It is the policy of the University at Buffalo—as well as a legal requirement—that reasonable accommodations be provided for any students with disabilities who may need special arrangements in order to benefit equally from university programs. Please contact myself or the Office of Disability Services (25 Capen Hall, 645-2608) if you require such arrangements.

State University of New York at Buffalo
Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

ELP 594
Technology as a Social Practice
Spring 2004
Tuesday 4:10–6:50 pm
106 Talbert Hall
Hank Bromley
466 Baldy Hall
645-2471 x1085 (office)
884-6897 (home—not too early, please)
office hours: T 1:00–3:00, or by appointment
Course Description

The accelerating technologization of social existence, both within and beyond classrooms, poses a serious challenge to our ability to participate meaningfully in determining the future shape of our lives. Enormous pressures to "keep up," supplemented by prevailing ideologies that presume the inevitability of "progress," make it very difficult to exercise sober and deliberate judgment regarding both the development and use of new technologies. While the capacity for such judgment is vital for all citizens, it is especially critical for educators, given the broad impact of their decisions. This course aims to enable an engaged stance regarding technology, through deepening students’ understanding of its inextricably social nature.

We will focus on the complexities of understanding the social significance of technology. At issue is not simply assessing the "impact" of technology, for the notion of social impact misleadingly positions technology as a distinct entity separate from society, exercising a one-way influence on society. Nor is it any more satisfactory to treat technology as a "neutral tool," subject to a one-way influence from society. Neither of these perspectives—neither "technological determinism" nor "social determinism"—adequately express the way technologies and the surrounding social arrangements are inextricably bound up in the very formation of one another.

We will explore the technology/society nexus throughout the semester, with the aim of clarifying the roots of, and identifying what is at stake in, contemporary conflicts over the development and use of technology. The first half of the course will address the problem of conceptualizing technology so as best to elucidate its social nature and its involvement in political and cultural processes; the second half will apply our conceptual work by analyzing the way technologies and social structures mutually shape one another in a variety of specific institutional settings.

Throughout the semester, we will emphasize questions relating to power and control, especially the ways technologies are implicated in both the perpetuation and potential transformation of structured relations of inequality (class conflict, patriarchy, racism, colonialism).


The main thing is to come to class prepared to discuss the readings thoughtfully—that means do more than give them a quick once-through. Since class will be mostly discussion, what you get out of it will depend on what you put into it. For the most part, I don’t think you’ll find the readings difficult, but you will need to spend some time before class thinking about them, considering their implications, and looking for connections across different readings, areas of agreement and disagreement, etc.

The assignments will include both a group project and individual writing. Details will follow later. In brief, the project will involve choosing some current technology or technology-related social problem (preferably locally based), deciding what a proper analysis of it would entail, organizing yourselves to carry out that analysis, and collectively producing a report. Class time will be made available for figuring out how to get started, and for presenting the findings and discussing the opportunity for ongoing engagement in the issue.

As for the individual assignments, you’ll have a choice between a single midterm paper and a series of very short papers based on the weekly readings, in either case adding up to about 10–12 pages. These will be completed relatively early in the semester, to allow a focus on the project later on.

Anyone who wishes is welcome to take the course on an S/U (pass/no credit) basis. Simply tell me (in writing or via email, to make sure I don’t forget) anytime before I grade your first assignment. Personally, I think grades just interfere with the learning process, so I’m quite willing to dispense with them for students who feel the same.


Most of the readings are available through the UB Libraries Online Course Reserve system, which means you can view and print them for free from any of the campus computer labs, or from home if you’re suitably equipped. If you’re unfamiliar with the online reserve system, begin at There are links to instruction files from that page. Note that there are two search facilities for finding the readings, one of which only works with some web browsers. Whichever you use, enter the course number as elp594, without a space. The list of readings may be a little confusing because the library alphabetizes them by title; I’ll provide a separate handout to help you find what you need.

The remaining readings (mostly toward the end of the semester) will be available online, through my own course web site. These are indicated in the schedule below with [ONLINE]. The course web site will have a copy of this syllabus with direct links to each of the online documents.

Web site

The home page is at In addition to the online syllabus, I’ll be posting links to supplemental materials and class handouts. If there’s interest, I can also set up an online discussion area for continuing the conversation outside the class meetings.

Part 1: Understanding the social nature of technology
Jan 13 Introduction to course
Jan 20 Making visible the human encounter with technology

Richard Sclove, Democracy and Technology, Chapters 1-2 (pp. 3-24)
Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor, Chapter 1 (pp. 3-18)
B. Ruby Rich, "The Party Line: Gender and Technology in the Home," in Jennifer Terry and Melodie Calvert, eds., Processed Lives: Gender and Technology in Everyday Life (pp. 221-31)
Neil Postman, "Defending Ourselves Against Technology," Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 17:5-6, 1997 (pp. 229-33)
Jan 27 Does technology shape society?...

Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, "The Monastery and the Clock" (pp. 12-18)
Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, excerpt from Chapter 2 (pp. 79-147)
Langdon Winner, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?", in Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman, eds., The Social Shaping of Technology, 2nd ed. (pp. 28-40)
Scott B. Waltz, "Distance Learning Classrooms: A Critique," Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 18:3, June 1998 (pp. 204-12)
Feb 3 ...Or does society shape technology?...

Lynn White, Jr., "Technology Assessment from the Stance of a Medieval Historian," American Historical Review 79, Feb 1974 (pp. 1-13)
Lewis Mumford, "History: Neglected Clue to Technological Change," Technology and Culture 2, 1961 (pp. 230-36)
MacKenzie and Wajcman, "Introductory Essay" in MacKenzie and Wajcman (pp. 3-27)
Richard Dyer, "Making ‘White’ People White," in MacKenzie and Wajcman (pp. 134-37)
David F. Noble, Forces of Production, Preface (pp. ix-xiii)
David F. Noble, "Social Choice in Machine Design," in MacKenzie and Wajcman (pp. 161-76)
Ruth Schwartz Cowan, "How the Refrigerator Got Its Hum," in MacKenzie and Wajcman, 1st ed. (pp. 202-18)
Feb 10 ...And how to think about it being both

Langdon Winner, excerpts from Autonomous Technology (pp. 74-88, 200-02, 323-25)
Thomas P. Hughes, "Technological Momentum," in Merritt Roe Smith and Leo Marx, eds., Does Technology Drive History? (pp. 101-13)
Hank Bromley, "The Social Chicken and the Technological Egg," Educational Theory 47:1, Winter 1997 (pp. 51-65)
Cynthia Cockburn and Susan Ormrod, Gender & Technology in the Making, Introduction (pp. 1-14) [ONLINE]
Keith Grint and Steve Woolgar, The Machine at Work, excerpts from Chapter 3 (pp. 65-74, 89-94)
Bruno Latour, excerpts from "Technology is Society Made Durable," in John Law, ed, A Sociology of Monsters (pp. 103-10, 120-31)
Bruno Latour, "Ma Bell’s Road Trip," in Merritt Roe Smith and Gregory Clancey, eds., Major Problems in the History of American Technology (pp. 263-66)
Part 2: Historical Perspective
Feb 17 Resistance to the establishment of industrial capitalism

E. P. Thompson, "Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism," Past & Present 38, Dec 1967 (pp. 56-97)
E. P. Thompson, excerpts from "The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century," Past & Present 50, Feb 1971, (pp. 107-15, 131-36)
Eric Hobsbawm, "The Machine Breakers," Past & Present 1, Feb 1952 (pp. 57-70)
Frank Webster and Kevin Robins, Information Technology: A Luddite Analysis, Chapter 1 (pp. 1-5)
Merritt Roe Smith, "The Political Economy of Pacing," in Merritt Roe Smith and Gregory Clancey, eds., Major Problems in the History of American Technology (pp. 182-90)
Feb 24 The nature of the resulting regime: "progress" and "efficiency" reign

Neil Postman, Technopoly, Chapter 4 (pp. 56-70)
Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends, Chapter 2 (pp. 28-73)
documents from Chapter 8, "Inventing Efficiency," in Merritt Roe Smith and Gregory Clancey, eds., Major Problems in the History of American Technology:
editors’ introduction (pp. 267-69)
Frederick W. Taylor, "The Principles of Scientific Management" (pp. 269-75)
Arsenal Workers Strike (pp. 282-83)
Highpockets, A Taylorist Folktale (pp. 285-86)
Part 3: Case Studies
The remainder of the schedule should be considered provisional—based on the interests of the class, we may substitute other topics for some of these, and even if we do decide to keep the same topics, I may update some of the readings.
March 2 Information technology I: who decides, who benefits?

Steven E. Miller, Civilizing Cyberspace, Chapter 1 (pp. 1-16)
Hank Bromley, "Data-Driven Democracy? Social Assessment of Educational Computing," Introduction to Hank Bromley and Michael W. Apple, eds., Education/Technology/Power (pp. 1-25)
Les Levidow and Kevin Robins, "Towards a Military Information Society?", in Les Levidow and Kevin Robins, eds., Cyborg Worlds (pp. 159-77)
Jeffrey R. Young, Chronicle of Higher Education article about David F. Noble, March 31, 2000 [ONLINE]
David F. Noble, "Digital Diploma Mills, Part I: The Automation of Higher Education" [ONLINE; ALTERNATE SITE]

Parts II-IV of Noble’s "Digital Diploma Mills" [ONLINE]
Robert W. McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, excerpts from Chapter 3 (pp. 119-46, 168-85)
March 9 Information technology II: information as commodity (intellectual property)

Lawrence Lessig, "Free Culture," Keynote address at OSCON (Open Source Convention), July 24, 2002 [ONLINE]
Seth Shulman, "Freeing Mickey Mouse," Technology Review, November 2002 [ONLINE]
Paul Hyland, "Washington Report," The CPSR (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility) Journal 20:1, Summer 2002 [ONLINE]
Cory Doctorow, "Hollywood’s Legislative Agenda: MPAA Wants to Plug the ‘Analog Hole’," The CPSR Journal 20:1, Summer 2002 [ONLINE]
Bruce Hartford, "Writers on the Information Plantation," The CPSR Newsletter 15:4, Fall 1997 [ONLINE]
Free Software Foundation, "The Free Software Definition" [ONLINE]

also from the FSF:
   What is Copyleft? [ONLINE]
   Preamble to the GNU General Public License [ONLINE]
additional background on Eldred case:
   Dan Gillmor, "Copyright Dictators Are Winning Out," San Jose Mercury News, February 19, 2002 [ONLINE]
   Daren Fonda, "Copyright Crusader," Boston Globe, August 29, 1999 [ONLINE]
[March 16—Spring Break, no class]
March 23 Information technology III: constructing spaces and identities

David Silver, excerpt from "Margins in the Wires," in Beth E. Kolko, Lisa Nakamura, and Gilbert B. Rodman, eds., Race in Cyberspace (pp. 133-38)
Lisa Nakamura, "Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet" [ONLINE]
Hank Bromley, "Border Skirmishes," to appear in Ron Eglash, et al, Appropriating Technology [ONLINE]
Kevin Robins and Frank Webster, Times of the Technoculture, Chapter 11 (pp. 238-60)
Lynda Schneekloth, "The Imagined Space of Electronic Media," presentation at UB Symposium on Technology and Learning

Evelyn M. Hammonds, "New Technologies of Race," in Jennifer Terry and Melodie Calvert, eds., Processed Lives: Gender and Technology in Everyday Life (pp. 107-21)
Kali Tal, "The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: African American Critical Theory and Cyberculture" [ONLINE]
Richard Sclove, "Counter the Cybernetic Wal-Mart Effect," Loka Alert 7:1, March 29, 2000 [ONLINE]
Chris Hables Gray, "The Cyborg Soldier," in Les Levidow and Kevin Robins, ed, Cyborg Worlds (pp. 43-71)
March 30 Biotech—commodifying the gene pool: genetically modified foods, animals, and humans

John Hilary, " guide to genetic engineering" (brief overview of several of the issues) [ONLINE]
Miguel A. Altieri, "The Ecological Impacts of Transgenic Crops on Agroecosystem Health," Agroecology in Action research group, UC-Berkeley [ONLINE]
Michael Pollan, "Playing God in the Garden," New York Times Magazine, October 25, 1998 [ONLINE]
Matthew Albright, "Marketing Fear," Z Magazine 15:11, October 2002 [ONLINE]
Mike Fortun, "Breaking the Code," Rensselaer Alumni Magazine, March 2001 [ONLINE]
Campaign for Responsible Transplantation, "What’s Wrong With Xeno?" [ONLINE]

Mike Fortun’s syllabus for the course "Biofutures," at RPI; lists many excellent readings on cloning, organ transplantation and trafficking, xenotransplantion, genes as intellectual property, nano-biotechnology, etc. [ONLINE]
Brian Tokar, Redesigning Life: The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering, Zed Books, 2001; a terrific collection of essays on the consequences and politics of various genetic technologies
Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), "New Enclosures: Alternative Mechanisms to Enhance Corporate Monopoly and BioSerfdom in the 21st Century," November/December 2001; analysis of biotechnologies, remote sensing technologies, and legal strategies, as all part of an effort to consolidate corporate control over "germplasm, territory and labour" [ONLINE]
see also the rest of the publications on the ETC site [ONLINE]; a few that are particularly relevant are "GM Fall-out from Mexico to Zambia: The Great Containment" [ONLINE], and "Terminate Terminator" ("terminator" is a genetic technology for preventing farmers from replanting the seeds of patented crops) [ONLINE]
Martha Crouch, "How the Terminator Terminates"; a more detailed analysis of the terminator technology and its dangers [ONLINE]
Miguel A. Altieri, "The Myths of Agricultural Biotechnology: some ethical questions," Agroecology in Action research group, UC-Berkeley [ONLINE]
George Monbiot, "Corporate Phantoms," ZNet Daily Commentary, July 9, 2002, reports on stealth corporate PR campaigns intended to create the impression of grassroots support for biotechnologies [ONLINE]
Two collections of links worth checking out are the Yahoo News section on genetically modified food [ONLINE], and the ZNet Global Watch on genetically modified food [ONLINE]
April 6 Technology and the global economy I: concerns for developing nations

Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello, "Globalization Today," ZNet Daily Commentary, March 23, 2002 [ONLINE]
Mitchel Cohen, "Toxic Wastes and the New World Order, Part 1: Trading in waste," Z Magazine, November 2000 [ONLINE]
Devinder Sharma, "Food as Political Weapon," ZNet interview, March 3, 2004 [ONLINE]
George Monbiot, "The Covert Biotech War," ZNet Daily Commentary, November 22, 2002 [ONLINE]
Will Weissert, "Study: GM Corn Threatens Mexico’s Crops," Associated Press wire story, March 11, 2004 [ONLINE]
April 13 Technology and the global economy II: privatization of public utilities

John Tagliabue, "As Multinationals Run the Taps, Anger Rises Over Water for Profit" (part 2 of four-part series), The New York Times, August 26, 2002 [ONLINE]
Erik Eckholm, "Chinese Will Move Waters To Quench Thirst of Cities" (part 3 of four-part series), The New York Times, August 27, 2002 [ONLINE]
Antonia Juhasz, "Bolivian Water War Presents Alternative to the Globalization of Water," International Forum on Globalization [ONLINE]
Brian Meyer, "$60 Million Offered to Run Water System," The Buffalo News, April 5, 2002 [ONLINE]
Chris Smith, "Guerrilla Technicians Challenge the Privatization of South Africa’s Public Resources," In These Times 26:22, September 30, 2002 [ONLINE]

Barbara Garson, "Johannesburg and New Jersey Water," ZNet Daily Commentary, August 26, 2002 [ONLINE]
more detailed account of the Bolivian water wars: series of dispatches by Jim Shultz, The Democracy Center [ONLINE]
followup story on Buffalo water system: Brian Meyer, "Study Delays Pick of Firm to Operate Water System," The Buffalo News, April 20, 2002 [ONLINE]
April 20 student presentations and wrap-up discussion
April 27 WRITE-UP OF FINAL PROJECT DUE [no class—April 20 is last class]