Interdisciplinary Studies Field

Science, Technology and Society

Field Description

UC Berkeley offers a rich and diverse set of undergraduate courses across campus to pursue the multiple intersections of science, technology and society (STS). The ISF Research Field in STS is the only place at Berkeley where undergraduates can pursue a research program in this subject.  Students in this field study not only the social preconditions for scientific investigation but also the social consequences of scientific and technological developments and the ways in which these processes are themselves shaped by society. STS is premised on a specific demarcation problem–not the classic demarcation of science from non-science but the difficulty, if not impossibility, of demarcating science and technology as autonomous activities and objects, independent of the society out of which they arise and presumably serve.

Students studying STS will find challenging courses in Anthropology, English, ESPM, ERG, Geography, History, Political Science, Rhetoric and Women’s Studies as well as in many of the Science Departments themselves.  The range of topics covered in STS is capacious and includes: the social history of the scientific revolutions; the contexts of discovery and the rhetorics of justification for scientific developments; the social determinants of technological pathways; the cultural aspects of new probabilistic modes of rationality and explanation; the traffic between political economy and the biological sciences in the long nineteenth century; the uses to which science was put in defense of apartheid and Empire and the naturalization of sexual differences; how and why the social sciences often become mathematized and positivistic in nature; the responsibilities of scientists in the Atomic Age; how the Cold War shaped the development of science and technology; the political and legal dimensions of pharmaceutical and stem cell research; the use and misuse of tests of statistical significance in the study of climate change; the ways in which Big Data change and even create social phenomena; the politics of transition in energy systems; the exploration of what speculative and science fiction says about the hopes and anxieties about bioengineered post-humans and “amortal” cyborgs; and the normative and empirical study of the ways in which science is, or should be, held accountable to democratic procedures.

Library Resources is forthcoming; meanwhile, please contact Lynn Jones at

Recent ISF Senior Theses

  • Computer Use in the Elephant Economy: Attitudes Towards Technology in India’s KPO Sector
  • The Limits of the Pre-Cautionary Principle: Comparing GMO Regulation in Europe and the US
  • Peruvian Eugenics: Sterilizing the Poor
  • The Political Economy of Wind Power in China: Challenges and hopes to transform China’s electricity sector
  • Does the Internet Help Consolidate Democratic Practices? Access to Information and the Creation of Public Spheres?
  • The Google Car in terms of Allenby and Sarewitz’s Techno-Human Condition
  • Regulating the Overuse of Medical Technology: A Comparison of the US and Europe
  • Digital Identity: The Effect of Internet Use on the Development of the Self
  • Overcoming the Inertia of the Status Quo: Barriers to Changing the U.S. Energy System
  • Why Offshore if You Can Just Use a Computer? The Impact of Information Technologies on Offshoring Trends Among American Businesses
  • Framing it Right: How NASA Narratives Changed Public Support for Human Space Exploration
  • Where Does the Future Come From? The Role of Social Media in Opening Paths for Societal Development
  • Can They Protect Me? A Study of U.S. Policy and Law Protecting Individuals from Online Fraud and Identity Theft
  • Politics and Technology: How Social Networking Created A Tipping Point for Obama’s Presidential Campaign
  • Big Data, A Big Problem? A Study of Data Mining and Targeted Advertising in Relation to Privacy and Government Involvement in the United States

Relevant UC Berkeley Courses

  • History 103S: History of Science
  • History 180: History of the Life Sciences
  • History 182A: Technology and Society
  • ESPM 152: Bioethics and Society
  • ESPM 151: Society and Environment
  • Engineering 157AC: Engineering, the Environment and Society
  • Sociology 166: Society and Technology
  • Computer Science 195: Social Implications of Computer Technology
  • African American Studies 134: Information Technology and Society
  • Gender and Women’s Studies 131: Gender and Science
  • English 180Z: Science Fiction: Speculative Fiction and Dystopias
  • English 190: Literature and the Post-Human
  • History of Art C158: Art and Science
  • Bioengineering 100: Ethics in Science and Engineering
  • Anthropology 119.1: Critical Bioethics
  • Energy and Resource Group C184: Energy and Society
  • Rhetoric 107: Rhetoric of Scientific Discourse

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Jacob, Margaret C. 1999. “Science Studies after Social Construction: The Turn Toward the Comparative and the Global.” Pp. 95–120 in Beyond the Cultural Turn: New Directions in the Study of Society & Culture, edited by Victoria Bonnell and Lynda Hunt. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Jarvenpaa, Sirkka L. and Dorothy E. Leidner. 1998. “Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 3(4):0–0.

Jasanoff, Sheila. 2000. “Reconstructing the Past, Constructing the Present: Can Science Studies and the History of Science Live Happily Ever After?” Social Studies of Science 30(4):621–31.

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Knorr-Cetina, Karin. 1999. Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Kuhn, Thomas S. 2000. The Road since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993, with an Autobiographical Interview. edited by James Conant and John Haugeland. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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Campus Resources