School of Social and Political Science

Controversies in Medicine, Technology & Environment


Developments in science and technology have often generated fierce public controversy. Contemporary examples include genetically modified organisms, climate change, and embryo research. How can we understand such controversies? And what are the implications for science-society relations?

Focusing on controversies in science and technology – particularly publicly visible controversies – this course introduces methods and concepts from Science and Technology Studies for analysing and understanding them.

Topics to be covered include:

  • Genetics, cloning and Dolly the sheep
  • Scientific regulation and citation analysis
  • Gender representation

Themes include:

  • What tools do we have for making sense of controversies?
  • Risk, legitimacy, and authority
  • ‘Experts’ and ‘publics’ in controversies
  • How do scientists design the models they work with?
  • Do controversies end?

The course offers a range of analytical tools to address controversies, broadly understood as any instance of disagreement around scientific, technological, medical or environmental issues. You will be exposed to different methods that will enable you to better understand how the actors involved in the controversies and their arguments evolve over time. 

By introducing historical, sociological, philosophical and political science perspectives, we seek to overcome simplistic views of controversies as easily solvable debates between truth and falsehood. 

We also present controversies as involving actors outside the scientific community and reflect on normative agendas for not only studying but also critically intervening in controversies. 

Each method will be illustrated with concrete examples from the literature in Science and Technology Studies. At the end of each session, you will be able to test the methodologies by collaboratively analysing a real-world controversy.

This is a level 10 course with 20 credits

There will be 2 hours per week in Semester 2