SOCI 325: Sociology of Science

Location Online
Time Winter 2021, Tue and Thu 1:05-2:25pm
Instructor Peter McMahan
()
Office hours Wednesdays 1:30–3:00pm (via Zoom)
Teaching Assistant Lysandre Champagne
()
Syllabus https://soci325.netlify.com/

Description

STS (an acronym for either “science and technology studies” or “science, technology, and society,” depending on who is asked) is a diverse field spanning research across the social sciences, humanities, and physical sciences. This course aims to give students a window into STS, adopting a specifically sociological viewpoint. The discipline of sociology has a distinctive perspective on the nature of knowledge and scientific institutions, and the course content will explore theories and applications of this perspective.

The course is structured as a hybrid of lectures and seminars. Most of the classes will begin with a short presentation by the instructor, but the bulk of the class time will be spent in small-group discussions. Group work will consist of structured discussions of the course readings in the context of broad themes and theories introduced throughout the semester. The success of the course therefore relies on students’ engaged readings of the assigned texts.

Expectations

Students are expected to (1) closely read the assigned texts, (2) participate in group discussions and worksheets, (3) submit three discussion questions, (4) complete peer evaluations, and (5) complete a final poster presentation. Each of these expectations is detailed below.

Reading

The assigned readings are the core of the course material, and students are expected to carefully and critically read each assignment before class. To facilitate students’ engagement with the reading and to help prevent students from falling behind, we will use the online tool Perusall for all required readings. Perusall is a reading platform in which students annotate texts collaboratively alongside one another.

Readings will be graded as either complete (1 point) or incomplete (0 points). Student responses must demonstrate a thoughtful and thorough reading of the entire assignment to receive credit. At the end of the semester, the four lowest reading grades will be dropped from the assessment. Reading assessments will contribute 10% to the final grade for the course.

Lectures

The scheduled class periods will held over Microsoft Teams. Typically, the first 15–30 minutes of the class will consist of a live-streamed lecture during which students are encouraged to engage in class-wide discussion.

The slides will be made available before class, and a recording of the lecture with a transcript will be available later the same day.

Group discussions

The large portion of class time will be devoted to small-group discussions and collaborative composition of discussion responses. After the second full week of classes, students will form groups of approximately four or five based. Groups will work together to provide responses to provided worksheets of discussion questions. There will be a total of 9 worksheets over the course of the semester, each spanning the content from multiple class periods

The worksheets will be evaluated according to the following rubric:

10 points

Responses demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the reading and link ideas from the text to themes, theories, and other topics from class.

8–9.5 points

Responses demonstrate a basic understanding of the reading but may miss important implications or connections.

5–7.5 points

Responses demonstrate a superficial understanding/engagement of the reading or contain numerous fundamental misunderstandings of the concepts.

0–4.5 points

Responses are cursory, or not submitted at all. (0%)

Marks for worksheet responses will be given to all members of the group. At the end of the semester, groups will perform peer evaluation that will adjust each participant’s discussion grade up or down by as much as 10%. Group discussions will contribute 30% to the final grade for the course**.

Discussion questions

Each student is responsible for submitting three discussion questions relating to the readings over the semester. By the end of the second week of class, random assignments will be sent to each student. If your assigned reading creates a conflict for you, please contact the professor as soon as possible to resolve the scheduling.

Discussion questions will be evaluated on a ten-point scale based on the engagement and originality of the question. High-scoring submissions will engage with more than just basic concepts and will elicit responses that go beyond what is written in the text itself. For instance, the question might ask for a critical engagement with a point made by the author, suggesting a different interpretation of the reading; or a question might contrast a point made in the text to another reading or topic discussed in the class. Students should try to craft questions that will help others to think outside the reading.

Throughout the semester, the instructor will choose some submitted questions to be included on the discussion worksheets described above. Students whose questions are used in this way will receive an automatic mark of 10/10 (100%) on their submission.

Discussion questions will contribute 20% to the final grade for the course.

Poster presentation

At the end of the semester, students will participate in a peer-evaluated ‘virtual’ poster session. Each student will produce a digital poster presenting a piece of scientific research or technological output to an outside perspective. Further details on the final project are available here.

In total, the final project will be worth 40% of each student’s grade, broken down as follows: 5% for topic submission and group peer review (due February 27); 30% for the poster (due April 9); and 5% for peer evaluation of others’ posters (due April 16).

Evaluation

The evaluation components for this course (described above), and the dates they are set for, are non-negotiable.

Reading See schedule for dates 10% of final grade
Group discussions See schedule for dates 30% of final grade
Discussion questions Assigned after week 2 20% of final grade
Final topic submission February 26 5% of final grade
Poster presentation April 9 30% of final grade
Poster peer evaluation April 16 5% of final grade

Accessibility

Students with disabilities in need of accommodation please contact the Office for Students with Disabilities (http://www.mcgill.ca/osd/, phone 514-398-6009). Students may also contact me directly—I will make every effort to accommodate individual circumstances.

Academic integrity

McGill University values academic integrity. Therefore, all students must understand the meaning and consequences of cheating, plagiarism and other academic offences under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures (see http://www.mcgill.ca/students/srr/honest/ for more information).(approved by Senate on 29 January 2003)

L’université McGill attache une haute importance à l’honnêteté académique. Il incombe par conséquent à tous les étudiants de comprendre ce que l’on entend par tricherie, plagiat et autres infractions académiques, ainsi que les conséquences que peuvent avoir de telles actions, selon le Code de conduite de l’étudiant et des procédures disciplinaires (pour de plus amples renseignements, veuillez consulter le site http://www.mcgill.ca/students/srr/honest/).

Lanugage of evaluation

In accord with McGill University’s Charter of Students’ Rights, students in this course have the right to submit in English or in French any written work that is to be graded. (approved by Senate on 21 January 2009)

Conformément à la Charte des droits de l’étudiant de l’Université McGill, chaque étudiant a le droit de soumettre en français ou en anglais tout travail écrit devant être noté (sauf dans le cas des cours dont l’un des objets est la maîtrise d’une langue).

Grade appeals

Instructors and teaching assistants take the marking of assignments very seriously, and we work diligently to be fair, consistent, and accurate. Nonetheless, mistakes and oversights occasionally happen. If you believe that to be the case, you must adhere to the following rules:

  • If it is a mathematical error simply alert the instructor of the error.
  • In the case of more substantive appeals, you must:
    1. Wait at least 24 hours after receiving your mark.
    2. Carefully re-read your assignment, all guidelines and marking schemes, and the grader’s comments.
    3. If you wish to appeal, you must submit to the instructor a written explanation of why you think your mark should be altered. Please note that upon re-grade your mark may go down, stay the same, or go up.

Schedule

Introduction and themes

The course will open with an introduction some of the unifying themes of the sciology of science. Readings will introduce some of the ways that both the doing of science (research and institutions) and the outcomes of science (findings and knowledge) are steeped in social processes. We will learn about the historical context of science as an institution, and see the way that this institution aligns with societal structures of power.

Thu, Jan 7
Lectures:
Required:
  • Hird (2011), Science, Technology, and the Sociological Imagination (due Jan 12)

Tue, Jan 12
Lectures:

Discussion: (In-class)

Required:
  • Benjamin (2019), Engineered Inequity: Are Robots Racist?

Thu, Jan 14
Lectures:

Discussion: (In-class)

Required:
  • Goodyear (2016), The Stem-Cell Scandal

Tue, Jan 19
Lectures:

Discussion: (In-class)

Required:
  • Gould (1981), Measuring Heads

Supplementary:
  • Daston and Galison (2010), Epistemologies of the Eye

Thu, Jan 21
Lectures:
  • Theme—History of science is a social history
    (slides ;  video )

Discussion: (In-class)

Required:
  • Wolfe (2018), Freedom’s Laboratory (Introduction)

Science as an institution

Institutional analysis represents one approach to the sociological study of science. Early functionalists like Merton examined the norms and culture of science to understand what made ‘good science’ work. The study of science was turned on its head in the 1960s and 1970s by research (like that of Kuhn) that took the content of science to be an institutional feature. Understanding the institutional features of science can illuminate certain structural barriers to participation in science by marginalized groups.

Tue, Jan 26
Lectures:
  • Scientific norms through a functionalist lens
    (slides ;  video )

Discussion: Group discussion 1 (due Feb 3)

Required:
  • Merton (1973), The normative structure of science

Thu, Jan 28
Lectures:
  • Normal science, paradigms, and scientific revolutions
    (slides ;  video )

Discussion: Group discussion 1 (due Feb 3)

Required:
  • Kuhn (1970), Anomaly and the Emergence of Scientific Discoveries and Crisis and the Emergence of Scientific Theories

Tue, Feb 2
Lectures:
  • Structural barriers to participation in science
    (slides ;  video )

Discussion: Group discussion 1 (due Feb 3)

Required:
  • van den Brink and Benschop (2012), Gender practices in the construction of academic excellence: Sheep with five legs

Is knowledge social?

The social processes underlying scientific theories and discoveries call into question the nature of scientific knowledge itself. What does it mean when STS scholars say that knowledge is socially constructed? Is there such a thing as objectivity, or are scientific observations only meaningful in a particular social context?

Thu, Feb 4
Lectures:
  • Social construction and the real (part 1)
    (slides ;  video )
  • Social construction and the real (part 2)
    (video )
Required:
  • Sismondo (2009), Chapter 6: The social construction of scientific and technical realities

Tue, Feb 9
Lectures:
  • The ‘strong programme’ and scientific anti-realism
    (slides ;  video )

Discussion: Group discussion 2 (due Feb 10)

Required:
  • Bloor ([1974] 1991), The strong programme in the sociology of knowledge

Thu, Feb 11
Lectures:

Discussion: Group discussion 3 (due Feb 17)

Required:
  • Haraway (1988), Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective

  • Martin (1991), The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles

Tue, Feb 16
Lectures:

Discussion: Group discussion 3 (due Feb 17)

Required:
  • Hacking (1983), What is scientific realism? and Building and Causing

Studying laboratories

Sociologists of science have a particular interest in laboratories as sites for ethnographic research. Observing scientists discussing theories, making sense of observations, and presenting findings allows a unique perspective on the social processes at play.

Thu, Feb 18
Lectures:
  • Tacit knowledge and experimental reproduction
    (slides ;  video )

Discussion: Group discussion 4 (due Feb 24)

Required:
  • Collins (1975), The Seven Sexes: A Study in the Sociology of a Phenomenon, or the Replication of Experiments in Physics

Tue, Feb 23
Lectures:

Discussion: Group discussion 4 (due Feb 24)

Required:
  • Amann and Knorr Cetina (1988), The Fixation of (Visual) Evidence

Thu, Feb 25
Lectures:
  • Poster session brainstorm and peer assessment
    (video )

Break

Tue, Mar 2

Spring break — no class

Thu, Mar 4

Spring break — no class

Studying laboratories (continued)

Tue, Mar 9
Lectures:
  • Participants beyond the laboratory—actor–network theory (ANT)
    (slides ;  video )

Discussion: Group discussion 5 (due Mar 10)

Required:
  • Sismondo (2009), Chapter 8: Actor–network theory

  • Callon (1984), Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay

Science as power

Like any institution (especially one as well funded and generally well regarded as science), the practices and ideologies of science frequently align with existing structures of power in society. Whether one considers technologies of war, classifications of race, or justifications of rational action, the history of Western science is inextricably linked with the history of European colonialism.

Thu, Mar 11
Lectures:
Required:
  • Sismondo (2009), Chapter 17: Political Economies of Knowledge

Tue, Mar 16
Lectures:
  • Science, colonialism, and postcolonial science studies
    (slides )

Discussion: Group discussion 6 (due Mar 17)

Required:
  • Adams (2002), Randomized Controlled Crime

Supplementary:
  • Whitt (1998), Biocolonialism and the commodification of knowledge

Thu, Mar 18
Lectures:

Discussion: Group discussion 7 (due Mar 24)

Required:
  • Poudrier (2007), The Geneticization of Aboriginal Diabetes and Obesity

Tue, Mar 23
Lectures:

Discussion: Group discussion 7 (due Mar 24)

Required:
  • Herzig (1999), Removing Roots: “North American Hiroshima Maidens” and the X Ray

Supplementary:
  • Woods and Watson (2004), In Pursuit of Standardization: The British Ministry of Health’s Model 8F Wheelchair, 1948-1962

Scientists and the public

The authority that scientific communication enjoys in public discourse can lead to conflict between scientists and non-scientists. Public debates take a particularly salient turn when scientific findings are at odds with popular beliefs. Moreover, the authoritative voice of scientific communication can be coopted by non-scientists to make more persuasive points.

Thu, Mar 25
Lectures:
  • Public trust, participation, and implicit values
    (slides ;  video )
Required:
  • Winner (1980), Do artifacts have politics?

Tue, Mar 30
Lectures:
  • Science and identity

Discussion: Group discussion 8 (postponed, due Apr 2)

Required:
  • TallBear (2013), Genomic articulations of indigeneity

Supplementary:
  • Winner (1980), Do artifacts have politics?

Thu, Apr 1

Make-up discussion day

Discussion: Group discussion 8 (due Apr 2)

Tue, Apr 6
Lectures:

Discussion: Group discussion 9 (due Apr 9)

Required:
  • Harambam and Aupers (2015), Contesting epistemic authority: Conspiracy theories on the boundaries of science

Thu, Apr 8
Lectures:

Discussion: Group discussion 9 (due Apr 9)

Required:
  • Allen (2018), Strongly Participatory Science and Knowledge Justice in an Environmentally Contested Region

Vitual poster sessions

Tue, Apr 13

Virtual poster session (evaluation)

References

Adams, Vincanne. 2002. “Randomized Controlled Crime: Postcolonial Sciences in Alternative Medicine Research.” Social Studies of Science 32 (5-6): 659–90. https://doi.org/10.1177/030631270203200503.
Allen, Barbara L. 2018. “Strongly Participatory Science and Knowledge Justice in an Environmentally Contested Region.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 43 (6): 947–71. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243918758380.
Amann, Klaus, and Karin Knorr Cetina. 1988. “The Fixation of (Visual) Evidence.” Human Studies 11 (2/3): 133–69. www.jstor.org/stable/20009024.
Benjamin, Ruha. 2019. Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. 1 edition. Medford, MA: Polity.
Bloor, David. (1974) 1991. Knowledge and social imagery. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Brink, Marieke van den, and Yvonne Benschop. 2012. “Gender Practices in the Construction of Academic Excellence: Sheep with Five Legs.” Organization 19 (4): 507–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508411414293.
Callon, Michel. 1984. “Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay.” The Sociological Review 32 (1_suppl): 196–233. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.1984.tb00113.x.
Collins, H. M. 1975. “The Seven Sexes: A Study in the Sociology of a Phenomenon, or the Replication of Experiments in Physics.” Sociology 9 (2): 205–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/003803857500900202.
Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. 2010. Objectivity. 1st paperback ed. New York: Zone Books.
Goodyear, Dana. 2016. “The Stem-Cell Scandal.” The New Yorker, February 22, 2016. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/29/the-stem-cell-scandal.
Gould, Stephen Jay. 1981. The Mismeasure of Man. New York : Norton,.
Hacking, Ian. 1983. Representing and intervening: introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; Cambridge University Press. http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/toc/cam025/83005132.html.
Harambam, Jaron, and Stef Aupers. 2015. “Contesting Epistemic Authority: Conspiracy Theories on the Boundaries of Science.” Public Understanding of Science 24 (4): 466–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963662514559891.
Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14 (3): 575–99. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178066.
Herzig, Rebecca. 1999. “Removing Roots: ‘North American Hiroshima Maidens’ and the X Ray.” Technology and Culture 40 (4): 723–45. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25147409.
Hird, Myra J. 2011. Sociology of Science: A Critical Canadian Introduction. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Kuhn, Thomas S. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago : University of Chicago Press,.
Martin, Emily. 1991. “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles.” Signs 16 (3): 485–501. www.jstor.org/stable/3174586.
Merton, Robert King. 1973. The sociology of science: theoretical and empirical investigations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. http://www.gbv.de/dms/bowker/toc/9780226520926.pdf.
Poudrier, Jennifer. 2007. “The Geneticization of Aboriginal Diabetes and Obesity: Adding Another Scene to the Story of the Thrifty Gene*.” Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue Canadienne de Sociologie 44 (2): 237–61. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-618X.2007.tb01136.x.
Sismondo, Sergio. 2009. An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies. Wiley.
TallBear, Kim. 2013. “Genomic Articulations of Indigeneity.” Social Studies of Science 43 (4): 509–33. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312713483893.
Whitt, Laurie Anne. 1998. “Biocolonialism and the Commodification of Knowledge.” Science as Culture 7 (1): 33–67. https://doi.org/10.1080/09505439809526490.
Winner, Langdon. 1980. “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Daedalus 109 (1): 121–36. www.jstor.org/stable/20024652.
Wolfe, Audra J. 2018. Freedom’s laboratory: the Cold War struggle for the soul of science. 1 online resource (x, 302 pages) vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. http://www.overdrive.com/search?q=2802B54A-1CD2-4DA5-BBBB-ED0B2CEF04CA.
Woods, Brian, and Nick Watson. 2004. “In Pursuit of Standardization: The British Ministry of Health’s Model 8f Wheelchair, 1948-1962.” Technology and Culture 45 (3): 540–68. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40060636.