STSS 6960: When Knowledge Worlds Collide SAGE 5711 

Instructor: Ron Eglash

Spring 2009, M    10:00-12:50PM


Course objectives:

Students will have a basic understanding of epistemological comparison, in particular comparing world views from indigenous knowledge systems (eg Native Americans), vernacular knowledge systems (eg urban teens), and professional knowledge systems (eg scientists and engineers). They will learn different theoretical frameworks for viewing how differing knowledge systems can be put into conversation with each other, explore case studies on impact of such conversations on "the politics of knowledge" (environmental, medical, legal, educational, etc.), and devise strategies for steering a course between the Scylla of relativism and the Charybdis of objectivism.


To contact instructor:

Office Hours: Monday 1-3 and by appointment, 5502 Sage. Email:, phone: 276-2048. Course webpage:



There are three requirements: the weekly class discussions (which include a couple of assignments plus the weekly agenda described below), three short (6-8 pages double spaced) “reading reaction” papers, and a final research paper, which will also be the subject of your oral presentation (requiring visuals such as power point) on the last day. The syllabus is divided into three sections, and the short reading papers are due at the end of each section (due dates are 2/17, 3/30, 4/30. Agenda items for discussion are required for participation credit; they should be entered at The final research paper is 10 pages minimum; it should apply the concept of clashing “knowledge worlds” to a research area of your interest.


Academic Honesty

While ideas are available to everyone, credit for ideas, and the particular text used to express them, belongs to their originator. Plagiarism occurs when a student attempts to pass the ideas or words of someone else as their own (cf. It is surprisingly easy to do. For example, students who are not writing in their first language will sometimes try to use a sentence from another written text, simply because they are worried about their grammar. Plagiarism also occurs when a quotation is reworded in an attempt to avoid citation—always make sure the sources of your quotations are specifically cited. The internet makes plagiarism particularly tempting, since you can copy and paste from the web to your paper. Recycling your own paper from another course would not be plagiarism, but it would be academic dishonesty and thus subject to the same penalties. Plagiarism will result in failing the course (a grade of “F”).


Special Needs

Please contact me if you have special needs such as disability or religious holidays.



Articles are in library reserve unless otherwise indicated; Books are as follows:

·         Mooney, Chris. The Republican War on Science.

·         Epstein, Steve. Impure Science. U. of California Press, 1996.

·         Nader, Laura. Naked Science.

·         Eglash, Ron. African Fractals. Rutger’s University Press 1999.



Course Schedule:


Part I: Introduction


1/12: Introduction

Assignment: produce a design using one of the tools at Save the design (make sure you save using the applet’s “save” button and not the save button on your browser), write a brief (one paragraph) statement about it (could be about the learning experience, the cultural connection, an STS analysis, whatever comes to mind), and present both in class.  For Rhythm Wheels and Break Dancer examples, save as instructed on line, and bring your laptop to class. For other examples you can either bring a laptop with the example saved, or email a copy to the instructor. To email, press the “print screen” (often abbreviated “PrtSc”) button on your keyboard. Then use “paste” in the edit menu in Microsoft word. That should allow you to save the image of your design, which you can then email to Just let me know if you need help with any of this. Reading to accompany this:


1/19 no class


1/26 Just how much of a constructivist are you?

Hacking, Ian. The Social Construction of What? Assignment: Hacking Pg 99 provides a test to score ourselves on three features of  constructivism (contingency, nominalism, external explanations). Score yourself, and be prepared to explain your scores to the class.


2/2 Material-Semiotic Hybrids

Pickering, Andrew. The mangle of practice : time, agency, and science. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, c1995


2/9 Multiple Objectivity


Part II: Knowledge Worlds within Science


2/17 (Tuesday) The new science wars part 1:

Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science. Don’t forget first paper is due today!


2/23  The new science wars part 2: Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Fuller, Steve. “Rebuttal of Dover Expert Reports,”

Fuller, Steve. “Citizen Science: Cultivating a Life in STS”

Fuller on Mooney

Laird, Frank. "Total Truth and the Ongoing Controversy Over the Teaching of Evolution"

Boffey, Philip. "Evolution Wars Revisited."


3/2 Paradigm Wars

·         Scott Gilbert, “Cellular Politics: Ernest Everett Just, Richard B. Goldschmidt, and the Attempt to Reconcile Embryology and Genetics.” In Ronald Rainger, Keith Benson, and Jane Maienschein (eds.), The American Development of Biology (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988).  Pp. 311-346.


3/9 no class (Spring Break)


3/16 Public Understanding vs Expertise

Epstein, Steve. Impure Science. U. of California Press, 1996.


3/23  Alternative Science in Energy and Environment

            Hess, David. Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry. MIT Press 2007.


Part III: Science and its Others


3/30  Cross-cultural Comparison 1: relativism

Turnbull, David. Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge. NY: Routledge 2000. Don’t forget second paper is due today!


4/6 Cross-cultural Comparison 2: anthropological perspectives

Nader, Laura. Naked Science


4/13 Simulation in cross-cultural comparison 1

·         Lansing, Priests and Programmers.

·         Stefan Helmreich. “Digitizing 'Development': Balinese water temples, complexity and the politics of simulation.” Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 19, No. 3, 249-265 (1999)

·         Lansing, Stephen. “Foucault and the Water Temples: A Reply to Helmreich Critique of Anthropology (1999) 20(3):337-346.


4/20 Simulation in cross-cultural comparison 2

Eglash, Ron. African Fractals



4/27 Aliens vs. Earth! THIRD PAPER DUE

·         Butler, Octavia. Dawn.

·         Haraway, Donna, "The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Determinations of Self and Other in Immune System Discourse," Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991, pp.203-230

·         Optional: read remainder of Haraway book.


5/1 Final paper due, no class meeting