We are asking you to engage in a critical analysis of a device, machine, technique, practice, or technological system. That analysis can take a variety of forms and rely on a variety of media—from a paper, to an animation, to a live-action video, to a museum exhibit, to a podcast. You should pick as your focus something that interests you and that will not have been discussed extensively in class (so not the telescope, the atomic bomb, the remote control, etc.). It can be something that is well established or just emerging, something mundane or something cutting edge, something in the contemporary United States or something in another cultural or historical context. We encourage you to think broadly and creatively, but you must review your choice with your TA in office hours. The
This is not, strictly speaking, a research project. That is, you are not expected to do the extensive research that would be required to answer all of the questions you might pose (though you may wish to consider what would we need to know in order to answer them). The principal work we are asking you to do in this work is to argue for the importance and interest of your questions, individually and collectively. In support of your argument, you should make explicit reference to claims made, and questions asked, in the texts and films from this course. You should also consult at least one other scholarly source. This could be a book, a journal article, or a chapter in a published anthology; a TED talk, podcast, or documentary; or some other source you and your TA agree meets the criterion of being “scholarly.” All sources should be included in a bibliography and cited using consistent practices of citation (I suggest using the MLA guidelines).
1) In an introduction, explain why you think it is interesting, important—perhaps even urgent—to understand (or to understand better or differently) the thing you have chosen. Part of your thesis or the argument you make should be that your undertaking is worthwhile, or that something specific is at stake.
2) Provide a brief summary or description of your object and its relevant features: its history, uses, costs, potentials, dangers, etc. Here, too, we are interested in what you think it is important for your readers/audience to know about your object.
3) In the analysis that follows, ask and discuss the questions that, in your judgment and in the context of this course, would be particularly productive to ask about the thing you have chosen. The questions should not be narrowly technical, scientific, practical, or aesthetic, but should each explore relations of technology, science, and society. They can be about power, identity, risk, privacy, ethics, gender, choice, access, race, ecologies, etc. They can highlight similarities with other things we have read about or discussed, or they can focus on differences.
4) For each question you ask, we want to hear from you what you think we might learn by trying to answer it. What connections might your questions reveal? What assumptions might they challenge? What kinds of effects might they help us better to understand? How might they help people to be better designers or more empowered consumers of technologies?
5) In a conclusion, assess the potential impact of asking and answering your questions taken together. Have you made the case that we should be interested in the topic you have chosen? That we have something important to learn?
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