Class name: “Introduction to Science and Technology Studies: Fridges, fMRIs, and ‘Finstas’ in Social Context”
Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Shelly Ronen
Here’s what Ronen had to say about her class:
The class introduces students to the social forces that shape the production of scientific knowledge and technological devices. We consider whether science proceeds according to universal rules of discovery, or whether expertise relies on other social and political processes to garner legitimacy. We ask whether a doctor’s knowledge depends on her age, race, or geographic location. We entertain even more outlandish questions, like whether nonhuman object—like scallops—can have agency!
This inquiry requires connecting theories of knowledge and scientific practice with societal context. By placing science and technology in context we are able to consider key cases that shed light on the nexus of social and scientific or technological. We think together with objects like refrigerators, fMRIs, and fake Instagram accounts (or in the youth parlance, “finstas”). Refrigerators make modern reproductive labor and family structures possible. fMRIs have wildly increased our ability to understand the human brain, but they also reflect a model of medical science that locates the self in the mind. And finstas offer a fascinating case for exploring how we curate and parse different selves using social—and profitable—digital tools.
Science and technology studies is a field of study that has endless potential for helping students think through their daily lives. I chose to develop a course that would introduce students to the key classic texts in the field while also keeping the material lively and engaging through examples and applications. Especially now that Haverford students are almost entirely digital natives, it’s important for us to have conversations about how digital technologies shape ourselves, our relationships, and our social order at large. And there’s no better time than right now for us to have critical conversations about how science and politics are related. The scientific method, its authority within political discourse, and, indeed, the scientific mode of governance sometimes called “technocracy” is under fire in the Trump era. This course is just one that helps students take positions on these sorts of very timely debates.
See what other courses the Department of Sociology is offering this semester.
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Photo of Ronen’s class by Cole Sansom ’19.