SOC 430: Society and Technology
Term Paper Guidelines
In this course, students are expected to improve their scientific literacy in the sociology of technology and basic understanding of the major scientific concepts, theories, and methods used by sociologists in their systematic study of patterned relations between material objects, technological systems, and social systems. Students are also expected to refine their “sociological imagination” and improve their ability to describe and explain the interconnection between their personal troubles and public issues like societal, ecological, and technological change. The term paper for this course bridges these learning goals with the broader goal of students improving their critical and creative thinking and communication skills.
In the term paper, you will be asked to engage with and apply course material to a case study of political dispute over the use of a specific technology in the United States. Selecting such a case may sound daunting, but it’s not. I recommend starting your case study selection process while keeping in mind two key points. First, recall Gould’s (2009:97) definition of “technology” as “a series of entanglements with social systems and ecosystems, close and far, obvious and hidden.” Second, also remember that any given technology can be understood as a component of “material culture,” which is “made up of the objects that people both derive and distinguish from the natural resources around them to make a visibly human environment in which to organize group life” (Mukerji 1994:146 quoted in Epstein 2008:172).
Next, I suggest continuing your case study selection by initially using a broad search parameter such as, “political dispute over technology,” in LexisNexis Academic. If you are not logged onto the WSU network (e.g., you are logging in from a home computer), then you will be asked to input your WSU ID and password before proceeding the LexisNexis Academic home page.
The screenshots below illustrate how to search for stories in LexisNexis Academic.
Input “political dispute over technology” in the search box, then click “Search”
The page below shows the search results for “political dispute over technology” in LexisNexis Academic. I suggest clicking on “Newspapers” to narrow the sources to a single type of source that discusses many different political
SOC 430: Society and Technology
disputes over a given technology. After clicking, “Newspapers,” you will be able to see which newspaper sources include stories that should contain content about political disputes over many different technologies. You’ll need to read those stories to verify the extent to which the stories are appropriate for your term paper. You are required to have a minimum of 10 news stories about your case of political dispute over technology, and I encourage you to have additional sources to address the questions you are required to answer about your technology as detailed below.
Selecting your case study of a political dispute over technology will likely involve going back and forth between the stories you find, the course material, and discussions with the TA and I to make sure they are appropriate for your term paper. The stories you select should describe the following as it pertains to the technology:
1. What is it and what purpose does it serve?
2. What materials comprise the technology, where do those materials come from, and who has control over the access to those materials?
3. What social groups (e.g., populations and/or organizations) typically produce and consume the technology?
4. What social groups are in conflict over the technology, and what claims do they make about the costs and benefits of the technology?
After you are able to answer these questions about the technology from your minimum of 10 newspaper articles, you will be asked use the course material as summarized below in your attempt to explain why different social groups are in conflict over the technology in your term paper.
General Format and Grading Criteria
The term paper must be at least 12-pages (not including your reference page), with double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font, and 1-inch margins. It must be in ASA format (see ASA style guide posted on the course Angel site under “Lessons” “Electronic Reader”). You will not be graded on your grammar in the paper, but you will be graded on the overall clarity of the writing and analysis. You are thus encouraged to consult the recommended reading (Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style) and meet with staff at the WSU Undergraduate Writing Center for assistance in writing mechanics for this paper. The center is in the Smith Center for Undergraduate Education 403
SOC 430: Society and Technology
substantive portion of the term paper by helping you think about how to integrate the various components of your analysis into one cohesive paper.
The term paper has a maximum of 100 points possible and is worth 20 percent of the course grade. The term paper is the only assignment that can be submitted late. However, one letter grade (10 points/10 percent) penalty will be imposed on that assignment for each 24-hour period it is submitted past its due date and time of Thursday, December 10, 2015 at the start of class. The latest the term paper can be submitted is by 3pm on Sunday, December 13, 2015 via e-mail to the professor at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Soc 430: Term Paper, (student last name)” in the subject line. Submitting the paper this late will result in minus 30 points, or 3 letter grades, off the assignment before it is evaluated for a grade. Term paper submissions after 3pm on December 13 will earn no credit.
Suggested Paper Outline: Successful papers will include the following:
Introduction: 3-page long section that introduces your case study and answers the following questions regarding the technology: (1) What is it and what purpose does it serve? (2) What materials comprise the technology, where do those materials come from, and who has control over the access to those materials? (3) What social groups (e.g., populations and/or organizations) typically produce and consume the technology? The introduction must also include an underlined thesis statement on page 3. This statement tells the reader in four or five sentences the argument being asserted in the paper rather than simply describing your paper. We will discuss how to construct a successful thesis statement in term paper workshops held in class towards the end of the semester.
Body: at least 7 pages long, beginning with heading of “Political Dispute Over…(the name of the technology),” in bold print. It should include the following:
– Describe the social groups who are in conflict over the technology, and what claims they make about the costs and benefits of the technology.
– Draw on at least one theoretical perspective (and associated concepts) featured in the course material to explain why the social groups are in conflict over the technology. For example, does each group have different “epistemic cultures” or “civic epistemologies” that contribute to their conflict (see Epstein 2008)? Does the technology have the capacity to turn certain communities into corrosive communities if it is applied to those communities (see Freudenburg 1997)? To what extent do social and material aspects of relevant actor-networks influence the use of the technology (see Molotch 2003)? Do the pursuit of “scientific citizenship” and/or the social identities among the conflicting groups contribute to their conflict over the technology (see Bliss 2012; Epstein 2008)? You are required to properly define and describe the theory and concepts you use in this section before you apply them to your case study.
Discussion: at least 2 pages long, beginning with the heading, “Discussion: Tragedy of Culture?,” in bold print. The focus of this section must be on the extent to which the technology discussed in the paper relates to Simmel’s tragedy of culture thesis. This means you must (1) define the tragedy of culture thesis from the course material and (2) state whether the technology, given evidence from the political dispute over it, has beneficial or adverse impacts on select individuals, societies, and/or environments.
References: This final section should start with a heading, “References,” in bold print. Failure to follow the ASA style guide for citing your sources in the text and for properly including them in your reference section may result in academic penalties for plagiarism and academic dishonesty as stated in the course syllabus. This section should be long enough to include all the sources cited in your paper.
Appendix: place any figures and tables referenced in the paper in an appendix at the end of the paper. Note: the appendix does not count towards the 12-page requirement.
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