Director of Graduate Programs: Abby Kinchy
Department Home Page: http://www.rpi.edu/dept/sts/
The Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) conducts interdisciplinary teaching and research on the human dimensions of science and technology. The department also provides undergraduate instruction in anthropology, history, political science, and sociology. Department faculty members are drawn from these disciplines and from philosophy and psychology as well as a range of interdisciplinary fields. Wherever individuals work and live, they should understand the ways in which all aspects of society influence, and are influenced by, science and technology. Rather than holding a view that divides science and technology from human values and society, STS recognizes both the social aspects of science and technology and the scientific and technological dimensions of human existence.
Research and Innovation Initiatives
The STS Department is an interconnected community of scholars, activists, and students invested in studying science and technology from multiple perspectives. The strength of the department lies in its intellectual diversity, spanning anthropology, design, geography, history, philosophy, political science, sociology, and social psychology. Theoretical approaches encompass critical policy studies, cognitive sciences, cultural theory, ethics, linguistics/semiotics, political economy, simulation/ethnomathematics, and social theory. Objects of study span the natural, the artificial, and the social worlds. Research within the department has focused on the environment, health, information technology and media, engineering, and design. The STS Department is a place where faculty and students pursue studies of power, gender, race, colonialism, and the interactions between research and activism. This matrix of disciplines, theoretical approaches, objects of study, and topical issues informs the scholarship of the department and creates an open, productive, and collaborative intellectual location from which to explore the multifaceted relationships among science, technology, and human existence.
Rensselaer’s STS Department was among the world’s first to initiate a Science and Technology Studies bachelor of science degree program in 1983. Today, Rensselaer is a leader among educational institutions that grant degrees in the field, and the department offers a range of interdisciplinary programs with intellectual foundations in Science and Technology Studies. Each of these programs prepares students for life and work in our technoscientific society.
Science, Technology, and Society B.S.
Sustainability Studies B.S.
Design, Innovation, and Society B.S.
Many students choose a dual major in one of our programs and a more traditional program in engineering, business management, or the sciences, provide. Some graduates will attend professional schools to study corporate or patent law, medicine, policy analysis, or the management of science and technology. Others will use the program to obtain broad exposure in the social sciences and humanities prior to committing to a single discipline for graduate studies. Those entering the job market directly following graduation will find a growing need in non-profits, consulting firms, major corporations, and government agencies for their unique combination of technical competence and conceptual, writing, and speaking abilities. By building an educational foundation upon an understanding of the contemporary technoscientific world, STS students maintain a distinct advantage over traditional liberal arts graduates.
Outcomes of the Undergraduate Curriculum
Students who successfully complete this program will be able to demonstrate:
- an ability to analyze social change as evidenced by the history of science and technology, recognizing uneven distributions of wealth and rights.
- critical thinking abilities with respect to contemporary social problems, recognizing the matrix of factors (economic, technical, biophysical, cultural, etc.) that shape problems and constrain solutions.
- an ability to analyze multiple viewpoints and cultural differences, incorporating global perspective and social responsibility.
- an ability to creatively access, interpret, and communicate research resources.
- an ability to apply social science and humanities knowledge to real-world challenges.
The STS Department offers a range of minors with foundations in STS:
Science, Technology, and Society Minor
Sustainability Studies Minor
Special Undergraduate Opportunities
Accelerated STS-Law Program
In cooperation with Albany Law School and Columbia University Law School, Rensselaer offers a unique program leading to the B.S. and Juris Doctor (J.D.) in six years rather than the usual seven. Admission to this program is restricted. For Albany Law School, most students are admitted as incoming first-year students. Selected applicants must meet the admission requirements of Albany Law School of Union University. Thus a prospective STS-law student may be able to assure admission to law school prior to beginning an undergraduate career at Rensselaer. Transfer from other Rensselaer curricula to this program is limited to students who have demonstrated academic excellence.
Although guaranteed admission to Albany Law School is only available to selected first-year students, conditional admission is available to accepted Rensselaer students who meet specified achievement levels in their undergraduate program. Accelerated Law students have also applied successfully to such law schools as Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, and the University of Virginia for early admission. The STS Department provides whatever assistance possible for such students. Students should notify the STS undergraduate adviser before the end of the sophomore year to communicate that they wish to be nominated.
Five Year B.S.-M.S.
A five-year combined B.S.-M.S. program is available for Rensselaer undergraduates who wish to earn a graduate degree in STS. Students may apply to the program on completion of their sophomore year.
The STS Department offers Science and Technology Studies graduate programs leading to the Master of Science and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Fields of inquiry encompass the historical, political, and social dimensions of technological civilization. Faculty from a broad range of disciplines mentor students in learning the conceptual frameworks, research methods, and capacities needed to contribute to forefront scholarship in the service of a more just, democratic, and environmentally sustainable world.
A significant fraction of the faculty is interested in environmental sustainability and/or in technological design, but would-be STS scholars of every variety are welcome. Research projects range broadly from the science/politics of asthma to the philosophy of biology, from ethnomathematics to robotics and other emerging technological risks/opportunities, from feminist and anti-racist theory to the history of computing. Some faculty orient their research explicitly to illuminate and criticize selected facets of contemporary technoscience and the consumer culture it facilitates, while other faculty conduct scholarship with a more purely disciplinary or interdisciplinary focus.
A majority of graduate students in recent years have pursued ethnographic fieldwork as an important component of their dissertations, but there is no formal or informal departmental restriction on acceptable methods and approaches. Many dissertations focus on issues outside the U.S.; the gun culture of Guatemala, the importation of hormone replacement therapy to Turkey, sanitation for the poorest urban dweller in Mumbai. Other graduate students focus on domestic topics, from military communications technologies to organizations opposing mountain top removal in Appalachia. Dissertations based in social movement theory, democratic theory, philosophy of technoscience, public policy, archival research, simulation, discourse analysis, and other methods are considered equally valid.
For a full list of dissertations and faculty research projects, please see the department Web site.
Courses for all STS curricula are described in the Course Descriptions section of this catalog under the department codes STSH and STSS. Students often take courses in other departments appropriate to their specific interests.
Campbell, N.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz); drugs and pharmaceutical policy, gender and feminist theory, bioethics, neuroscience.
Eglash, R.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz); African studies, anthropology, black history, cybernetics and virtual communities, math and science education.
Winner, L.—Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley); political theory, politics of technology.
Woodhouse, E.J.—Ph.D. (Yale University); science and technology policy, democratic theory, sustainability studies.
Akera, A.—Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania); history of scientific and technical computing, history of engineering education, innovation studies.
Breyman, S.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara); political economy of environment, science, and society.
Kinchy, A.J.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin-Madison); sociology, social movements, food and agriculture, environment, politics of biotechnology, expertise.
Nieusma, D.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); technological sustainability and development; interdisciplinary design and engineering pedagogy.
Malazita, J.—Ph.D. (Drexel University); critical design; games and techno-artistic media; body modification; literature and science.
Cook, C.—Ph.D. (Texas Woman’s University); sociology and health.
Sohasky, K.—Ph.D. (Johns Hopkins University); history and intersections of politics and science.
Caporael, L.R.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara); human evolutionary theory; decision making, social psychology, interpersonal dimensions of computing.
*Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions, including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster section of this catalog, which is current as of the May 2017 Board of Trustees meeting.