ICS 230: Social Analysis of Computerization

Winter 2002


The purpose of the class is to introduce students to sociological analysis of technology. It aims tp provide you with conceptual tools which will prepare you to do research in this area. So, our goal is not simply to discuss social consequences of technology, but to equip you to think analytically about the relationship between the social and the technical.

In particular, the classes focuses on the social construction of technical systems (by way of the social construction of science) as a way to introduce the network of elements that impinge on technology use. We'll keep things at a broad level, rather than exploring specific forms of technology -- it's the social concerns, rather than the technical ones, that will be central here.

In the later sections of the class, we'll bring this closer to home by exploring more explicitly the role that these approaches can play in computer science.


As we discussed in the first lecture, there's a lot of reading in this class. Consequently, I think the best way to run this class is with a single weekly meeting (for longer than the regularly scheduled time). We'll schedule further meetings if they seem necessary.

The plan is to meet from 2:00-4:00 on Mondays. Our official room (PSCB 230) isn't available for all of this time, so I've arranged that we can use ICS2 144 instead. Depending on how things work out, we may extend the time a little one way or another (the room is actually booked from 1:30-4:30).


The primary text for the class is "The Social Construction of Technological Systems" (SCTS) by Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch. Supplementary readings will be distributed through the course of the quarter.

As I say, there's a lot of reading; and these readings are not ones that wear their meaning easily on the surface. They will reward close attention. Please make sure to do the readings ahead of time. If you don't, you won't be able to participate fully in the class discussions. Which brings us to...


The breakdown will be 20% for participation in class discussions, 20% for an initial essay assignment due at the end of week 3, 30% for a midterm exam and 30% for a final exam. Each of these exams will be take-home, with some number of short essay-style questions.


Jan 17
The essay assignment has been posted here. It's due on Thursday January 24.

Meeting Schedule

Week 1 -- January 7

Course outline. Introduction to social perspectives on scientific knowledge and practice.

Week 2 -- January 14

Social studies of science. Conceptions of science and engineering.
Readings for this week: "What is Science?", "Representation and the Methodological Horrors", and "Opening the black box" from Woolgar, Science: The Very Idea; "Two Conceptions of Science" and "Induction and Inference in Scientific Thought" from Medewar's Pluto's Republic; "Two Experiments that 'Proved' Relativity" from Collins and Pinch's The Golem: What You Should Know About Science.

Week 3 -- January 21

No meeting this week -- working on the essay assignment.
Readings for this week: Chapters 1, 5, and 6 from Simon's Sciences of the Artificial.

Week 4 -- January 28

Social Studies of Technology I. Science and technology. The emergence of technology in real-world settings. The social constructionist perspective.
Readings for this week: "Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts", "The Evolution of Large Technological Systems", "The Social Construction of Bakelite", and "Missile Accuracy: A Case Study in the Social Process of Technological Change", all from Social Construction of Technological Systems; "Science, Technology and the Characteristics of Technical Knowledge", from Staudenmaier's Technology's Storytellers: Reweaving the Human Fabric.

Week 5 -- February 4

Social Construction of Technological Systems II. Deeper exploration of conceptual frameworks and alternative theories. ANT.
Readings for this week: "Technology and Heterogeneous Engineering: The Case of Portugese Expansion", "The Nelson-Winter-Dosi Model and Synthetic Dye Chemistry", and "The Social Locus of Technological Practice: Community, System, or Organization?", all from Social Construction of Technological Systems; "The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts" from Bijker and Law's Shaping Technology/Building Society.

Week 6 -- February 11

No meeting this week.

Week 7 -- February 18

Social Construction of Technological Systems III. Continuing and concluding our discussion of themes from these studies. Further prospects; role of these ideas for our own work.
"The Consumption Junction: A Proposal for Research Strategies in the Sociology of Technology" and "Expert Systems and the Science of Knowledge" from Social Construction of Technological Systems; "Representing the User: Notes on the Disciplinary Rhetoric of Human-Computer Interaction" and "Conceptions of the User in Computer Systems Design" from Thomas' The Social and Interactional Dimensions of Human-Computer Interfaces.

Week 8 -- February 25

A fist full of Agre
"Toward a Critical Technical Practice: Lessons Learned in Trying to Reform AI" from Bowker et al.'s Social Science, Technical Systems, and Cooperative Work; "Changing Places: Contexts of Awareness in Computing" from an upcoming issue of the journal Human-Computer Interaction; and "Institutional Analysis for Design", a recent posting to the "Red Rock Eater" mailing list.

Week 9 -- March 4

Disciplines and "Computer Science"
Readings for this week: "Ethnocentrism of Disciplines and the Fish-Scale Model of Omniscience" from Sherif and Sherif's Interdisciplinary Relationships in the Social Sciences; Part I of The National Challenge in Computer Science and Technology; more to be added

Week 10 -- March 11

Exam time