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Technology Studies Syllabus

Technology Studies Syllabus

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Published by Sean Lawson
Syllabus for the course COMM 7640, Seminar in New Media, at the University of Utah, with Dr. Sean Lawson.
Syllabus for the course COMM 7640, Seminar in New Media, at the University of Utah, with Dr. Sean Lawson.

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Published by: Sean Lawson on Feb 03, 2009
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COMM 7640-001 \u2013 Graduate Seminar in New Media \u2013 Syllabus

Spring 2009
Wednesdays, 6-9PM
LNCO 2630

Instructor: Sean Lawson
Overview and Objectives

In this seminar, we will explore the literature of the interdisciplinary field of technology studies. While the scholarly study of technology and its relationship to society and culture is a relatively recent phenomenon\u2015e.g. the Society for the History of Technology was only founded in the late 1950s\u2015to the 1970s, the advent of technology studies is even more recent. Nonetheless, since that time, by adding sociological, anthropological, and other perspectives to the historical study of technology, technology studies has made valuable contributions to our understanding of the way technological change shapes and is shaped by society, culture, politics, and


Surprisingly, there has not been as much traffic as one might expect between the literatures of
technology studies more generally and new media, information, and communication
technologies (NMICTs) more particularly. Therefore, the goal in this seminar will be to
explore the ways in which the concepts and theoretical frameworks related to technological
change and development found in the technology studies literature might benefit us in our study
of NMICTs more specifically, as well as vice versa. Thus, we will read examples of
sociological, historical, and ethnographic approaches to the study of technology. We will also
explore a number of theories of technological change and the relationship between technology
and society.

Some of the fundamental, recurring questions that will underly our reading, thinking, research,
and discussion in this seminar will include
\u25cfHow might the study of NMICTs benefit from the concepts and theoretical frameworks
found in technology studies? Which of those concepts and theories are most
appropriate to the study of NMICTs?

\u25cfWhat are the strengths/limitations of the current literature on NMICTs?
\u25cfWhat (if anything) is distinct about NMICTs as technological artifacts?
\u25cfDo/should those differences (again, if any) make a difference for our study of them?
\u25cfDo those differences (if any), or the study of NMICTs in general, point to any

limitations in the technology studies literature?
\u25cfHow might the study of NMICTs in particular help us to understand better the
relationship between technology and society more generally\u2015i.e. how might the study
of NMICTs contribute to technology studies?

The main objective of this course might be described in Kierkegaardian terms. That is, the goal is to gain a better understanding of NMICTs and related literature by leaving and then returning to them with \u201cfresh eyes,\u201d with a perspective, concepts, and theories not typically found in the study of NMICTs.

Weekly Source Briefs (10%) - Choose one source each week and write a "brief" that follows

the format provided to you. Each students will contribute one brief each week. Briefs will be
pasted intoa n dattached to discussion forum posts in WebCT. In this way, each student will
have access to the briefs of the others, meaning that by the end of the semester, each student
will have a set of standardized briefs for all course readings. The forum will also facilitate out-
of-class discussion about the sources, briefs, or topic of the week. We will coordinate one
week in advance to make sure that all sources will be covered.

Short Literature Review (25%) - Choose one theoretical/methodological approach discussed

in the course, or a crucial controversy/theme in the course literature, and write a 10 to 15 page
critical literature review based on relevant course readings. Summarize the literature and
provide a critical evaluation.

Final Project (40%) - Choose one of two options:
1.Literature-focused project: Identify and then examine a sampling of important literature

on new media and ICTs. Using the literature from the course, critically evaluate the
new media/ICTs literature. Write a paper in the style of Pinch and Bijker's "The Social
Construction of Facts and Artifacts." How can the tech studies literature inform and
improve our study of new media and ICTs? What shortcomings do you find in the new
media/ICTs literature from a tech studies perspective? Finally, how might a study of
new media/ICTs inform tech studies more generally? Does a study of these particular
technologies point to shortcomings in the tech studies literature? How could tech
studies benefit from the study of new media/ICTs?

2.Artifact/Empirically-focused project:Choose a new media, information, or

communication technology and analyze it using appropriate concepts, theories, and
methodologies from the tech studies literature. You may still draw conclusions relevant
to answering the questions in option one, but the primary focus should be on using
what you have gained from the tech studies literature to provide a descriptive, critical
account of the development and use of a particular new media, information, or
communication technology.

Discussion Leader for a Week (10%) -Each student will sign up to be the discussion leader

for a week of his/her choosing. While it isnotexpected that you will lecture or give a formal
presentation, it is expected that you will be well prepared with a series of questions and/or
issues, based on the week's readings, which will serve to provide focus and direction for in-

class discussion.
Presentation of Final Project (15%) -Each student will choose a date in the last four weeks

of class on which he/she will present the findings of his/her final project. The format will be
similar to a conference or colloquium, in which each student will give a short (roughly 20 min)
presentation, followed by questions, answers, and general discussion. To facilitate this
process, each student will provide a copy of his/her final paper to the instructor and the entire
class one week prior to his/her chosen presentation date. It is expected that all other students
will have read the presenters' papers by the beginning of class and will be prepared to critically
and constructively discuss the work of their colleagues.

Weekly Schedule
Defining Technology(Week 2 - Jan. 21)
Chpts 1-2, and 4 in Volti, Rudi.Society and Technological Change. 5th ed ed. New York:
Worth Publishers, 2006. [WebCT]
Eric Schatzberg, \u201cTechnik Comes to America: Changing Meanings of Technology before

1930,\u201d Technology and Culture 47, no. 3 (2006): 486-512. [WebCT]
Melvin Kranzberg, "At the Start," Technology and Culture 1 (1960): 1\u201310. [WebCT]
Peter Drucker, "Work and Tools," Technology and Culture 1 (1960): 28\u201337. [WebCT]
Leo Marx, "The Idea of 'Technology' and Postmodern Pessimism," in Does Technology Drive

History? ed. Merritt Roe Smith and Leo Marx (Cambridge, Mass., 1994), 238\u201357. [WebCT]
Leo Marx, "Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept," Social Research 64 (1997):
965\u201388. [WebCT]
Ronald Kline, "Construing 'Technology' as 'Applied Science': Public Rhetoric of Scientists and
Engineers in the United States, 1880\u20131945," Isis 86 (1995): 194\u2013221. [WebCT]
Hughes, Thomas Parke.Human-Built World : How to Think About Technology and Culture.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Techological Determinism(Week 3 - Jan. 28)

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