Jul 23, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2013-2014 
Rensselaer Catalog 2013-2014 [Archived Catalog]

Science and Technology Studies

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Departments

Acting Head: Linnda R. Caporael

Director of Graduate Programs: Edward Woodhouse

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 as well as from philosophy and psychology. Wherever individuals work and live, they must understand the ways in which all aspects of society influence, and are influenced by, science and technology. Rather than holding a divided view of science and technology verses 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 Science and Technology Studies Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is an interconnected network of scholars, activists, and students invested in studying science and technology from multiple perspectives. The strength of the department lies in its intellectual diversity. The department has faculty members trained in and students studying the traditional disciplines of 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 range from the material to artificial worlds. Research within the department has focused on the environment, health, information technology, engineering, and design. The Science and Technology Studies 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 inform the scholarship of the department and creates an open, productive, and collaborative intellectual location from which to engage in exploring the multifaceted relationships among science, technology, and human existence.

Undergraduate Programs

The Department of Science and Technology Studies initiated a bachelor of science degree program in 1983. Rensselaer is a leader among the many American colleges and universities that grant degrees in the field. The STS degree program—Science, Technology, and Society (STS)—is a liberal arts program that prepares students for life and work in a technoscience-based society. Many STS majors choose a dual major in management, science, or engineering. 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 the M.S. or Ph.D. Those entering the job market directly following graduation will find a growing need in consulting firms, major corporations, and government agencies for their unique combination of technical competence and conceptual, writing, and speaking abilities. The Rensselaer STS graduate, therefore, has a distinct advantage over other liberal arts graduates.

Dual Major Programs

Many STS majors choose to fulfill the requirements for a second major. For example, a pre-med student taking courses in medicine, biology and public health in the STS major may pursue a dual major with biology, or an STS major taking courses on engineering, information technology, or design may pursue a dual major with engineering, computer science, or information technology. There are dozens of other dual major possibilities.

For those students who are interested in a degree that emphasizes both science and technology and environmental issues there is an opportunity to pursue a dual major in Economics and Science, Technology and Society. This combination of majors combines the best of both departments – economic analysis and a broader humanities and social science analysis that emphasize the roles science and technology play in today’s global economy and culture.

Minor Programs

The STS department offers a minor in STS. In addition, STS administers minors in several traditional HASS disciplines; interdepartmental minors in Ecological Economics, Values, and Policy (EEVP); Gender, Science, and Technology; Sustainable Studies; and the Interschool Minor in Energy. These minors are described in the Programs section of this catalog. Requirements for a minor include a total of at least 16 credit hours, eight of which must be at the 4000 level. No Pass/Fail courses may be applied to a minor, and only one transfer or AP course may count for four to six credits. For further information on forming a minor, see the departmental adviser.

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 inform him 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.

Graduate Programs

STS graduate programs lead to the Master of Science and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees in a field of inquiry encompassing 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 for project choice necessary 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, philosopy 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.

Course Descriptions

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.

Faculty *


Campbell, N.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz); drugs and pharmaceutical policy, gender and feminist theory, bioethics, neuroscience.

Caporael, L.R.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara); human evolutionary theory; decision making, social psychology, interpersonal dimensions of computing.

Eglash, R.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz); African studies, anthropology, black history, cybernetics and virtual communities, math and science education.

Fortun, K.—Ph.D. (Rice University); environmental sciences and politics, environmentalism, and the law, ethnographic methods.

Layne, L.—Ph.D. (Princeton University); medicine and culture, new reproductive technologies, popular images of nature, feminist methods, emerging faculty structures.

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.

Associate Professors 

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.

Fortun, M.—Ph.D. (Harvard University); historical and ethnographic studies of genomics, life sciences and critical scientific literacy.

Assistant Professors

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 pedagogy.

Masacarenhas, M.—Ph.D. (Michigan State University); environmental racism and environmental justice, science and technology studies, political economy, and development and globalization.

Adjunct Instructor

Swearingen, J.—Ph.D. (University of Chicago); east Asian history, modern European history, international relations.

*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 2013 Board of Trustees meeting.

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Departments