraph).
  • Week 4: Oct 23

    Heidegger, II

  • Reading: M. Heidegger, The question concerning technology (pp. 294-317).
  • Week 5: Oct 30

    Technological determinism

  • Reading: R. Heilbroner, Do machines make history?, H. Marcuse, The new forms of control.
  • Related website: D. Chandler, Technological or media determinism.
  • Week 6: Nov 6

    Actor Network Theory (ANT), I

  • Reading: B. Latour, Give me a lab and I will raise the world.
  • Week 7: Nov 13

    Actor Network Theory (ANT), II

  • Reading: M. Callon, Society in the making: The study of technology as a tool for social analysis, B. Latour, On actor network theory: A few clarifications.
  • Week 8: Nov 20

    Social Construction of Technology (SCOT)

  • Reading: T. Pinch and W.E. Bijker, The social construction of facts and artifacts, L. Winner, Upon opening the black box and finding it empty.
  • Week 9: Nov 27

    Technology and Human Goals

  • Reading: H. Arendt, The “Vita activa” and the modern age.
  • Week 10: Dec 4

    Feminist Perspectives, I

  • Reading: C. Merchant, Mining the earth’s womb.
  • Week 11: Dec 12

    Feminist Perspectives, II

  • Reading: D. Haraway, A cyborg’s manifesto. (Chapter 4 from Simians, Cyborgs and Women)
  • Week 12: Dec 18

    Technology and democracy, I

  • Reading: Acting in an Uncertain World, Prologue and chap. 2.
  • Holiday: Dec 25

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 1

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 13: Jan 8 (Paper topic due)

    Technology and democracy, II

  • Reading: Acting in an Uncertain World, chap. 4.
  • Holiday: Jan 15

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 14: Jan 22

    Technology and democracy, III

  • Reading: Acting in an Uncertain World, chap. 6.
  • Week 15: Jan 29 (Paper due)

    Technology and democracy, IV

  • Reading: Acting in an Uncertain World, chap. 7 and Epilogue.