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Department of Culture and Communication
E38.2160.001.SP06: Values embodied in information & communication technologies

Instructor: Helen Nissenbaum
Mondays 4:55-7:05; 25-W4 C-16

Virtually all parts of our lives are touched by computing and information technology. It mediates much private and public communication, interaction, and transaction, and forms the infrastructure for critical social and institutional functions such as commerce, banking and finance, utilities, national defense, education, entertainment, and more. Given the ubiquity of these systems and the confidence we have invested in them, it is important to step back and consider what the wholesale commitment to this technology means for moral, social, and political values. Our course undertakes this mission by investigating how computers and information systems promote and obscure the values to which we, individually and as societies are committed, values such as freedom, privacy, justice and autonomy. We call this investigation the study of values "embodied in" computer and information systems.

The course follows two paths. The first takes us through social commentary and key works in the philosophy and social study of technology that seek to understand the rich and sometimes troubling relationship between development and deployment of technology, on the one hand, and social and political factors, on the other. We address questions such as: Does technology make the world better, or worse? Is technology neutral? Who should be in charge of directing technological development ? What is the role of scientists and engineers? The second path directs us through the arena or information and communication technologies as we consider how the general questions and theories of the first path apply to ICT and new media.

The course welcomes students with a variety of backgrounds, including technical computer science and engineering students interested in learning about social, political, and ethical implications of their field, as well as students with humanistic, social science, and communications backgrounds interested in learning about the technology behind digitally mediated communication and experience.

1) Available on Blackboard
2) Weston, A, A Rulebook for Arguments. 3rd. edition (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000)
3) Norman, D. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Doubleday, 1989

Blackboard Course Homepage
The course homepage includes the most up-to-date schedule as well as course requirements, readings, and announcements. In addition, you will find external links and an online discussion board.

Requirements and Grading Policy
Students are expected to attend all classes, complete assigned readings before class, and turn in readings responses each week. Grades will be assessed according to four criteria: participation (in-class, online, and written responses to readings), a short paper due mid-term, a collaborative project presentation, and a term paper.

***To pass the class, students must pass each of the four elements.

25% Participation (attendance, in-class and online, responses to readings)
15% Short paper (3-4 pp)
20% Project presentation
40% Term paper (12-15 pp)

Schedule (Bibliographic details are available on Blackboard)

Jan 23 Introduction and Course Overview

Jan 30 The Landscape of Technology and Human Values
Ellul, J. The “autonomy” of the technological phenomenon
Introna,L.& H. Nissenbaum, Shaping the web: Why the politics of search engines matters
Winner, L. Do artifacts have politics

Feb 6 Technology as a force for good or evil
Weinberg, A.M. Can technology replace social engineering?
Postman, N. Five things we need to know about technological change
Dreyfus, H. Heidegger on gaining a free relation to technology
Barlow, J.P. Coming into the country

Feb 13 Technological Alternatives
Heikkerö, T. Focal things and practices - in the west and in Japan
Johnson, D. & D. Post, The new civic virtue of the Internet
Mitcham, C. In memoriam: Ivan Illich: critic of professionalized design
Mumford, L. Authoritarian and democratic technics

Feb 20 Values Embodied in Technology
Bowker, G. & L. Star, Sorting things out: classification and its consequences (excerpts)
Friedman, B & H. Nissenbaum, Bias in computer systems
Latour, B. Where are the missing masses? The sociology of a few mundane artifacts
Weber, R. Manufacturing gender in military cockpit design

Feb 27 Social Construction of Technical Systems
Cowan, R. S. How the Refrigerator Got Its Hum
Hughes, T. Networks of power: electrification in western society, 1880-1930
Joerges, B. Do politics have artefacts?
Pfaffenberger, B. Technological dramas
Pinch,T & W. Bijker, The social construction of facts and artifacts

Mar 6 Social Constructivism and its Critics
Brey, P. Philosophy of technology meets social constructivism
MacKenzie D., and J. Wajcman. Introduction: The social shaping of technology
Winner, L. Upon opening the black box and finding it empty

Mar 13 Midterm break (Spyware workshop March 16-17)

Mar 20 Practices of Embedding Values I
Bentham, J. Panopticon; or the inspection house
Flanagan, M., D. Howe & H. Nissenbaum. Values in design: theory and practice.
Norman, D. The design of everyday things (excerpts)

Mar 27 Values: What Values? Whose Values?
Berlin, I. Two concepts of liberty
Constitution of the United States of America: Bill of Rights
Mitcham, C. Values and valuing
Nagel, T. The fragmentation of value

Apr 3 The Case of the Internet
Abbate, J. Inventing the Internet
Agre, P. Peer-to-peer and the promise of Internet equality
Agre, P. Real-time politics: The Internet and the political process
Lessig, L. The law of the horse: what Cyberlaw might teach
Shirky, C. Social software and the politics of groups

Apr 10 Practices of Embedding Values II
Friedman, B., P. Kahn, & A. Borning. Value sensitive design and information systems
Sengers, P., Boehner, K., David, S. & Kaye, J. Reflective design
Perry, J., E. Macken, N. Scott, and J. McKinley, Disability, inability, and cyberspace

Apr 17 Spillover

Apr 24 Project presentations

May 1 Project presentations

Course Project

Teams of two or three – ideally, with diverse backgrounds -- will collaborate on course projects investigating connections between ICT systems and social, political, and/or ethical systems. Depending on members’ interests, expertise, and skills, teams may pursue projects ranging over a variety of topics and forms. Some teams might describe and analyze particular systems, e.g. IM, Facebook, a particular video game, Wikipedia; or types of systems, e.g. auction sites, peer-production, email; or system fragments, e.g. specific interface features, access features, security features. Some teams might choose to include a design component, or even build a prototype of a particular system, or aspect of a system, indicating how their projects relate to a particular value or values.

Each group will assign some sort of assignment for the class, e.g. an article to read, a system to try out, a website to visit, etc.

Recommended steps:

Select topic and collaborator(s)

Decide on a focus

Construct bibliography and select the assigment for the class

Decide on presentation format

Divide content between (among) collaborators for individual final papers.

Email Helen Nissenbaum
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