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Science, Technology, and Society

The program for Science and Technology Studies at Brown operates under the premise that students and scholars in the field of science and technology studies want to know how scientific knowledge is produced. STS believes that the idealized accounts of knowledge production entrenched in our scientific belief system are inadequate, given the complexity of the process they claim to describe.

STS scholars seek to understand how science operates by analyzing historical case studies, observing contemporary scientists at work, examining representations of scientific ideas in textbooks or journals, and studying the infrastructure of scientific institutions.

This interdisciplinary field brings together anthropologists, philosophers, historians, art historians, literary theorists, sociologists and practicing scientists and technologists. In addition to offering an undergraduate concentration program in Science and Society, Brown also offers interdisciplinary courses under the same rubric.

For more information on STS at Brown, please visit:

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STS 0392. The Phoenix and the Hummingbird: Natural History from Antiquity to Evolution.

Scientists love to solve mysteries. From the philosophers of antiquity to pioneers of Biology, the study of nature has focused on the creatures that have most puzzled humankind. These have inspired natural histories: encompassing studies covering everything that could be known about an animal –from what it symbolized and how it behaved to its place in the natural order. By looking at issues of truth and its relationship to myth, direct experience, and nature’s systematization, this course provides an introduction to the history of science through what naturalists have written about the more mystifying creatures in the natural world.

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STS 0700B. Science and Social Controversy.

In this course we examine the institution of science and its relations to the social context in which it is embedded. Scientific objectivity, scientific consensus, scientific authority, and the social and moral accountability of scientists will be considered in the context of discussing such controversies as: the AIDS epidemic, climate change, science and religion, the Manhattan Project, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, genetic and pharmacological enhancement, the role of drug companies in science and medicine, psychiatric diagnosis and medication, robotics, and the implications of neuroscience for free will and moral responsibility. Enrollment limited to 20 first year students and sophomores. WRIT

Fall STS0700B S01 16156 Th 4:00-6:30(04) (J. Poland)
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STS 1000. Introduction to Science and Society: Theories and Controversies.

What is "science"? How do scientific ideas become knowledge? What is the nature of scientific objectivity, how can it be compromised? What is a scientific community, scientific consensus, and scientific authority? What roles does science play in our culture, and how is science related to other social institutions and practices? The interdisciplinary field of science studies is introduced through exploration of topics that include: gender and race, psychiatric classification, the drug industry, science and religion, and the use of nuclear weapons during World War II. Enrollment limited to 30 sophomores, juniors, seniors; others may enroll with permission of instructor. WRIT

Spr STS1000 S01 24554 TTh 10:30-11:50(09) (J. Richards)
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STS 1700C. Science and Technology Policy in the Global South.

Junior-senior seminar exploring the relationships among science, technology, society, and public policymaking in the Global South. Exemplar countries are South Africa, Brazil, India, and China. Biotech, nanotech, public health, environment, and science training policies are among those closely examined. Three writing assignments, plus electronic conversations with counterparts in the Global South.

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STS 1700N. Race, Science, and Society: Genomics and Beyond.

Why are drugs being marketed as racial saviors? What does biotechnology have to do with race? This course introduces students to interdisciplinary approaches to the study of race in science and society as an integrated natural and social scientific endeavor. Using a team-based pedagogy, interdisciplinary groups of natural and social science concentrators will explore real-world problems like validating knowledge about racial difference, the relationship between politics and science, and the newest findings in such scientific fields as anthropology, epidemiology, and cognitive science. Enrollment limited to 20. S/NC

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STS 1700P. Neuroethics.

In this course, we will examine ethical, social, and philosophical issues raised by developments in the neurosciences. Topics will include: neurodevelopment and the emergence of persons; the impact of child abuse on brain development; aging, brain disease, and mental decline; life extension research; strategies and technologies for enhancement of human traits; "mind-reading" technologies; agency, autonomy, and excuse from responsibility; error and bias in memory; mind control; neuroscientific and evolutionary models of religious belief and moral judgement. Enrollment limited to 20. Instructor permission required.

Spr STS1700P S01 24550 T 4:00-6:30(16) (J. Poland)
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STS 1700V. The Changing Arctic Environment: Science, Society and Politics.

The Arctic has become a lens through which to understand the world. An unstable Arctic poses threats not only to the future of the Arctic but the world itself. This seminar will explore the Arctic as a region and the challenges it faces due to climate change, the rising conflicts over its vast mineral reserves, and the competing interests within the nations. The course is intended for students who are interested in Science, Technology and Society, Environmental Studies, Environmental Policy, and International Relations. There are no prerequisites for this class.

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STS 1701C. The First Scientific Americans: Exploring Nature in Latin America, 1500-1800.

Who were the “first scientists” in the Americas?, what exactly do we mean by “science” in this context?, and what has amounted to “America” in the past? Focusing on present-day Latin America, this seminar analyses the links between the exploration of the New World and scientific discovery in the early modern period. We will explore issues of primacy (why have both empires and scientists cared about “arriving first”); the nature of science (what kind of knowledge has been considered “scientific” in different periods); and locality in knowledge production (was there something special about the New World in fostering scientific thinking).

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STS 1701Q. The Fate of the Coast.

This seminar focuses on what happens when science, politics and money intersect in a highly contested venue,in this case, the coast; the nation’s most beloved and highly valued landscape. These issues form the heart of this seminar. Though the course will focus on the saltwater coasts of the contiguous 48 United States, it will also discuss the fate of low-lying island nations and other countries vulnerable to sea level rise; engineering efforts around the world to cope with the problem; and legal issues relating to climate refugees here and abroad, driven from their homes by rising seas.

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STS 1900. Senior Seminar in Science and Society.

This is an advanced seminar that uses a Problem Based Learning style pedagogy to explore real-world problems in STS. To solve assigned problems students will want to explore critical scholarship in areas such as laboratory studies, feminist science and technology studies, the rhetoric and discourse of science and technology, expertise and the public understanding of science. Course is intended for Science and Society senior concentrators, but is open to others with appropriate background. Enrollment limited to 20. WRIT

Fall STS1900 S01 16155 T 4:00-6:30(09) (J. Poland)
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STS 1970. Independent Study in Science and Society.

Independent reading and research work in Science and Society is available to students who have completed introductory and intermediate level work in Science and Society. A decision to enroll must be made via consultation with the concentration advisor and the faculty advisor for the course. Section numbers vary by instructor. Please check Banner for the correct section number and CRN to use when registering for this course. Prerequisite: STS 1400. Open to junior and senior concentrators in Science and Society; instructor permission required.

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STS 1971. Independent Study in Science and Society.

Independent reading and research work in Science and Society is available to students who have completed introductory and intermediate level work in Science and Society. A decision to enroll must be made via consultation with the concentration advisor and the faculty advisor for the course. Section numbers vary by instructor. Please check Banner for the correct section number and CRN to use when registering for this course. Prerequisite: STS 1400. Open to junior and senior concentrators in Science and Society; instructor permission required.

Science, Technology, and Society

Science, Technology, and Society (STS, formerly Science and Society) is an interdisciplinary concentration that examines the processes of scientific discovery and the establishment of scientific policies and systems of belief from historical, philosophical, anthropological, and sociological perspectives. Concentrators analyze the practices, norms, and values that reflect and shape our deepest convictions about what is considered "science." Students select courses in the physical sciences, life sciences, or mathematics and choose a thematic track that may include the history and philosophy of science; gender and science; race, science and ethnicity; health and medicine; environment and society; or they may create their own independent focus. STS prepares students to follow, guide, and shape scientific knowledge as it travels from the laboratory into the public arena.


Consisting of 12 courses, the program of study outlined below will be developed by each student in consultation with the concentration advisor. Where appropriate, independent reading, lab courses or GISPS may count for up to three of the twelve total courses. Students will take a minimum of 7 intermediate to advanced courses.

Required Courses (2)

The concentration has two required courses.

  • STS 1000 : Introduction to Science and Society: Theories and Controversies, or equivalent introductory course: usually taken in the second or third year.
  • STS 1900 : Senior Seminar in Science and Society, also open to non-majors with the proper background, usually taken senior year.

Thematic Track (3)

Students will organize their course of study around the choice of a thematic track. The theme may be thought of as the applied content portion of the concentration. Students will take a minimum of three courses, at least one of which must be at an advanced level, in one of the thematic areas listed below:

  • History & Philosophy of Science
  • Gender & Science
  • Race, Science & Ethnicity
  • Health & Medicine
  • Representing Science in Literature & Culture
  • Policy, Persuasion & the Rhetoric of Science
  • Environment & Society
  • Independent Focus

Science Track (4)

Students will take a minimum of four courses in one of the following scientific areas: physical sciences, life sciences, mathematics/computer science. The chosen area should provide appropriate background and support for the chosen concentration theme. The science courses will be sequenced such that a concentrator will move enough beyond the introductory level to gain some understanding of the world view of scientists within a chosen field. The particular sequence of courses which best meets the science requirement will be chosen in consultation with the concentration advisor. When necessary, the concentration advisor will seek guidance from faculty within the chosen scientific field.

Science and Technology Studies Theory (3)

Students will take three Science and Technology Studies-related courses in the social sciences and humanities. These courses, which will provide critical theoretical background for the study of Science and Society, should address questions of historiography, epistemology and methodology in the field of science and technology studies. A full list of such courses and sample concentrations may be found at


To qualify for Honors a student must:

  • Be in good standing
  • Have completed at least two thirds of the concentration requirements by the application deadline
  • Have earned a majority of “A” grades in the concentration. Classes taken S/NC will count as qualifying towards that majority if they are marked “S with distinction” or are accompanied by a Course Performance Report indicating that had the student taken the course for a grade, the grade would have been an “A.”