2017 Introduction to Society and Technology

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Breadth courses
Hope Tom 
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Course description and aims

How do human beings create and use technology to form collective relationships? What is ‘society' and how can is it related to technology? This course is an introduction to some important issues commonly explored by researchers looking at humans and technology and the larger structures we often call ‘society’. It is a foundation course designed to give science and engineering students insight into ways to approach transdisciplinary problems of humans and machines, infrastructure and social change.

The course assumes no previous knowledge about sociology or social theory. As the course progresses we will explore some classic thinkers as a foundation to understanding relationships between society and technology, through to present day researchers of cutting-edge technology and human interaction.

Student learning outcomes

Elementary knowledge of the ‘founding theories’ of sociology and how these help us to model technology and society
Understanding of how engineers and the public can shape the development of technology
Understanding of relationships between social problems and technology, and experience in thinking about and discussing these with others
Critical thinking through cross-cultural comparisons of technology and society and the application of basic social theory


society, technology, sociology, systems, structure, agency, social theory, science and technology studies, STS

Competencies that will be developed

Specialist skills Intercultural skills Communication skills Critical thinking skills Practical and/or problem-solving skills

Class flow

Classes will be lectures followed by group discussion to understand the lecture themes.

Course schedule/Required learning

  Course schedule Required learning
Class 1 Introduction: Why study society and technology? The sociological imagination and the technological imagination Understand the syllabus and what is expected, the basic definitions of society and technology used in the course and applications to own future study.
Class 2 Understanding society: How have social scientists modeled society? Understand how classic social theorists have thought about society and tried to model it. Appreciate the basic differences between these and some implications.
Class 3 Agency and structure: Are you free to do what you want to do? Appreciate this long-standing problem in models of human behavior and how it affects our models of society.
Class 4 Technology as structure: How does technology enable or constrain human behaviour? Understand how technology can constrain or enable behavior in ‘macro’ or ‘micro’ levels of society.
Class 5 Innovation and agency: creating technology in, with or for society? Understand some models of innovation, the difference between innovation and invention and social influences on technology development.
Class 6 Technology and globalisation: social influences, technological influences Understand some roles of technology in global change. Appreciate techno-centric ideas of globalization and critiques.
Class 7 Stratification and technology: Does technology support equality? Understand problems of stratification in society. How gender, class and race are related to access to and development of technologies.
Class 8 Where do we go from here? A review of the course Appreciate the overall themes of the course and clarify areas where more needs to be explored. Reflect on how the themes relate to your own future study.


There is no course textbook, as selected readings will be distributed via OCW-i. Indicative sources of texts are: D.G. Johnson and J.M. Wetmore (2008) Technology and Society: Building our Sociotechnical Future; M. Haralambos and M. Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives. 

Reference books, course materials, etc.

Texts will be distributed via OCW-i one-to-two weeks before each lecture. Students need to read these texts before class in order to fully understand the lectures and take part in discussion. 

Assessment criteria and methods

Participation in classroom discussions and three 1-paragraph reflective comments (40%), final report (3-4 pages) to show understanding of the course content (60%) 

Related courses

  • TSE.C203 : Social Design Project
  • LAW.X406 : Fieldwork Skills Spring
  • LAW.X407 : Fieldwork Skills Fall
  • LAW.X322 : Communicating Science and Engineering in Society
  • TSE.C201 : Introduction to Transdisciplinary Science and Engineering

Prerequisites (i.e., required knowledge, skills, courses, etc.)

Ability to discuss in English

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