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A list of topics can be found in the Calendar.

Course Description

This course examines relationships among technology, culture, and politics in a variety of social and historical settings ranging from 19th century factories to 21st century techno dance floors, from colonial Melanesia to capitalist Massachusetts. We organize our discussions around three questions: What cultural effects and risks follow from treating biology as technology? How have computers changed the way we think about ourselves? How are politics built into our infrastructures? We will be interested in whether technology has produced a better world, and for whom.

Requirements and Grading

Students will write three 5-7 page papers (see below). Each represents 30% of the subject grade. No emailed papers accepted. Papers correspond to three thematic sections of the syllabus and will integrate class readings with a topic of each student's choosing. Students will also be evaluated on class participation, including discussion and in-class writing exercises (10% of subject grade). Punctual attendance is obligatory. There is no final.

Paper 1: Biology and Biotechnology Paper 30%
Paper 2: Computers and Information Technologies Paper 30%
Paper 3: Technological Infrastructure and Social Forms Paper 30%
Class Participation 10%

Required Texts

Amazon logo Rapp, Rayna. Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: A Social History of Amniocentesis in America. New York, NY: Routledge, 2000. ISBN: 0415916453.

Amazon logo Petryna, Adriana. Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002. ISBN: 069109019X.

Amazon logo Latour, Bruno. Aramis, or The Love of Technology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. ISBN: 0674043235.


Introductory Themes
1 Introduction
2 Theories of Technology and Culture
Theme 1: Biology and Biotechnology
3 Technologies of Sex and Gender: Reproduction, Birth, Risk
4 Technologies of Race: Medical Experimentation
5 Technologies of Death: Risk and the Biopolitics of Radiation
6 Genetically Modified Food Paper 1 due
Theme 2: Computers and Information Technologies
7 Sociologies of Computing
8 From Artificial Intelligence to Artificial Life
9 Our Machines, Our Music: From White Noise to Black Noise
Theme 3: Technological Infrastructure and Social Forms
10 Infrastructure Paper 2 due
11 Trains, Automobiles, Organs
12 Student Paper Presentations
13 Party and Student Paper Presentations Paper 3 due