Social Analysis of Computing

From iPods to IBM mainframes, information and communication technologies both shape, and are shaped by, the social and cultural settings in which they emerge and are put to use. The purpose of this class is to prepare you to conduct research in the social analysis of information systems, what is sometimes known as social informatics. From this perspective, we will look at information systems not simply as engineering artifacts, but as social and cultural objects whose meanings, purposes, interpretations, and functions are as much achievements of the social world as they are of the technological. The class provides an overview of theories and models of the relationship between technology and sociocultural settings.

All readings for the class are stored on the UCI Webfiles server. To gain access, you will first need an activated UCINet ID, and then to register for a Webfiles account.


As background before we get started, here are a couple of readings that you might find useful:

Reading Responses

For each set of readings, you should write a response. These need not be longer than a page or so of text; depth is more important. Responses are due in the class wiki by Sunday, in order to give everyone, especially the discussion-leaders for the week, time to read them.

There are four things to remember when writing responses. First, a response is not a summary; you can presume that everyone has read the papers, and so the focus is not on recapitulating the main points, but in applying, examining, or moving beyond them. Second, it is better to write something narrow and deep than something broad and shallow. Our in-class discussions will be driven by analytic engagement with the materials and that requires a close reading and deep engagement. Third, try to treat the readings as a set -- that is, I'm not looking for one-point-per-paper, but rather with the impact of taking the papers together. Fourth, focus on using your emerging knowledge of the literature (or relevant other literatures) to build a critique and argument around the content of the papers, rather than responding with your own immediate visceral reaction.


9/30 Introduction and overview
Tu 10/7 The Information Society (Xinru, Faith, Ben)

Some other papers for those who want to follow things up from our discussion: Jameson, "Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism"; Gieryn, "Boundary Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science".

Tu 10/14 Theoretical Perspectives from STS (Dwight, Junius, Morgan)
Tu 10/21 Ethnography and design event
10/24 End of Week 4: Paper topics due
Tu 10/28 Organizations and Institutions (Justin, Kang-Chen, Tempe)
Tu 11/4 Information Technology and the Social Imaginary (Faith, Joel, Nadine)
Tu 11/11 No class -- Paul at CSCW 2008 conference
11/14 End of Week 7: Paper drafts due
Tu 11/18 Representations and Rhetorics (Jen, Tony, Jeffrey)

Following on from our in-class discussions, here is a copy of Haraway's paper, upon which Suchman draws extensively: Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.

Tu 11/25 Information and Infrastructure (Xinru, Ryan, Junius)

This class was particularly heavy on my random digressions. A couple of the things that came up in passing included 12 myths about how the internet works, Lisa Covi's paper The Myth of the Nintendo Generation (on patterns of electronic document access, management, and production across generations of scholars), Sudnow's paper on Normal Crimes, and Woolgar's Do Artifacts Have Ambivalence? (reexamining the case of Moses' bridges.) I also mentioned at least two books in passing -- Jack Goody's "The Domestication of the Savage Mind," on the intertwining of the evolution of knowledge practice and forms of notation, and Simon Coles' "Suspect Identities" on fingerprinting and biometrics.

Tu 12/2 Digital Media and Cultural Practice (Dwight, Morgan, Justin)
12/5 End of Week 10: Final papers due, 5pm