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Module

SOC3084 : Tools of Hope & Despair. Making Sense of Uncertainty & Expectation in Society (Inactive)

  • Inactive for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Matthias Wienroth
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semesters
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0

Aims

Uncertainty is part of the human condition: we are beings who strive to understand and shape the future, yet we can only make sense of what’s to come from what we know ‘now’. Therefore, hopes, expectations and promises are important elements of making sense of the world. This module asks how Sociology can help us understand the ways in which society manages uncertainty on a specific example: Society as we know it has emerged via the development, deployment and diversification of tools. Tools enable humans to do what otherwise they would not be able to do, and they are the stuff of hope and despair: from irrigating fields to genetically modifying plants, from making a sharp stick to building unmanned drones, from understanding some of the causes of disease to preventing them or making new ones, and from developing the postal service to Snapchat. Each of these tools have generated expectations about what they can and cannot do, what they should and should not do, and how their use, perhaps even just the contemplation of their development, may impact on society. This technological society provides a lens for us to understand how society manages, uses, and despairs of uncertainty: Technologies are a particularly fertile area for expectations and promises, both sanguine and solicitous.

Over recent years, the Sociology of Expectations has emerged as a new field of interest in understanding the power of anticipatory expectations, specifically around new and emerging sciences and technologies. It traces the emergence of new relationships and new practices in and through the articulation of expectations, and has the ambition to inform social agency about the future.

Over the course of the module, students will learn about Sociological approaches to understanding uncertainty, expectation, and anticipation in the context of technology, and what mechanisms (tools and practices) currently exist to characterise and deliberate as well as shape and govern technology impacts and futures.

Key aims are
1.       To introduce learners to the Sociology of Expectations, and to the role of expectations in managing uncertainty in the technological society.
2.       To enable learners to develop the capacity to critically assess technology expectations.
3.       To provide learners with the skills to map and understand the complex approaches to, and diversity of stakeholders in the government of uncertainty in contemporary technological societies.

Outline Of Syllabus

Hope, despair, and promises – this module will explore the ways society manages uncertainty about human actions, specifically about the tools that we use to understand and shape the world.

The module is divided into three parts:

(1) Opening the discussion will be an introduction to uncertainty and expectation and their anchoring in classic (Bourdieu, Husserl, Merton, Schütz) and contemporary (Brown & Michael, Hedgecoe, Martin, Webster) sociological thought. Special emphasis will be given to the so-called anticipatory expectations in what Andrew Barry has termed the technological society.

(2) Following the theoretical outline, the module will turn to exploring examples of anticipatory narratives and practices in areas such as forensics and biometrics, nano- and digital technologies, and others, in order to trace the material aspects of uncertainty and expectations in society.

(3) The third part provides space for an in-depth exploration of key analytical concepts arising from the material practice of managing uncertainty and expectations in society, and its analysis, thus showing the relevance of these issues to a variety of key societal practices, including scientific practice, collective identities (e.g. community, nation building), policy, and wider governance in the UK and globally.

Part of the syllabus will be a visit to a local exhibition space to explore uncertainty and expectation as reflected in societal presentations of human tools.

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists

Timetable