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Semester 1

Investigating Science in Society (STIS08008)


Science, Technology and Innovation Studies





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Course Summary

'Investigating Science in Society' considers the social nature of science and scientific knowledge, as well as the relationship between science and wider society. We begin by considering different ways that people have tried to make sense of science: through assumptions, by writing definitions and by carrying out observation. We move on to systematically explore important elements of scientific practice. We examine the inner workings of scientific observation, experimentation, teamwork, writing, replication and debate. We learn how scientists make their knowledge and how it sometimes falls apart. We then move on to consider science in its social context. We investigate the relationships between science and other parts of society, such as gender, states, health, politics, nature, arts and design. We learn that science is situated and entangled with these. it shapes them and they shape it in important ways. As a result, we cannot understand sciences without understanding their societies, and we can't understand those societies without understanding their sciences. 'Investigating Science in Society' is an interdisciplinary, team-taught class. We learn from many different perspectives. Different lecturers provide unique approaches to the student of science. And the readings feature texts of all kinds, including writings from outside academia. Our wide-ranging exploration teaches us that science is fundamentally social. It must be understood as the work of groups of coordinated individuals, affected by the forces that shape all other parts of society. Crucially, science is ultimately imperfect and limited, since scientists are imperfect and limited human beings. The course studies science internally and externally using a variety of readings, including historical and sociological case studies from physics, biology and chemistry. The course will be intelligible to students of any disciplinary background.

Course Description

This course is divided into 3 units. Unit 1 (Beginnings) presents starting points, such as our assumptions about what science is and previous attempts to define legitimate science. It also introduces novel perspectives, developed in the 1960s and 1970s, which form the basis for science studies today. Unit 2 (The Social in Science) systematically explores important elements of scientific practice; for instance, observation, experimentation, theories and replication; and examines their fundamentally social character. In Unit 3 (Science in the Social), we study the place of science in relation to, and as a central tool in shaping, other major social phenomena. We explore topics like gender politics, nationalism, public policy, the environment and literature. Finally, we conclude with an epilogue about the place of science studies in science, and how the two can work collaboratively. **Students can get a flavour of the course from a text that will be used several times: Steven Yearley, (2005). Making Sense of Science. London: Sage. This is available as an e-book in the library (and as an actual book)**

Assessment Information

Written Exam 0%, Coursework 100%, Practical Exam 0%

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