Course syllabus


TEK226 Technology and society, study period 2, autumn term 2021 (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 scientific and technological concepts, specifically

  • geometry
  • mechanics and mechanism
  • motors and heat engines
  • cybernetics
  • algorithms and artificial intelligence

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 4 November, 13.15-15.00    Introduction: JUDGEMENT AND WISDOM IN ENGINEERING
Location: SB-H1                                

Tuesday 9 November, 13.15-15.00 or 15.15-17.00   Group exercise: “LET NO ONE IGNORANT OF GEOMETRY ENTER”
Location: SB-Multisal

Thursday 11 November-Monday 15 November   Lecture: “LET NO ONE IGNORANT OF GEOMETRY ENTER”
Location: Canvas                                  

Tuesday 16 November, 13.15-15.00 or 15.15-17.00    Group exercise: "MANTENERE LO STATO"
Location: SB-Multisal

Thursday 18 November-Monday 22 November   Lecture: "MANTENERE LO STATO"
Location: Canvas   

Tuesday 23 November, 13.15-15.00 or 15.15-17.00    Group exercise: THE MECHANICS OF HUMAN NATURE
Location: SB-Multisal

Thursday 25 November-Monday 29 November   Lecture: THE MECHANICS OF HUMAN NATURE
Location: Canvas                               

Tuesday 30 November, 13.15-15.00 or 15.15-17.00    Group exercise: THE MOTOR OF HISTORY
Location: SB-Multisal               

Thursday 2 December-Monday 6 December  Lecture: THE MOTOR OF HISTORY
Location: Canvas                                                     

Tuesday 7 December, 13.15-15.00 or 15.15-17.00    Group exercise 1: COMPUTER WORLD
Location: SB-Multisal                          

Thursday 9 December-Monday 13 December    Lecture: COMPUTER WORLD
Location: Canvas       

Tuesday 14 December, 13.15-15.00 or 15.15-17.00    Group exercise 2: COMPUTER WORLD
Location: SB-Multisal                                                    

Thursday 16 December-Friday 17 December   Wrap-up: JUDGEMENT AND WISDOM REDUX
Location: Canvas                                 

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.

Weekly cycle 2: "MANTENERE LO STATO"

Machiavelli, Niccolo (2014 |{1532}) The Prince. 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 4: 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.

Weekly cycle 5: COMPUTER WORLD

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.

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 class is divided into two sections for this exercise - section A and section B. Section A is scheduled between 13.15 and 15.00, section B between 15.15 and 17.00.
  • The groups working together during the Tuesday sessions may digitally submit a short note based on work during the group session.
  • The themes will then be further discussed in the online short lectures - lecturettes - which are pre-recorded and posted on Canvas by the tutor. During these sessions, the tutor will also introduce the key "classic" reading for the week. Along with the lectures, students will also find quiz questions related to the lecturette on Canvas.

The first weekly cycle starts on Monday the 8th of November. The students may then answer study questions on Canvas - the answers are to be submitted before the first group exercise will be held, on the subsequent Tuesday. The lecturettes will be posted online on Thursday, to be viewed whenever the student can find the time - on the Thursday, Friday of the week (or potentially on the Monday of the subsequent week). In order to complete this exercise, students will answer quiz questions on the material from the lecturettes.

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 Tuesday of each weekly cycle, between 11.30 and 12.00. The office hour is on Zoom.


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 15th of December, the day before the final session of the course. This is done via uploading digital versions (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 "covid edition" of the course, but there is a change in execution. The course is now a hybrid course, with students participating through Canvas and through physical group sessions.

There is also a new weekly cycle - the one titled "Mantenere lo stato", which introduces the work of Machiavelli to the students.

Further, the class is now divided into two sections during the group sessions on Tuesday, in order to attain a more suitable number of students for the session.

Examination and evaluation

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

  • handing in individual responses to study questions before the group exercise on Tuesdays,
  • participation in group exercises
  • handing in group notes following the group exercise on Tuesdays,
  • completion of quizzes in relation to the lectures (Thursdays - Mondays),
  • the merits of the above-mentioned final report

Grading details

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

In preparation for each of the group exercises described above, students are encouraged to prepare a 100 – 200 word note before the session. Students who prepare and submit such a note will be awarded 1 point per assignment - in total, a maximum of 6 points.

Attendance and participation in the group exercise sessions is awarded with 3 points per session - in total, a maximum of 18 points.

Groups who submit a note after the group session on Tuesday will be awarded either 3 points (pass) or 5 points (high pass) per session - in total, a maximum of 30 points.

Students who view the lecturettes and complete the quiz will be awarded 3 or 4 points per lecturette - in total, a maximum of 16 points.

The final 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?). It is awarded with a maximum of 30 points.

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.

Some details regarding the evaluation:

  • Preparing notes, and participating in group exercises, is not mandatory.
  • Students who wish to prepare notes and attend sessions do not have to do it for all of the five weekly cycles listed above.
  • Writing the final group report is mandatory, unless you complete and submit all of the six group notes.