Developing an STS perspective on design

1) What is Science and Technology Studies (STS)?


2) Why not just use social solutions for social problems? Why bother with STS?

a. Marxist analysis as a valuable critique of social problems: extraction of surplus value

b. Marxist analysis as a disappointing solution to social problems: engineering disasters in the USSR

c. Social analysis alone is not enough: regardless of the economic system, must take technology design into account

3) How do normative issues (“values,” “ideology”) enter into STS? What is "the politics of design?"

a. Technophobe view: technology is inherently evil. (e.g. unibomber)

b. Techno-utopian view: technology is inherently good. (e.g. Walt Disney)

c. Technology is neutral view: “a hammer can be used to murder or to build a house. The technological artifacts themselves are therefore politically neutral.”

d. STS takes a 4th approach – the Social Constructionist view.

4) Examples of the social constructionist view:

a. Classist engineer Robert Moses constructs the bridges on Long Island such that low clearance bridges lead to beaches and parks, preventing poor people from cluttering up his nice areas reserved for the rich. After Moses dies, the bridges are still doing his dirty work – impossible to analyze under the “technology is neutral” view. Artifacts can have politics.

b. Power stations built in 1923 in Berlin show strong centralization, but those in London 1923 show strong decentralization – different “cultural styles.”

c. The first voice recognition software worked better on men than women – not due to an individual’s sexist agency, but do the structural sexism in the institutions.


5) Given the vast number of social problems -- crime, poverty, pollution, health, racism, war, sexism, housing shortage, job shortage, starvation, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, etc. -- we might expect an equal diversity of design solutions. But instead, the vast majority of examples of "social awareness" in design focus on medical (e.g. design for the disabled) or environment (e.g. "green design). Why this contradiction?


6) Exercise: description of an affordance in one of your fave childhood toys.

(Note: select one affordance, as specifically as possible).


7) Handout on qualitative social science research methods


8) Examples of social science research in design from Intel