Eric Sonstroem 1102 Intro to the Cultural Studies of Science

 Spinning the Past, Spinning the Present, Spinning the Future

Office Hours: MWF 1pm Skiles 310  

A3 9-10 Room 314
J5 10-11 Room 314
B5 11-12 Room 37
Note: This is the printer-friendly web page.  It might not always be up-to-date.  Please see the official web site here for updates to your schedule!

The official web-site for the class is:

This course explores the various ways science, culture and technology interact. It is organized loosely around three interrelated topics:

Spinning the Past:  How does scientific understanding move forward when it experiences friction with cultural traditions?  What issues are involved when it attempts to rewrite our understanding of the past (the Earth moves around the Sun, life has evolved, etc)?  Is there a culture of science, and if so what effect does it have on this process?  Science usually feels as though it has access (or can have access) to real truths about the past and the world around us (as opposed to the unscientific, cultural "truths" and stories we tell ourselves).  How accurate is this?  Is science's monopoly on the truth jeopardized by the fact that scientists are cultural beings also?

Spinning the Present:  How is emergent science popularized by journalists, and digested by the culture that receives it?  If a scientific discovery is an apolitical truth in the laboratory, it certainly doesn't stay that way once it is spun out by the media.  How can we understand the mediation of current science into culture?  Also, how does new science and technology fundamentally change the present that we live in?

Spinning the Future: Predictions about the future (especially the future of science and technology) are also rarely free from political/cultural agendas.  How is the future spun in science fiction to have an impact on the culture it was written out of?

Required Texts:

     These will be readily available at the bookstore.  Other reading assignments will be online or on electronic reserve.

     You can also buy these online.  Use this link to do a price comparison for these books.

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Connie Willis, Bellwether H. G. Wells, The Time Machine Greg Egan, Permutation City
ISBN:  0226458083 ISBN:  0553562967 ISBN:  0486284727 ISBN:  006105481X

Course Policies:

You will notice that there is a web page for the class, which is here.  (You are now reading the printer-friendly web page, which might not be up-to-date.  Always check the official web-page).  This more or less takes the place of a syllabus.  You will be required to access this web page throughout the semester, for readings, assignments and other material.  Computer access is therefore vital to the class.

Written work will all be submitted online via Web Crossing.  You will need to print out your instigations and bring these to class when appropriate.  Double-check your postings to make sure it was posted properly.

Web Crossing responses can be a little less formal.  Spelling and grammar are not as important here as in your formal writing assignments.  The informal feeling of electronic communication can be very liberating, and it can lead to interesting discussion that might be different from classroom discussion.  It is also easier to be rude or disrespectful in electronic communication, or to type and send something that you later regret.  Blatantly rude or disrespectful behavior on web crossing will not be tolerated. 

Attendance is required.  You may miss three "personal days" for any reason (and I don't want to know the reason).  After that, your final grade will drop 1/3 of a letter grade for each additional day missed.

Plagiarism is the attempt to pass off someone else's text or ideas as your own. If you copy or paraphrase from any outside source, even another student, and fail to formally acknowledge this in your text, you are guilty of plagiarism. If someone else writes a paper for you, or even part of a paper for you, you are guilty of plagiarism. If you are at all uncertain whether something is plagiarism or not, please ask me!  If you are found guilty of plagiarism, you will receive an F for the assignment, an F for the course, and a letter will be sent to your dean. There are no exceptions.

Students with disabilities should self-report to the Access Disabled Assistance Program for Tech Students (ADAPTS):

     220 Student Services Buliding
     Atlanta, GA 30332-0285
     (404) 894-2564 (voice) or (404) 894-1664 (voice/TDD)

Grading Policy:

The bulk of your grade will be determined by two formal papers, your group research project, and various web-crossing posts that you will write.   There will also be a number of unannounced reading quizzes, which will be no problem if you have kept up with the reading. 

In the interests of fairness, you will receive an individual grade for your contribution to the group project.  There will be no overall group grade.

Since discussion will be an important part of class, it will also be an important part of your grade.  Students who contribute thoughtfully to discussion, and who listen respectfully to their classmates, will be rewarded.  Students who don't contribute, or who attempt to dominate discussions at the expense of their classmates, will not be rewarded.  Here's how to prepare for discussion:

Read the assigned material before each class.  Reading assignments are designed to be reasonable, usually around six hours of reading per week.  This should give you time to read thoughtfully, and re-read passages that seem important. Keep on top of  the reading!  If you fall behind, your grade can suffer in a variety of ways.
Print out reading assignments from the web!  It's often easer to read them this way, and having the printed text in front of you in class will make it much easier to talk about.  Also, it lets you make notes and underline passages as you read, which brings us to . . .
Take brief notes as you read.  The margin of the book works well for this.  Jot down questions or observations that occur to you as you read.  These will help you contribute to class discussion.
 If you are particularly tongue-tied, you may consider writing out a couple of discussion questions before class.

To help get the discussions started, students will be divided into five groups of "discussion instigators" at the beginning of the semester.  On a rotating basis, members of these groups will prepare a short (one or two paragraph) response to that day's reading, which raises some kind of question or discussion issue about the reading.  You will be responsible for five instigations throughout the course of the semester.  Print these out and be prepared to read them on your instigation day.

Finally, you will be responsible for postings to our threaded discussion group on Web Crossing.  Your papers and instigations must be posted there under your name.  Additionally, you must post at least 16 questions or replies throughout the semester. See the web crossing page for more information.

2 4-page papers Group Research Project Reading quizzes Summary Assignments Participation/Instigations Web Crossing Responses Total
25% 25% 10% 10% 20% 10% 100%

Very Tentative Schedule of Readings: 

(By "very tentative" I mean that some of this is almost certain to change.)

Week 0-- Begins Friday, Jan 5
F   Class Instructions
Week 1-- Begins Jan 8
M   Welcome.  What is this class?  What is the cultural studies of science?
W   Kuhn 
F   Kuhn
Week 2-- Begins Jan 15
M   No Class.  MLK day.
W   Kuhn
F   Paul Feyerabend from Against Method (on reserve)
Week 3-- Begins Jan 22
M   Gross and Levitt "The Cultural Construction of Cultural Constructivism" (from Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science on reserve)
W   Oscar Kenshur, "Doubt, Certainty, Faith, and Ideology" (on reserve)
F   Summary Assignment 1 due

Case Study: Issac Newton,  Dynamics, and the idea of "order"

Week 4-- Begins Jan. 29
M   Newton, Selections from Principalia Mathematica and Optiks, on line
W   I. Bernard Cohen "The Newtonian Revolution." from Revolution in Science (on reserve)
F   Swift, from the third book of Gulliver's Travels.  On-line reading.
Week 5-- Begins Feb. 5
M   Selections from Newton’s 18th-century popularizers: Desaguliers, Benjamin Martin and Humphry Ditton, etc, etc, (whichever texts I can get my hands on) (on reserve)
W   Sections from The Philosophy of Tops and Balls (on reserve)
F   Robert Markley "Representing Order: Natural Philosophy, Mathematics, and Theology in the Newtonian Revolution." (on reserve)
Week 6 -- Begins Feb. 12 What "Newtonian dynamics" has come to mean
M   Selections from William Blake's poetry (on reserve)
W   Selections from Prigogene's Order out of Chaos (on reserve)
F   Summary Assignment 2 due

Case Study: The idea of "disorder"

Week 7-- Begins Feb. 19
M   Willis
W   Willis
F   Willis
Week 8-- Begins Feb. 26
M   Willis
W   Writing Workshop
F   Paper Due--Happy Spring Break!

Spinning the Future

Week 9-- Begins March 12
M   Ursula Le Guin "Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness," James Gunn "Science Fiction and the Future," Robert Heinlein "Pandora's Box." (on reserve)
W   Wells
F   Wells
Week 10-- Begins March 19
M   Wells
W   Movie The Time Machine (1960)
F   James Wechsler "The Age of Unthink"(1960) (on reserve)
Week 11-- Begins March 26
M   Egan
W   Egan
F   Egan
Week 12-- Begins April 2
M   Egan & Egan's homepage here
W   Writing Workshop
F   Paper Due

Week 13-15-- Group Research Paper

Week 13-- Begins April 9
M   Schedule for the last three weeks TBA
Week -- Begins April 16
Week -- Begins April 23