Course syllabus


TEK226 Technology and society, study period 2, autumn term 2020 (7.5 hp)

Course is offered by the division of Science, Technology and Society, at the department of Technology Management and Economics.

Contact details

Examiner and teacher: Karl Palmås, associate professor,

Teacher: Nicholas Surber, doctoral candidate,

Course aims

The course invites the student to transpose knowledge of key technological fields into the domain of society. Thus, it seeks to deepen the conceptual understanding of central technologies, while simultaneously developing the student's ability to analyse societal processes. The course also endeavours to expand the student's awareness of how the engineering and natural sciences are conceptually and historically intertwined with the social sciences and humanities.

Course content

The course will start from the students' already existing knowledge of different technologies, and then relate these to theories about society. The sessions are thus structured on the basis of technological concepts, specifically

  • mechanics and mechanism
  • motors and heat engines
  • cybernetics
  • algorithms and artificial intelligence
  • computer simulation

and their respective relation to different theories about society.

Learning objectives

- Describe theories of how societies function.
- Describe the function of different technologies, and separate these functions from their technical context.
- Identify conceptual symmetries between the function of different technologies, on the one hand, and theories about how society functions, on the other.
- Reconstruct the interconnection between the emergence of technologies and the emergence of theories of society.
- Evaluate and critique the proposition that society can be understood as a machine.

Link to the syllabus on Studieportalen: Study plan


Thursday 5 November, 13.15-15.00    Introduction: JUDGEMENT AND WISDOM IN ENGINEERING
Location: Zoom                                 

Tuesday 10 November, 13.15-15.00    Group exercise: “LET NO ONE IGNORANT OF GEOMETRY ENTER”
Location: Zoom

Wednesday 11 November-Friday 13 November   Lecture: “LET NO ONE IGNORANT OF GEOMETRY ENTER”
Location: Canvas                                  

Tuesday 17 November, 13.15-15.00    Group exercise: THE MECHANICS OF HUMAN NATURE
Location: Zoom

Wednesday 18 November-Friday 20 November   Lecture: THE MECHANICS OF HUMAN NATURE
Location: Canvas                                

Tuesday 24 November, 13.15-15.00    Group exercise: THE MOTOR OF HISTORY
Location: Zoom               

Wednesday 25 November-Friday 27 November  Lecture: THE MOTOR OF HISTORY
Location: Canvas                                 

Tuesday 1 December, 13.15-15.00      Group exercise: CYBERNETIC CONTROL
Room: SB-Multisal                           

Wednesday 2 December-Friday 4 December   Lecture: CYBERNETIC CONTROL
Location: Canvas                                 

Tuesday 8 December, 13.15-15.00    Group exercise: ALGORITHMS AND INTELLIGENCE
Location: Zoom                          

Wednesday 9 December-Friday 11 December    Lecture: ALGORITHMS AND INTELLIGENCE
Location: Canvas                                 

Thursday 17 December, 13.15-15.00   Wrap-up: THE MAP AND THE TERRITORY
Location: Zoom                                 

Course literature

All readings for the course will be supplied by the tutor as extracts posted on Canvas.

  • Firstly, there are key readings in the form of introductions from “classics” in social thought and will be presented and contextualized by the tutor during the lectures.
  • Secondly, the course will draw upon specific chapters from a textbook: Ethics, Technology and Engineering: An Introduction, by van de Poel and Royakkers.

There are also additional readings, which will be discussed in class, but are not mandatory. Students are however encouraged to acquaint themselves with the readings before the session. The main readings are the following (in the order that they are presented in the course):


Atkinson, Helen (2016) "The beginnings of wisdom: Challenges in engineering education", Engineering.


Plato (2007 {375 BC}) The Republic. London: Penguin Classics.


Hobbes, Thomas (2017 {1651}) Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil. London: Penguin Classics.

Weekly cycle 3: THE MOTOR OF HISTORY

Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich (2015 {1848}) The Communist Manifesto. London: Penguin Classics.

Tocqueville, Alexis (2000 {1840}) Democracy in America (Book 1). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


Wiener, Norbert (1989 {1950}) The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. London: Free Association Books.


Simon, Herbert (1999 {1969}) The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.


Baudrillard, Jean (1994 {1981}) Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor, MI.: University of Michigan Press.

Course design

The weekly cycle: Study questions, group exercises, lectures

This course encourages the students to approach ideas from the world of engineering, and transpose them onto theories about society. The idea is to start from concepts that the students are familiar with, and then strive to stretch this knowledge and imagination into the world of social theory. Students will be encouraged to first reflect individually on specific themes, then share their reflections with a small group of other students, and finally hear the the tutor discuss take-aways in a lecture-like format. This implies that the students will go through a three-step process that repeats five times, on a weekly basis.

  • First, they will be given study questions relating to a specific theme, and be encouraged to digitally submit their notes regarding these questions before the group exercise each week.
  • These notes will form the basis for further discussion with other students, in group exercises, which are scheduled on Tuesdays.
  • The themes will then be further discussed in the lectures, pre-recorded by the tutor. During these sessions, the tutor will also introduce the key reading for the week.

The first weekly cycle starts on Monday the 9th of November. The students may then answer questions on Canvas - the answers are to be submitted before the first group exercise will be held, on the subsequent Tuesday. The lectures will be put online, to be viewed sometime during the Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of the week. In order to complete this exercise, students will answer quiz questions on the material from the lectures.

Students who wish to ask questions in real time about material from the weekly cycle can do so during the office hour, which is on the Friday of each weekly cycle, between 11.30 and 12.00. The office hour is on Zoom. (There is no office hour on Friday the 6th of November.)


In the course, students will form groups and write a short report about the problems and ideas discussed in class. The reports are to be written by groups of 4-5 students, and should be between 1000 and 2000 words. Reports are due on Wednesday the 16th of December, the day before the final session of the course. This is done via uploading digital versions (preferably formatted as pdf-files) of the text onto Canvas.

Changes made since the last occasion

The course content is broadly based on last year's course, but there is obviously a major change in execution. The whole course is now online, and students participate through Canvas and Zoom. Lectures are now pre-recorded, and in order to facilitate feedback and questions, there is now an office hour added to the schedule.

Examination and evaluation

The students will be assigned individual grades, on the basis of

  • class participation in group exercises (handing in notes and attending Zoom exercise on Tuesdays),
  • completion of quizzes in relation to the lectures (Wednesdays - Fridays),
  • the merits of the above-mentioned report

Grading details

The grading is structured in the following way: A student can attain a maximum score of 100 points.

For each of the five weekly cycles described above, students are encouraged to prepare a 100 – 300 word note before the session. Students who prepare and submit such a note – and attend the subsequent group exercise on Zoom in order to share and discuss their answers – will be awarded 6 points for that particular session. The maximum score for class participation, then, is 30 points. Note: Preparing notes, and participating in group exercises, is not mandatory. Moreover, students who wish to prepare notes and attend sessions do not have to do it for all of the five weekly cycles listed above.

When viewing the lectures, the student will be able to complete quizzes on Canvas. The questions will related to the material presented in the online lecture. Students can gain a maximum of 5 points for each weekly quiz. Thus, the maximum score from this activity is 25 points.

The report is awarded with a maximum of 45 points. The report is assessed on the basis of content (do the propositions and arguments reflect the issues discussed during the course?) and form (are propositions and arguments clearly and succinctly communicated?).

The points are added up into a total score. Scoring 40 – 59 points yields grade 3, scoring 60 – 79 points yields grade 4, and 80 – 100 points yields grade 5.