Concepts in STS
Mike Fortun
Dept. of Science and Technology Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Fall 2011

Monday 1-4 p.m. Sage 5711
Office hours by appointment

This course is a graduate-level introduction to a selection of key concepts that have animated scholarship in the expansive and expanding field(s) of science and technology studies. The series of concepts, and the texts in which they figure, are neither exhaustive nor definitive, but were assembled both to try to span a fairly broad and representative set of shared concerns, and to open up the differences and divergences that have characterized inter/disciplinary scholarship on the technosciences for many decades. .


Each week everyone will read a set of articles listed as "Shared"; each of you will also select at least one additional reading from the set listed as "Diverged," or another reading selected to address other parts of the conceptual constellation. Most weeks also have an "Overview" selection which we will read collectively, although it is usually meant more as background and context than as item for discussion. Over the course of the semester, each student will twice be responsible for presenting one of the readings and leading our discussion of it. The writings you produce should contribute to the portfolio of writings that will constitute your comprehensive exams. For this course each of you will write:

Seven concept essays/wiki entries: Collectively we will produce a "Concepts in STS" wiki page, along the lines of the "Medical Anthropology Wiki" ( Each of you will write seven entries (1000-3000 words each), each based on a concept from the course and substantiated through the readings. These should imitate the "Wikipedia voice": careful, documentary, distanced, more flat than styled -- a detailed condensation pitched toward a generic reader. Do not be concerned about duplication; more than one entry for any term is not only acceptable but desirable, and you only need to mark the difference (e.g. "Practice (StudentA)", "Practice (StudentB)". It would be most productive to post these in time for that week's class, so that they form a basis for discussion. At least three of these must be uploaded in what you consider to be a final state by November 1; all seven must be finished by the last class meeting.

One long "keyword" essay: an extension of one of your concept entries, or a combination [chiffre] of more than one of them (8-10,000 words). The format and voicing of this is much more open-ended, but should be appropriately close in its readings and thick in its narrative and analysis. Due at the end of the class.
Completion of the above writing assignments on time and in an exemplary fashion, along with regular avid and prepared participation in class sessions, will result in a grade of A.

Trust and honesty are essential and thus expected, like, totally.

Most of them uploaded here or directly linked. To purchase:

Jacques Derrida, Limited Inc.
Mike Fortun and Herbert J. Bernstein, Muddling Through: Pursuing Science and Truths in the 21st Century (Counterpoint Press, 1998)
Donna Haraway, Primate Visions (Routledge, 1988)

Week 1 August 29 + + +

Week 2 Sep 5 No class Labor Day

Week 3 Sep 12 Things + Das Ding + Matters + Epistemic Objects + Quasi-Objects + Boundary Object + Practice + The Real + Realitty +
Michael M.J. Fischer, "Four Genealogies for a Recombinant Anthropology of Science and Technology"
Cultural Anthropology 22:4 (2007): 539-615.

Fortun and Bernstein, Muddling Through, Chapter 1.
Karin Knorr Cetina, "Objectual Practice," in The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, ed. Theodore R. Schatzki, Karin Knorr Cetina, and Eike von Savigny (Routledge, 2001)
Joseph Rouse, "Practice Theory," Handbook of the Philosophy of Science, Volume 15: Philosophy of Anthropology and Sociology, ed/ Stephen Turner and Mark Risjord (Elsevier, 2006):499-540.

Karen Barad, "Getting Real: Technoscientific Practices and the Materialization of Reality," differences 10.2 (1998):87-128
Slavoj Zizek, "Troubles with the Real: Lacan as a Viewer of Alien"
Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What?
Hans-Jorg Rheinberger, Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in The Test Tube (Stanford University Press 1997)
[Jon] If you have trouble with the Rheinberger book:

Week 4 Sep 19 Articulating + Discursivity + Semiosis + Culture
Fortun and Bernstein, Muddling Through, Chapter 2.
Barbara Hernnstein Smith, "Netting Truth: Ludwick Fleck's Constructivist Genealogy," and "Disciplinary Cultures and Tribal Warfare: The Sciences and the Humanities Today," in Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth, and the Human (Duke University Press, 2005)
Michel Foucault, "The Discourse on Language"

Sarah Franklin, "Science as Culture, Cultures of Science," Annual Review of Anthropology 24(1995):163-184.

John Tresch, "Technological World-Pictures: Cosmic Things and Cosmograms," Isis 98:84-99
Bijker, W. E. (2007). "Dikes and Dams, Thick with Politics." Isis, 98, 109-123.
The One Culture? A Conversation About Science (Jay Labinger and Harry Collins, eds.)

Week 5 Sep 26 iterability + writing + communication + signature + event + context + ethics of reading +

Jacques Derrida, Limited Inc.

Week 6 Oct 3 pouvoir-savoir + power/knowledge + force + difference +
Fortun and Bernstein, Muddling Through, Chapters 3-4.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "More on Power/Knowledge," Outside in the Teaching Machine (Routledge 1993), pp. 25-51.
Joseph Rouse,"Power/Knowledge"

George E. Marcus, "Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography,"
Annual Review of Anthropology 24 (1995): 95-117


Week 7 Oct 11 sociotechnical system + heterogeneities + actor network + rhizome + dispositif + assemblage +
Atsushi Akera, "Constructing a Representation for an Ecology of Knowledge," Social Studies of Science 37:3 (2007):413-441.
John Law, "Actor-Network Theory and Material Semiotics" (2007)

Bryan Pfaffenberger, "Social Anthropology of Technology," Annual Review of Anthropology 21 (1992):491-516.

Gilles Deleuze, "Desire and Pleasure," notes on Foucault c. 1977 at
Thomas P. Hughes, "The Evolution of Large Technological Systems" (1987)

Graham Harman, Prince of Networks
Andrew Lakoff, Global Assemblages

Week 8 Oct 17 interpretation + reading + thick description
Clifford Geertz, "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture," in The Interpretation of Cultures (Basic Books, 1973)

George E. Marcus and Michael M.J. Fischer, "Taking Account of World Historical Political Economy: Knowable Communities in Larger Systems," in Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences (University of Chicago Press, 1986)

William Cronon, "The Uses of Environmental History" (Presidential Address, American Society for Environmental History), Environmental History Review, 17:3 (Fall 1993), p.1-22.
Daniel Beunza and David Stark, "Tools of the Trade: The Socio-Technology of Arbitrage in a Wall Street Trading Room," pp. 262-290 in Living in a Material World: Economic Sociology Meets Science and Technology Studies, ed. Trevor Pinch and Richard Swedberg (MIT Press, 2008)

Week 9 Oct 24 Politics + Artifacts + Ambivalence + Invisible Work +
Langdon Winner, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?"
Steve Woolgar and Geoff Cooper, "Do Artifacts Have Ambivalence? Moses' Bridges, Winner's Bridges, and Other Urban Legends in S&TS," Social Studies of Science 29:3 (1999): 433-449.
Mackenzie, A. (2006) The meshing of impersonal and personal forces in technological action. Culture, Theory and Critique, 47 (2). pp. 197-212.

Susan Leigh Star, "The Ethnography of Infrastructure," American Behavioral Scientist
Itty Abraham, "The Ambivalence of Nuclear Histories," Osiris 21:1 (2006):49-65
Homi Bhabha, "Articulating the Archaic: Cultural Difference and Colonial Nonsense," The Location of Culture (Routledge, ), 123-138.

Week 10 Oct 31 Situated Knowledges + Experience + Standpoint Epistemologies + Strong Objectivity + Gender and Science

Donna Haraway, "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective," Feminist Studies 14:3 (1988):575-599.
Sandra Harding, "A Socially Relevant Philosophy of Science? Resource's From Standpoint Theory's Controversiality," Hypatia 19:1 (2004):25-47

Brown, Wendy. 1995. “Postmodern Exposures, Feminist Hesitations.” In States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity, pp. 30-51. Princeton University Press.

Evelyn Fox Keller, "The Origin, History, and Politics of the Subject Called "Gender and Science," Handbook of Science and Technology Studies 1995.

Peter Galison, "Objectivity is Romantic"

Evelyn Fox Keller, "Dynamic Objectivity,"

Week 11 Nov 7

Week 12 Nov 14 Gender + Race + Nature + Colonialism + Species Alterity +
Donna Haraway, Primate Visions (Routledge, 1988)


Week 13 Nov 21 marginality + produced invisibility + knowledge gaps + agnotology +
Fortun and Bernstein, Muddling Through, Chapter 6 (MCS)
Michelle Murphy, "Uncertain exposures and the privilege of imperception: Activist scientists and race at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency," Osiris 19:266-282
June Nash, "When Isms Become Wasms"

Joan Scott, "Experience," in Feminists Theorize the Political, ed. Judith Butler and Joan Scott.

Week 14 Nov 28 Critique + Activism + Normativity + Responsibility +

Nadine Schuurman and Geraldine Pratt, "Care of the Subject: Feminism and Critiques of GIS," Gender, Place, and Culture 9(3):291-299
Bruno Latour, "Has the Critique of Science Run Out of Steam?"
Elise McCarthy and Christopher Kelty, "Responsibility and Nanotechnology," Social Studies of Science 2010

Sergio Sismondo, "Science and Technology Studies and an Engaged Program," Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, ed. Michael Lynch et al.,

Isabelle Stengers, "Another Look: Relearning to Laugh," Hypatia 15:4 (2000):41-54

Week 15 Dec 5 reflexivity + recursivity + looping
Fortun and Bernstein, Muddling Through, Part III
Sharon Traweek, "Border Crossings: Narrative Strategies in Science Studies and Among Physicists in Tsukuba Science CIty, Japan," pp. 429-465 in Science as Practice and Culture, ed. Andrew Pickering (University of Chicago Press, 199?).
Michael Taussig, "Why the Nervous System?," The Nervous System (Routledge, 1992), 1-10.
Malcolm Ashmore, "An Encyclopedia of Reflexivity and Knowledge," from The Reflexive Thesis: Wrighting Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (University of Chicago Press, 1989)
Barbara Hernnstein Smith, "Cutting-Edge Equivocation: Conceptual Moves and Rhetorical Strategy in Contemporary Anti-Epistemology," Chapter 5 in Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth, and the Human (Duke University Press, 2005)

Ulrich Beck et al., "The Theory of Reflexive Modernization," Theory, Culture, and Society 20(2) (2003):1-33

aporia, becoming, cosmopolitanism, desire, double bind, ethics, gift, impossibility, mourning, neoliberalism, performativity, schizoanalysis, sexual difference, state of exception, unconscious, psychosis