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Course List (NCR Campus)

All fall courses will be offered in hybrid format (in-person and online synchronous), unless otherwise indicated

STS 5424: Introduction to STS (required)

Thursdays, 7:00-9:45pm

Co-Instructors: Janet Abbate at VTRC-Arlington, John Aggrey in Blacksburg

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.

Required course, should be taken as soon as possible in your graduate career.

GRAD 5134: Interdisciplinary Team Research in Nuclear Science, Technology, and Policy (elective)

Wednesdays, 7:00-9:45pm

Co-Instructors: Ali Haghighat (NSEG) and Sonja Schmid (STS)

Hybrid format: in-person at the VTRC Arlington and on Zoom

This elective course has two main objectives: 1) critical analysis of technical challenges and policy dilemmas in the nuclear field, and 2) engagement with specific case studies and current issues. It is designed in a project-based learning format, engages student teams from different disciplines, and is led by instructors based in nuclear engineering and Science and Technology Studies (STS). The theme for the semester is the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, which can include reprocessing, repositories, and new reactor designs. In close collaboration with the instructors, students will develop targeted research questions. The instructors will provide direction, guidance, and support, and will recruit relevant experts to offer guest lectures to the group. Meetings will start out weekly, but will follow a more flexible schedule that fits research needs and expert availability. Students should be prepared to collaborate outside of class, and call on the instructors as needed. We will set project milestones, and students will prepare group reports on jointly defined themes and questions, and ultimately develop a final report. This report will be presented in a public forum and submitted for publication.  

This course can be taken independently, or as part of the Graduate Certificate “Nuclear Science, Technology, and Policy.” More information: http://tinyurl.com/y6jsn87l    

STS 6534: Social and Cultural Studies of Science and Technology (core)

Tuesdays, 7:00-9:45pm

Instructor: Daniel Breslau, Blacksburg and VTRC-Arlington

This course serves as an introduction to the sociological and cultural theories that have shaped STS. It synthesizes an extensive range of literature in the social sciences and cultural studies, and requires students to identify and critique underlying assumptions about the relationship of science and technology on the one hand, and society and its institutions on the other. Students will learn to identify the theoretical tributaries to Science and Technology Studies, and evaluate approaches within STS in the light of contemporary social and cultural theories. Through critical reading assignments, written essays, and robust class participation, students will learn to evaluate and synthesize different positions, ideas, and arguments that appear in STS and related humanities and social science disciplines, paying particular attention to the relations of power, privilege, and resources through which these ideas and arguments (have) emerge(d). Students will adopt a global perspective on science and technology, which is substantively shaped by Indigenous, feminist and postcolonial scholarship. 

This is our new core course on Social and Cultural Studies of Science and Technology, which replaces the two-semester sequence of STS-5105 and STS-5106 (please note that the course number may change). 

All spring courses will be offered in hybrid format (in-person and online synchronous)

STS 5404: Science in Modern America (elective)

Instructor: Janet Abbate
Thursdays 7:00–9:45pm, in-person and via Zoom, VTRC Arlington

Is there something uniquely “American” about the development of science in the US? This course explores the history of science and scientific communities in America in the late-19th and 20th centuries, examining how the American political and cultural context has shaped—and been shaped by—scientific ideas and practices. Using case studies including genetics, nuclear physics, medicine, and global warming, we will examine the development of modern theories and techniques, the professionalization of science, how race and gender have influenced science, and the contested evolution of science policy in the United States. Course readings will exemplify a wide range of approaches to investigating and writing about history that students can use as models for their own work. Each student will conduct an original research project on a topic of their choice, and we will devote some class time to discussing how to choose research questions, how to identify and analyze historical sources, and how to make a convincing historical argument. No prior STS courses required.

STS 5424: Topics in STS: Critical Issues in Public Engagement in Science (elective)
Instructor: Angie Boyce
Tuesdays 7:00–9:45pm, VTRC Arlington

Critical Issues in Public Engagement in Science In August 2023, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) asked the White House to issue a “clarion call” to Federal agencies to increase public engagement with the sciences, citing declining public trust and public concerns about the societal and ethical implications of emerging science and technology. We must, PCAST emphasized, “create an ecosystem in which scientists collaborate with the public, from the identification of initial questions, to the review and analysis of new findings, to their dissemination and translation into policies.” In this course, we will explore critical issues in public engagement in science and leverage insights from work in Science & Technology Studies and related fields, including Community Engaged Research, to explore what this better “ecosystem” would look like and the institutional changes needed to achieve it. How should quality engagement be defined and evaluated? What approaches to engagement work best in different issue areas and with different publics?

STS 5614: Introduction to Science and Technology Policy (core course)
Instructor: Saul Halfon
Wednesdays 7:00–9:45pm, via Zoom, VTRC Arlington and Blacksburg

The study of science and technology policy has been dominated by two approaches. The first treats science as a tool for policy, as summed up by the notion of “science speaking truth to power.” The second focuses on policy designed to shape the organization and conduct of science. This approach has historically looked at government R&D policy. Both approaches have been dominated by modes of analysis that understand science and policy as separate spheres, which are brought together and in the process are corrupted or edified. In this graduate seminar, we will explore approaches to science and technology policy that avoid such sphere-based or linear models. Using recent work in Science and Technology Studies, we will treat science, technology, policy, and social order as co-produced. Case studies will be used to illustrate how this co-production of science, technology, and social order plays out in actual policy-making environments. Sample topics include the history of US science and technology policy, agents of science and technology policy, integrity of research, peer review, and science and technology policy in international contexts. No prerequisites.

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.