A Social History of STS


Overview and Goals

In this assignment you will trace, document, examine, analyze and offer mindful judgments regarding the development of Science and Technology Studies (STS). To do so, you will compose a social history of the field. By design, the approach and execution of this assignment remains open to your collective imagination and negotiation. Your starting point will involve an initial distinction—a provocation perhaps—as a way to conceptualize the field. You are free to accept, reject or amend the initial distinction throughout the scholarly process in providing a social history.

The goals of this assignment are:

    • To trace, and document, a working social history of STS;
    • To examine and analyze the dynamic relationships among culture, history and society in accounts of disciplinary formation;
    • To offer mindful judgments regarding the effect of how we tell the story of STS.

Purpose and Aim

Your social history will proceed with regard to the "High Church-Low Church" distinction in STS—which you are free to free to accept, reject or amend. Steve Fuller, who initially formulated the "High Church-Low Church" distinction (see Philosophy, Rhetoric and the End of Knowledge, [1993], 2004), puts the idea as follows:

I coined the "High Church-Low Church" distinction to capture two rather different ways of conceptualizing the trajectory of something called "STS". In High Church terms, "STS" means "Science & Technology Studies," an emerging academic discipline that uses the methods of the humanities and the social sciences to study mainly the natural sciences but increasingly technology. In Low Church terms, "STS" means "Science, Technology & Society," a nascent social movement that has been historically promoted by science and engineering teachers concerned with the social implications of mainly technology but increasingly science. There is probably a broad political consensus between the High and Low Churches regarding a generally critical attitude toward the role of science and technology in society today. However, the High Church stresses the need for more research to understand the complexities of that role, whereas the Low Church wishes to reduce some of those complexities by reorienting science and engineering education. Consequently, the two Churches of STS inhabit rather different professional societies and represent themselves in rather different ways, though often drawing from many of the same intellectual traditions. — Steve Fuller, Technosceince, 10, no. 3, 1997.

Another, perhaps overly simple, way of posing the "High Church-Low Church" distinction is that High Church STS promotes theory and concept formation, Low Church STS promotes practice and policy. Still, Fuller offered the initial formulation over twenty years ago (in 1993).

Protocols and Practices

We have placed you into two groups— students in Northern Virginia and students in Blacksburg. However, you will need to coordinate this project collectively.

Individually, you will contribute 750-1000 words to the main, final text of the social history. While the assignment focuses on writing, many of the institutions and actors you will study can be contacted directly. Questions or interviews (with permission)—whether by email, audio and video (Skype, Google Hangout)—may serve to round out your analysis.

Collaboratively, you will work together to identify how to distribute the tasks comprising the assignment. These tasks should not be exclusive to individuals. For example, one would expect that all of you would perform initial research. And here a quick bit of advice—do not, we beseech you (and there's likely an insurance liability issue here somewhere) try to write together (a contingent of you in, say, an office or coffee shop huddled around a laptop computer). Such an exercise in collaborative writing will likely come to blows. Make a plan. Explicitly negotiate clear, discrete tasks with real deadlines. Above all, each group must determine and manage a fair and equal distribution of effort.

Your contribution to the journal analysis assignment will occur in five stages on September 29, October 27, December 1 (notes and presentation), December 8 and December 14 (final version of your social history).

Stage 1: Annotated Bibliography

At this stage of the assignment, you will provide an annotated bibliography of resources for the social history. An annotated bibliography provides a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (150-200 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited (http://guides.library.cornell.edu/annotatedbibliography).

Given that 11 of you will work on this stage of the assignment, we might suggest that, after initial research, each of you contribute no more than five key resources. Please provide the citation and a brief 150-200 word descriptive and evaluative paragraph for each resource. By midnight September 29, please post the annotated bibliography to the wiki

Stage 2: Working Outline

At this stage of the assignment, you will provide a full working outline that maps out the structure of the social history. By midnight October 27, please post the working outline to the wiki.

Stage 3: Roundtable

At this stage of the assignment, you will hold a 50 minute roundtable discussion of your project. The discussion will be followed by a 10-15 minute question and answer session.The structure of the roundtable is yours to determine, but we would ask for contributions from each participant in the project. The roundtable will be held during class on December 1.

Stage 4: Working Draft

At this stage of the assignment, you will provide a full working draft of the social history. While what comprises a "working draft" leaves something to the scholarly imagination, but we trust you will provide a recognizable work. By midnight December 1, please post the working draft to the wiki.

Stage 5: Final Version

At this stage of the assignment, you will provide a completed social history of STS. Your social history will:

    • Provide a title;
    • Provide a list of 4 to 6 key words;
    • Provide an abstract no longer than 10% of the entire article's length;
    • Provide a body of text of 7500-10,000 words;
    • Provide sources and, as necessary, links to resources (Chicago Notes and Bibliography style).

By 9:00 p.m. December 14, please post the final version of the social history to the wiki.

Introduction to STS