Scientific knowledge and new technologies are changing our society. On the one hand they open up new possibilities to solve societal problems. On the other hand they often raise issues that have to be widely discussed, decided and regulated. Scientists from all disciplines should be capable to participate competently in these discussions.
At the same time, there is hardly any societal debate or political decision-making process that happens without considering scientific expertise. Scientific knowledge is expected to provide orientation and to lead to better solutions. Particularly when it comes to controversial topics, what counts as relevant and reliable knowledge, which societal values should be taken into account and in what ways all of this should be included in political decisions is at stake.
The aim of this course is to develop students' skill to identify actors' positions in controversial societal debates, to systematically analyze their relationship to scientific expertise and, based on this, to develop recommendations. This is a highly valued qualification in many areas of the contemporary labor market (e.g. policy advice, science communication etc.).
Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides, which is deployed against weeds in agriculture. Outside of the European Union glyphosate is used with genetically modified glyphosate-resistant plants to kill “competing” weeds. The health-related and ecological effects of the substance are controversially discussed.
Mobile phones, mobile phone masts but also Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) create new kinds of human exposure to high-frequency radiation. The effects on human health and their implications for the use of mobile phones and mobile communication in general are controversially discussed.
Plastic is a widely used material in our society. Microscopically small plastic particles, either manufactured on purpose or decay products of larger plastic pieces, end up in water and in the air in uncertain amounts. Their effects on human health and the environment are in the focus of current debates.
Since the mid-2000s, beekeepers across the globe observe a new and dramatic form of mass death of bees (Colony Collapse Disorder). Unusually severe losses of colonies over the winter and the disappearance of worker bees diminish the bee population in many countries. Causes and consequences of this phenomenon are in the focus of an intense debate.
In this course students learn - in small interdisciplinary groups - to systematically map a current debate at the intersection of science, technology and society. Step-by-step and in close interaction with the lecturers the students will learn approaches and tools to analyze debates, apply them to a specific case study and receive feedback. They will search for documents, identify positions and conduct expert interviews. They will learn to prepare the results of their analyses in various formats, to present and discuss them. The assumed goal is to advise policy makers and help them to better understand the relationship between value positions and scientific expertise in a debate.
In this seminar we will work in three groups on the debates on the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup), the health effects of mobile phone radiation and the consequences of microplastics for humans and the environment. We consider these debates as our “laboratory” in which the students investigate the interplay of science, technology and society. The case of the Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees will be used by the lecturers to practically demonstrate the mapping of a specific problem.
Tutorial support is integrated into the course and will be provided throughout the semester.
Depending on the students’ needs the course will be held either in German or in English.
The course is particularly aimed at master students in the following study programs:
The course can be completed for modules in different study programs.
If you have further questions please contact the respective study program director.
|Preparation of the readings and active participation in class||20%||assessed individually|
|Mapping and documentation of a debate along specific work assignments (in groups)||40%||assessed as group work|
|Writing a blog-entry||20%||assessed individually|
|Keeping a research diary||20%||assessed individually|
Attendance is compulsory.
The grading of the course is based on the separate assessment of different tasks on a scale of 1-5.
Seminar room of the Department of Science and Technology Studies
NIG, Universitätsstrasse 7, 1010 Wien
Staircase II, 6th floor, room C0602
Preparatory meeting: 10.03.2017, 14:00 - 15:30
Seminar: 17.03., 31.03., 28.04., 05.05., 12.05., 02.06., 09.06., 23.06., 14:00 - 18:00.
The total number of participants will be limited to 15. There will be a waiting list.
Please send your application via Email to email@example.com by 28 February 2017. Please include the following information:
The selection of participants will be done by the lecturers in cooperation with the study program directors. If the applications exceed the limit of 15 students, advanced master students will be privileged.
You will be informed by 3 March 2017 at the latest whether you have been accepted.