Science and Society: Theories and Controversies
SCSO 1400 is designed to introduce students to the interdisciplinary field known as “Science Studies.” Science Studies takes the nature of science as its object. That is, it analyzes the relationships between science and society, science’s effects on society, and how, when, and why different societies decide what counts as “science.” Science Studies recognizes that science in the twenty-first century is not merely a set of conclusions about the nature of the world around us, but a complex bundle of practices, norms, and values that both reflect and shape our deepest convictions about what it is to be a person who knows.
Interwoven with our views of science are assumptions about the character of ideas that can be thought and not thought, diseases that can be treated and not treated, lives that can be lived and not lived. These aspects of science are so deeply embedded in twenty-first century American culture that they may be all but invisible to us; their centrality to our whole view of ourselves and our world means that fundamental scientific constructs like “experience,” “objectivity,” or “certainty” can be very resistant to analysis. Nonetheless, many people—including philosophers, historians, anthropologists, sociologists and scientists—have made the effort and in so doing have suggested ways for us to approach questions like:
- What is science? A thing? A method? An ideology? Truth?
- How is scientific knowledge built, tested, validated, legitimized, promulgated and used? To what ends?
- What is the authority of science? Who can claim that authority? How? In what contexts? Who cannot?
- What power can and should science wield? When? How? Why?
- In what ways is science political? Is it ever non-political?
- What is objectivity? What are its benefits and limitations? Can scientists be objective?
- What roles do gender, race, class and power play in scientific knowledge?
In the past four decades, these kinds of questions have piqued the interest of people from virtually every corner of the academic world. Science Studies has quickly become a huge and ever changing area without clear boundaries or a single, clear disciplinary structure. As is to be expected from a body of material written by scientists, philosophers, historians, anthropologists, literary theorists and many others, conclusions vary widely, and arguments can be fierce. This may also be the case in SCSO 1400, because the course will ask you to interrogate some of your most fundamental assumptions about knowledge and about science. As it does so, you should expect controversy and there will be few clear answers.
Instructor: Professor Sherine Hamdy