Assignments: Omnibus Review


In this assignment, you will collaborate to write and edit an omnibus book review. The books to be reviewed will be yours to choose and will regard not only the philosophy of science and/or the philosophy of technology, but also be published after 1945.

Purpose and Aim

This assignment, in part, is an experiment in mass collaborative writing. This form of writing is an anathema to most humanities scholars. I believe, however, that insomuch as current inquiry in the humanities and social sciences apes the expression, means and methods of the natural sciences, and as collaborative writing and authorship is a scientific norm, some form of mass collaborative writing will become more common in philosophy and in STS. This assignment asks you to contend with a form of writing and medium, a public wiki, with which you likely have limited academic experience. Please take this assignment as an opportunity to consider what you understand the purposes to be of academic writing and inquiry and how digitally-based collaborative writing may succeed or fail to re-imagine those purposes. In short: With this assignment, take a chance. Examine and experiment with the conventions of academic discourse. In my enlightened assessment of this assignment, risk and imagination bring reward.

Assignment Structure

We will approach this assignment in a series of four steps throughout the semester.

While the assignment will result in a collaboratively authored review, we will not write together as an entire class. Conversations and a well- considered and planned approach among class members will need to occur in order to achieve the ends of a coherent, well- written and sourced review.

    Step One:
    You will write an analysis on the features and purposes of a "good" (not necessarily praising the book) book review.

    At the beginning of the semester, please survey book review sources and reviews, generally, and omnibus book reviews (reviews that take up more than one book), specifically. The goal of your survey will be to identify and describe the structure, style and tone of good book reviews (however defined). While book reviews in academic journals may prove a valuable resource (see, for example,"Classic Works in the History of Technology" from Technology and Culture), more extensive and, perhaps, widely read reviews are found in publications such as the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, Book Forum, The Wilson Quarterly, The American Scholar and through Arts & Letters Daily. Considering reading widely in various media. Still, I would like you to concentrate on reviews of non-fiction, more or less academic (intended for an academic, or academically-minded, audiences), books. As you read these reviews, please identify and describe what you take to be the features and purposes of a good review. Additionally, if time, curiosity or interest permit, review the scholarship on book history, bibliometrics, the circulation of ideas and reception studies of any of the books in this course (the reception of Structure, for example, has produced extensive research) or the book(s) you wish to review.

    Please submit your analysis (500-750 words) to the appropriate forum on the wiki by February 17.

    Step Two:
    While you survey book review sources and reviews, consider and select a book or books to review.

    The book(s) should be published after 1945 and have a more or less defined connection to the canon of books in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of technology. Of note may be books that serve as precursors, or responses, to the books used in this course (or in related courses). Some of you may want to consider prelim requirements in your selections. Suggestions (in no particular order):

      Norwood Russell Hanson, Patterns of Discovery (1958)
      Stephen Toulmin, The Uses of Argument (1958); Human Understanding (1972)
      Larry Laudan, Progress and its Problems (1977); Beyond Positivism and Relativism (1996)
      Imre Lakatos, The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes (1978); Lakatos and Musgrave (eds.) Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970)
      Bas van Fraassen, The Scientific Image (1980)
      Paul Feyerabend, Against Method (1975)
      Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What? (1999)
      Helen Longino, Science as Social Knowledge (1990)
      Carl Mitcham, Thinking Through Technology (1994)
      Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology (1977)
      Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology (1977)
      Joseph Pitt, Thinking About Technology, (2001)

    The above list is much too short and includes too few voices and alternative perspectives, but you should find a place to start (or resist). Once select a book or books to review, I would like you to submit your choice to the appropriate forum on the wiki I want to avoid overlapping choices.

    Please submit your choice to the appropriate forum on the wiki by February 17.

    Step Three:
    Write a review of the book(s).

    The review should reflect the criteria for good reviews that you have discerned from your research and from discussion with classmates. The review will be 1250-1750 words long.

    Please post your review to the appropriate forum on the wiki by April 7.

    Step Four:
    As a class, you will work together to integrate your separate reviews into an omnibus review.

    The goal of integrating your reviews is to have the books speak to one another and, in so doing, for the review to possess the features of a well-wrought, analytically-based, historically-informed, narrative. In this omnibus review, you will tell a story about the philosophy of science and the philosophy of technology since 1945. In order to develop such a story, class members will need to negotiate explicitly their roles as researchers, writers and editors and develop and implement general criteria for achieving the goals for an effective omnibus review.

    The final version of the review is due to the appropriate forum on the wiki no later than 9 p.m. May 12.

Philosophy of Modern Science and Technology