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Module

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

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • 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

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion170:0070:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture102:0020:00Core teaching lectures
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading194:0094:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00In-depth engagement with topics
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops23:006:00Film Assessment planning & skills
Total200:00
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Learners will be made familiar with the core themes of the module in lectures. The seminars offer dedicated time for learners to critically engage with key readings and issues of the lectures and fieldwork, using activating methodology (drawing on the learners’ life world and experiences, encouraging them to consider this in their work), and small group work towards developing their poster. In preparation for one seminar, learners will be asked to visit an exhibition space (gallery, museum, public engagement space) that engages with technology in order to prepare for discussion of the exhibition topic and their interpretation of it in seminar - this will help develop their ability to critically engage with public representations of uncertainty and expectations in the technological society.
The first workshop will provide an opportunity to watch a film to observe and discuss an example of popular representation of the module. The second workshop will present an environment for learners to plan their assessment, and ask for information on skills required to deliver the assessment.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Poster1M401500 words
Essay1A602500 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The poster (500 words, likely via an adjustable MS PowerPoint template), and the connected poster brief (1000 words to explain and conceptually justify the presentation in the poster) will encourage the learner to use different modes of assessing uncertainties and expectations about a specific technology in a coherent, concise, targeted and persuasive communication to readers not familiar with the technology. It will provide students with the opportunity to approach the module from a visual perspective as well as from a textual one. The poster assessment will show how students can synthesise knowledge as well as show if they can work with different modes of representation of the module.

The essay component will assess the learner’s understanding of uncertainty and expectation in the sociological epistemology, testing their capacity to critically engage with the module subject. Learners will be encouraged to apply their knowledge to an empirical example.

Reflecting moves to standardise a resit assessment strategy within GPS, the resit will be 100% formal examination, length 3 hours.

Reading Lists

Timetable