THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF LIFE
B&Soc 301/ S&TS 401
Lectures and discussions 2x2hr MW 2.30-4.25 MvR NG35 4 credits
(Satisfies either the core or the sociology of science requirement for the Bio
& Soc major.)
Professor: Peter Taylor, Dept. of Science & Technology Studies
Office: Clark 624
Office Hours: Tuesday 11.15-1.15 (Sign-up sheet outside Clark 624)
TAs: Chris London, Warren 431, Monday 12-2
Saul Halfon, Clark 278, Weds. 11-1
Critical thinking about the diverse influences shaping the life sciences.
Topics include evolution and natural selection, heredity and genetic
determinism, biotechnology and reproductive interventions, ecology &
environmental change. We interpret episodes, past and present, in biology in
light of scientists' historical location, economic and political interests, use
of language, and ideas about causality and responsibility. Readings, class
activities, and written assignments are designed so that students develop
interpretive skills and explore their own intellectual and practical responses
to controversies in biology and society.
The most important goals of this course are that you actively ask
questions about the shape and direction of inquiries in the biological sciences
-- not just during class time, but all the time -- and develop your ability to
express your own synthesis of issues succintly. To encourage this the course
involves various kinds of writing, preparation, and participation in the
teaching/learning process. These are described at the start of the course
Texts: A xerox packet of readings for class 2 onwards is
available from Gnomon on Eddy St. in CollegeTown; cost around $35. Buy this
immediately! The reader also includes the full syllabus, course
requirements and mechanics -- read this before class 2 -- , and sheets
for each class (guides to the reading, introduction to the discussion, study
questions, etc.) Buy a 3 ring binder to store the reader and other xeroxes in.
Note that a few of the required readings and the extra readings are only on
reserve, i.e., they are not in the xerox packet. These reserve items will be
in Mann library and the Biology & Society reading room (Clark 278; open
8-4.30 M-F only).
In addition, also in Clark 278, is are two binders for the course containing
newspaper clippings related to the course and examples of student assignments
from previous years.
In areas where your background in biology or history is weak you will need to
do additional prescribed reading before some of the classes.
This course will require considerable reading, writing and work on
learning skills -- be prepared.
Assessment: Written assignments
(4 in total, plus 1 revision) 40%
Final take-home exam 30%
Class participation (30%):
Discussion co-leading or reporting 5%
Final take-home Exam will be distributed on last Monday of classes and
be due by 12 noon two weeks later.
Last date for submitting; assignments = the last Monday of classes;
revisions = the last class.SYLLABUS
Note: Some classes, probably those marked **, will take more than one
1. Introduction: Critical thinking and the metaphor of construction as
I LANGUAGE: READING & WRITING BIOLOGY
2. How did we get here? I -- Origin stories and their structure.
3. How many genders make up mankind? -- Bias
4. What is a mother? -- Categories destabilized by scientific developments.
5**. How did we get here? II -- Structural themes used in interpreting the
record of life.
6**. What is nature? -- Changes in meanings of "nature" in relation to changes
II EVOLUTION I
7&8. How did Darwin try to convince people of Natural selection as
the mechanism of evolution?
9. Why does evolution matter in thinking about society? I: Darwin as a social
darwinist and sociobiologist.
III HEREDITY & DEVELOPMENT
(subtheme: causes & their relation to favored views of social
10. Why are people so concerned about heredity? -- Galton, regression to the
mean & eugenics.
11. What causes a disease? -- the consequences of hereditarianism in the case
12. How did genetics become synonymous with heredity? -- Multiple accounts of
heredity in early 20c.
13** How are characters produced? -- Transmission vs. development.
14. How can development be organized? -- Metaphors of control &
15-17**. Can genes determine characters like intelligence? To whom is this
plausible? -- IQ & inheritance.
IV. EVOLUTION REVISITED
18. Does Nature select? -- Selectionist vs. constructionist explanations
19. Why does evolution matter in thinking about society? II: Social messages
V. REPRODUCTIVE INTERVENTIONS
(subtheme: scientists working within a field of economics, politics &
20. Who benefits from scientific progress? I: The breeding of hybrid
21. Who benefits from scientific progress? II: The green revolution.
22. How autonomous can science be from social influences? -- The rise of
23. Who sets limits on the engineering of human reproduction? -- Gene therapy
& pre-natal diagnosis & interventions.