Course List (NCR Campus)
All Spring courses will be offered in hybrid format (in-person and online synchronous), unless otherwise indicated
STS 5105: Contemporary Issues in Science and Technology (core)
Instructor: Barbara Allen
Mondays 7:00–9:45 pm
This class primarily focuses on the emergence and development of the social studies of science from the early part of the century to 2000. In order to understand this important movement, it is necessary to spend a few weeks studying some formative sociologists from the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Several weeks will be spent reading and analyzing background social science texts. The course provides an understanding of the pertinent social theories of the early through mid-twentieth century through 2000. The readings and discussions will look at science through these various social lenses focusing on a series of debates that are formative in STS. Class discussion will be geared toward understanding the historical and theoretical underpinnings of the STS discipline toward facilitating current STS concepts and framings. Methodological and pedagogical goals for the course include learning how to read critically and analytically. Short essays and online discussions will be oriented toward this goal. Students will also learn how to “map” the development and emergence of the social study of science, and practice the ability to successfully complete PhD prelim exam questions by completing a prelim-style final exam.
6244: History, Culture and Politics of the Internet (elective)
Instructor: Janet Abbate
Tuesdays 7:00–9:45 pm
The Internet pervades American life and increasingly structures the ways people work and socialize around the globe, raising a host of social and policy questions. This course uses STS frameworks to explore the history, social relations, culture, and policy issues surrounding the Internet. Weekly readings and discussion will highlight a variety of topics including the origins of the Internet, comparisons of Internet use in different cultures, the materiality and vulnerability of network infrastructure, ethics of data and algorithms, and the Internet’s potential as a force for democracy. A portion of class time will be dedicated to student-driven team research projects. Students will practice critical thinking, writing, research, and presentation skills.
STS 5514: Research Design for STS (core) ONLINE SYNCHRONOUS (instructor in Blacksburg)
Instructor: Lee Vinsel
Wednesdays 7:00–9:45 pm
The course is a practical introduction to all phases of planning and conducting a research project in Science and Technology Studies. Although we will read several texts on research methods, the main pedagogical activities will be field assignments, in-class discussion of ongoing work, and critique of methods used in recent STS literature. The course is directed at graduate students who have not yet developed a dissertation proposal. It can be used as a springboard for a proposal, a chance to explore possible thesis topics, or simply a way to acquire some practical experience with study design and research methods. Although not every student will end up using every technique covered in their subsequent work, the course should be equally relevant for students working on contemporary or historical topics, and using a variety of different theoretical approaches.
STS 6564: Risk in Contemporary Culture (elective)
Instructor: Sonja Schmid
Thursdays 7:00–9:45 pm
This seminar provides an introduction to the phenomenon of risk from a sociological, historical, and cultural perspective. We will ask questions such as: What constitutes a risk and for whom? Who gets to decide what risks are worth taking? What constitutes credible information and what role do experts play? We will explore how ideas of safety, reliability, and probability shape our understanding of risk, and address the assumptions underlying and influencing the practices of risk assessment and regulation. We will focus on the role of communication, trust, and legitimacy in risk management and regulation, and how to facilitate stable, consensual decisions in contemporary societies. In addition to theoretical essays, we will discuss a selection of cases. Assignments include short weekly responses to the readings, peer review of your colleagues’ drafts, and writing a research paper on a risk topic of your choice.
All Fall courses will be offered in hybrid format (in-person and online synchronous)
STS 5024: Introduction to Science and Technology Studies (required)
Instructors: Barbara Allen and Fernanda Rosa
Thursdays 7:00–9:45 pm
This seminar introduces graduate students to the field of STS and some of its major ideas and texts. We will discuss how STS differs from other fields and the advantages and limits of our unique interdisciplinary approach. Drawing on anthropological, historical, philosophical, and sociological methods, we will explore topics such as the foundations of scientific knowledge; science as a source of social power and authority; understanding technological systems; race, gender, and postcolonial perspectives; and public engagement with science and technology. You will become familiar with some of the major questions and theories that have been debated by STS scholars and learn how the focus of the field has changed over time. Weekly exercises in critical reading, written commentary, and discussion leading will help you learn how to think and communicate like an STS scholar.
STS 5206: Main Themes in the History of Technology (core)
Instructor: Janet Abbate
Tuesdays 7:00–9:45 pm
This graduate seminar will examine important works of scholarship covering a wide range of topics in the history of technology, including: how to define "technology"; labor theory, systems theory and social construction of technology; issues of production, use, maintenance, technology transfer, and obsolescence; cultural aspects of technology; and how technology intersects with social identities such as race and gender. The main focus will be on 19th-20th century America, but we will also explore case studies from Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Requirements include discussion of readings in class and Canvas forums, analysis of primary sources, a midterm essay, and a final essay exam. Students will become familiar with core STS readings showcasing diverse historical approaches. We will identify key themes and debates and analyze how authors use evidence, theory, and narrative strategies to make their arguments.
GRAD 5134: Interdisciplinary Team Research (elective)
Instructors: Ali Haghighat and Sonja Schmid
Wednesdays 7:00–9:45 pm
This course is an STS elective, and also counts as part of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate “Nuclear Science, Technology, and Policy”. It has two main objectives: 1) critical analysis of technical challenges and policy dilemmas in the nuclear fields; 2) engagement with specific case studies and current issues. This course can be taken independently, or as part of the Graduate Certificate “Nuclear Science, Technology, and Policy.” This semester’s topic is Nuclear Facilities in Armed Conflict. Students will explore the topic by researching the unprecedented challenges involved in the safe operation of nuclear facilities in the context of military operations, and examine possible remedies to these neglected challenges, including advanced reactor designs. Students will work in teams to identify clear research questions, prepare group reports on specific aspects of the theme, and give a final presentation in a publicly accessible format.
Theoretical and practical aspects of the public's role in the development, application, and oversight of scientific and technological advances.
Intellectual and institutional history of the field. Key theories, methods, and domains of study. Relation among perspectives from contributing disciplines, and emerging interdisciplinary trends. Emphasis on both solid grounding through classic texts, and discussion of emergent research areas.
Theoretical and methodological issues addressed in the interdisciplinary social study of contemporary science and technology. 5105: social studies of science; 5106: social studies of technology. I
Theoretical and methodological issues addressed in the interdisciplinary social study of contemporary science and technology. 5105: social studies of science; 5106: social studies of technology. II
Methods and concepts in the history of science and technology. 5205: research methods, interpretive approaches, and contemporary issues in the history of science; 5206: research methods, interpretive approaches, and contemporary issues in the history of technology. I
Methods and concepts in the history of science and technology. 5205: research methods, interpretive approaches, and contemporary issues in the history of science; 5206: research methods, interpretive approaches, and contemporary issues in the history of technology. II
Technical essentials, policy analysis, theoretical perspectives of nuclear energy and nuclear nonprofileration. Fundamentals of the nuclear fuel cycle, management of international safeguards, threat of nuclear terrorism, and challenges for global nuclear industry. Pre: Graduate standing.
Problems, literature, and schools in the philosophy of science and technology. 5305: explanation and confirmation; 5306: theory change. I
Problems, literature, and schools in the philosophy of science and technology. 5305: explanation and confirmation; 5306: theory change. II
Examines policy developments and practices that move beyond the conceptual divisions and policy operations begun during the 1970s, which largely divided the more natural science- based environmental sciences from social science-based environmental based studies. Mixes the insights of life science, physical science, social science, applied humanities, and public policy into a cohesive conceptual and operational approach to environmental protection in the 21st century. Graduate standing.
Variable topics in science and technology studies such as role of values in science and technology, risk assessment, and past and present relations of religion to science and technology. May be repeated to a maximum of 6 hours. I
Identification and analysis of ethical issues arising in basic and applied biological, medical, environmental, ecological, and energy studies.
Examines research designs and practices that uncover historical relationships between knowledge contents and social dimensions of science, technology, and medicine. Includes archival research, archaeology of instruments and physical spaces, interviewing for knowledge content, logical and conceptual analysis, participant observation, questionnaires, and proposal preparation.
Strategies for science and technology policy; science education; scientific and technical information for societal uses; government and public policy; resource allocation; economy and global exchanges of science and technology; approaches to policy evaluation.
Variable topics in history of science, technology, and medicine after 1800, such as the atomic age; space science; science, technology, and institutions; scientific and technological medicine; and environmental history. May be repeated with a different topic for a maximum of 6 credits.
Explores a variety of social factors, past and present, that have affected the way we make, use, and think about computers and the Internet. Begins with the origins of the Internet and the people who shape this technology, from military strategists to hackers. Examines the ways diverse groups interact and build communities online and how cultural norms about race and gender shape the ways we participate in the world of computing. Graduate standing required.
Philosophers of science from 1650 to 1900 with particular attention to the historical development of views about the methods of induction and hypothesis and accounts of theory testing.
Variable topics in advanced philosophy of science, including major theories of scientific explanation and their criticisms; philosophical foundations of statistics; naturalized philosophy of science. May be repeated for credit, with permission and different content, for a maximum of 12 hours.
Variable topics in cultural studies of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health. May include theories of language and science, popular and public knowledges, cultural performances around science and technology, conceptions of health and the body, cultures of quantification, technology and identity, hierarchies and diversity in science and technology, and cross-cultural comparisons. May be repeated with different content up to a maximum of 12 credits.
Social-scientific perspectives in energy policy. National and international topics and controversies such as fossil fuel resources, climate change, energy security, and the debate over nuclear power. Comparison of international perspectives. Challenges involved with management and regulation of large technological systems, the politics of expertise at the intersection of global climate change and energy security, and the changing character of our global energy infrstructure. Pre: Graduate standing.
Conceptual perspectives on social and cultural studies of risk. Qualitative theories and tools for analyzing a wide range of risks in contemporary culture. Definitions of risk as opposed to concepts such as danger, hazard, and uncertainty. Perception of risk and selective bias in risk perception. Efficiency, objectivity, and morality as factors influencing risk assessment and risk management, and affective definitions of safety and reliability. Role of expertise, trust, and communication in risk regulation. Democratic policy instruments to facilitate stable, legitimate decisions about what risks to take or avoid in contemporary societies. Pre: Graduate Standing.
Variable topics in technology studies, including development and structure of knowledge in technology and engineering, social construction of technology, knowledge and power in technology, gender and technology, engineering in society, human/nonhuman relations in technology. May be repeated with a different topic for a maximum of 6 credits. I,II
Variable topics in science and technology policy. Includes advanced study of science, technology, and economy; science, technology, and power; strategies for research and development policy --public and private sector; transfer of technology; technological forecasting; government regulation and responses; science policy assumptions and challenges, specialist knowledge and expertise; state and academic knowledge production; issues of race, class, gender, and national identity in policy work. May be repeated with a different topic for a maximum of 6 credits.
Variable topics in alternate perspectives. Includes science from scientists' perspectives, indigenous knowledge forms, alternative medicine, New Age science, cyborg theorizing, heterodox perspectives. May be repeated with a different topic for a maximum of 6 credits.
Variable topics in social studies of science, technology, and medicine, including studies of disciplines, institutions, boundaries, discourses, knowledges, and practices. May be repeated with a different topic for a maximum of 6 credits.