CONDITIONS: What external conditions have influenced this STS formation?


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June 16, 2021

What is made newly possible, and stands to be compromised, in the political moment that calls for the kind of critical enquiry that STS has been engaged in for years? My Society and Technology course for first year students opens with some screenshots of Twitter exchanges -one between Elon Musk and Langdon Winner (!) and one between Lilly Irani and Tristan Harris. The former serves as a theatre of what it means to claim technologies without politics, the latter demonstrates the tech hubris that demands the invention of what one is ignorant of, as Harris proposed a new field of "Society and Technology Interaction" and Irani pointed out that STS, amongst other disciplines, had been around for years. Where I write from (Denmark) the 'social crises' about tech of the last few years have not opened up new courses or programs, but have been cause for reflection within our institutions about *how* we teach, how we engage interdisciplinarity, how we handle the stories students are immersed in (and the Netflix shows they come to class having watched), where we intervene in an 'easy' narrative about the social which (here) can all too quickly 'how can 'society' accept 'technology'. The discussions locally have left me with a lot of questions about the means and ends of classroom activities, from structuring syllabi to engage with the "external conditions" (to use the annotation language) to the techniques that are generative of the critical positions we want to see our students developing. I am really looking forward to hearing all the stories of STS pedagogies over these sessions.

James Adams's picture
July 1, 2018
In response to:

According to Donncha Kavanagh's article, at the time UCI was being founded, the UC system was in a period of radical growth and instability. The rapid population growth in California, combined with the G.I. Bill's impact on demand for higher education, induced a severe need to expand the UC system. This resulted in a plan to develop four new UC schools, one of which was UC Irvine.

There was also heightened social instability across the state, due in part to: escalations of conflict in Vietnam and a growing protest movement against the war, the struggles and triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement, a second wave of Feminism, a search for alternative views on the human condition, and the rise to prominence of various critical  approaches to social science, including Marxism. Culturally, there were both intellectual and counter-cultural turns against hierarchy and over-determined social structures. These movements (including the post-structuralist, post-modern, and the "flower power" movement) were starting to gain traction and notoriety in California and elsewhere across the United States.

The institutional structure of UCI's School of Social Sciences was also directly inspired by Jim March's first and second-hand awareness of other recent experiments in interdisciplinary social science. These included March's alma mater, Yale's Institute for Human Relations (1929-1950), as well as Harvard's Department of Social Relations (1946-1972), the RAND Corporation in nearby Santa Monica, California, and the Carnegie Institute for Technology's Graduate School of Industrial Administration (peak influence from 1954-1964).

UCI's first catalogue described the intellectual and practical ambition of the Social Sciences Division (later referred to as the School of Social Sciences) as follows:

“Important new problems confront society; and social scientists have a responsibility to assist in the development of solutions to these problems. A rapidly changing technology, the pathologies of a population explosion and urban concentration, the thrust of once underdeveloped societies, the creeping master of disease, the strains of race relations, the tempestuous marriage of men and machines in problem solving, endemic crises in international affairs, lagging or explosive economic growth, political instability, and explorations of space provide social scientists with an extraordinary list of unsolved problems and opportunities” (Quoted in Kavanagh 2010, 8-9).