CS 16: Critical Theory of Technology — Fall 2021


Class announcements will be posted here and/or sent as email. You are expected to check your email frequently for class announcements. All assignments and readings are posted on the class Schedule.

Class Info

  • Student Facilitators: Alison Kim & Sidhika Tripathee

    • Office Hours: in CS Hallway

      • Sidhika and Alison: by appointment

  • Sponsoring Professors: Kevin Webb & Edwin Mayorga

    • Kevin’s office hours (SCI 255): Thursdays 11:30 AM - 1:30 PM or by appointment

    • Edwin’s office hours: By appointment

  • Class: Tuesday / Thursday, 9:55am - 11:10am, Science Center 246

  • Readings: Google Drive

Course Description and Goals

When we take away the technical, coding aspects of Computer Science, what’s left? This course aims to explore this question through a holistic pedagogical approach to the questions that aspiring computer scientists as well as users of technology must confront. What are the detrimental effects of the ways in which exponential production and use of technical products come to reinforce inequalities around the globe? What are the beauties and blooming potentials of the digital age? How can we come to oscillate within that dyadic tension of criticism and hope? How can conversations about tech colonialism, disability theory, critical race theory, etc. come to enhance our understanding about who is propelling the trajectory and direction of where technology is headed?

This course will also heavily integrate trauma-based pedagogy as well as the space to reflect on one’s own educational experiences at Swarthmore College. Clearly this is a unique course style. How can we take agency in the type and modes of learning that serve our best interests? What is information worth paying attention to and how can we form spaces of community to have these conversations?

Role of Student Facilitators

The student facilitators have created the syllabus as well as the general curriculum for each week. Our main goal is for the classroom to collectively engage with the readings that spark fruitful dialogue and highlight myriad perspectives. While we completely endorse the spirit of an autonomous, free-spirited discussion, having some relative structure will guide in streamlining the collective engagement regarding the topic at hand. The student facilitators will be in charge of starting off activities, facilitating discussions, assigning written assignments, and hosting guest speakers.

Role of Professor(s)

The professor(s) may sit in on any class discussion but are not required to. They can guide and provide input on assignments. They will facilitate grading papers and other assignments.


This is a tentative schedule; it may change as we go.


Aug 31


Course introduction:
Setting the stage

No Readings!

Sep 02


How We Talk to One Another & Multi-cultural Dynamics

  1. Mohanty, Chandra. (2003). Race, Multiculturalism, and Pedagogies of Dissent. Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, 190-217.

  2. hooks, bell. (1991-1992). Theory as Liberatory Practice. Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, 4:1.

Sep 07


CS Education &
Educational studies

  1. Vakil, Sepehr. (2018). Ethics, Identity, and Political Vision: Toward a Justice-Centered Approach to Equity in Computer Science Education. Harvard Educational Review, 88.1, 26-52.

  2. Connolly, Randy. (2020). Why Computing Belongs Within the Social Sciences. Communications of the ACM, 63(8), 54-59.

  3. Ko, Amy, et al. (2020). It Is Time for More Critical CS Education. Communications of the ACM, 63(11), 31-33.

Sep 09

  1. Way, Niobe, et al. The Crisis on Connection

  2. Rosi Braidotti. Necropolitics and Ways of Dying (Youtube Video)

Optional: Mullen, Ann L. Degrees of Inequality


Sep 14


Technology and Humans: A Philosophical and Historical Examination
(Peter Baumann)

  1. Winner,Langdon. Do Artifacts Have Politics

  2. Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, "The Question Concerning Technology" pp.3-35

    Optional Readings:
    Winner,Langdon. "Upon Opening the Black Box and Finding in Empty: Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Technology," Science, Technology and Human Values (Summer 1993): 362-378.

    Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, "The Turning" pp.36-49.

Sep 16

  1. Scranton, Philip. "Determinism and Indeterminacy in the History of Technology," 144-168.

  2. Adas, Michael. Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Cornell, 1989). Introduction.

Optional Readings:
Latour, Bruno. "Technology is society made durable," pp. 103-131.


Sep 21


(Dis)ability Theory & Artificial Humans
(Madalina Meirosu)

  1. Disability Studies Reader. Disability in Theory: From Social Construction to the New Realism in the body (173)

  2. Disability Studies Reader. Dimensions of Disability Oppression: An Overview (217)

  3. Keyes, Os. Automating autism: Disability, discourse, and Artificial Intelligence, May 2020.

Sep 23

  1. Whittaker, Meredith et al. Disability, Bias, and AI, AI Now Institute.

  2. Williams, Damien. Heavenly Bodies: Why It Matters That Cyborgs Have Always Been About Disability, Mental Health, and Marginalization

Optional Reading:
Smith, Peter & Smith, Laura. Artificial intelligence and disability: too much promise, yet too little substance?


Sep 28


CS Ethics
(Ben Mitchell)

  1. Moor, James. What is Computer Ethics?

  2. Scharre, Paul. Autonomy, Killer Robots, and Human Control in the Use of Force, Part I

  3. Scharre, Paul. Autonomy, Killer Robots, and Human Control in the Use of Force, Part II

  4. Davis, Michael. Thinking Like an Engineer:The Place of a Code of Ethics in the Practice of a Profession

Sep 30


Guest Speaker: Os Keyes



Oct 05


Gender and Queer Theory in CS
(Madalina Meirosu)

  1. Haraway, Donna. Cyborg Manifesto.

Oct 07

  1. Wittig, Monique. One is not born a woman.

  2. Lorde, Audre. Uses of the Erotic.

  3. Keyes, Os. Counting the Countless

Oct 12

Fall Break

Oct 14


Oct 19


Gender and Queer Theory in CS Pt.2

  1. Cockburn, Cynthia. The Material of Male Power. Feminist Review 9: 41-58.

  2. Light, Ann. HCI as Heterodoxy: Technologies of Identity and the Queering of Interaction with Computers. Interacting with Computers 23(5): 430-38.

  3. Roen, Katrina. Transgender Theory and Embodiment: The Risk of Racial Marginalization. In The Transgender Studies Reader. Susan Stryker, Stephen Whittle, Eds. New York: Routledge, pp. 1-9.

Oct 21


No Readings!


Oct 26


Tech Colonialism
(Adrienne Benally)

  1. Shoemaker, Nancy. Typology of Colonialism (Read first)

  2. Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. Decolonization is Not a Metaphor Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012), 1-40.

  3. Suman, Seth. Colonial History and Postcolonial Science Studies Radical History Review 127 (2017, 63-85.

  4. Warwick, Anderson. Introduction: Postcolonial Technoscience Social Studies of Science 32, no. 5/6 (2002), 643-658.

Oct 28

  1. Wright, Michelle M. Racism, Technology and the Limits of Western Knowledg

  2. Amrute, Sareeta. Tech Colonialism Today

  3. Irani, Lilly, Vertesi et al. Postcolonial computing: a lens on design and development 1311-1320.

  4. Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass pages TBD.

Nov 02


Surveillance Studies
(Lila Fontes)

  1. Michel Foucault. "Panopticon." Discipline and Punishment, Vintage Books, London (1977), 200-209.

  2. Zuboff, Shoshana. Surveillance Capitalism, Public Affairs, New York (2019), 93-97, 512-525.

  3. Cyrill, Malkia. Watching the Black Body

Nov 04

  1. Lewis, Mark C. A critique of the principle of error correction as a theory of social change Language in Society 47.

  2. Kafer, Gary. Queer Surveillance

  3. Bell, Chetty, Jaravel et al. Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation

Nov 09


Critical Race Theory &
Algorithmic Bias

  1. Ruha Benjamin talk

  2. Nelson, Alondra. Future Texts Introduction.

  3. Ahmed, Sara. A phenomenology of whiteness

Nov 11

  1. Dwyer, Jones III. White socio-spatial epistemology Social & Cultural Geography, 209-222.

  2. Roberts, Dorothy. Race, Gender, and Genetic Technologies: A New Reproductive Dystopia?

  3. Ford, Clyde W. Think Black.

    Additional Reading: Roberts, Dorothy. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty.

Nov 16


Tech Orientalism pt 1.

  1. Said, Edward. Orientalism. Introduction and Chapter 1. 1-110.

Nov 18

  1. Blade Runner (Movie)

Nov 23


Tech Orientalism pt 2.

  1. Roh, Huang, Niu. Techno Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media.
    Technologizing Orientalism, An Introduction

  2. Allan, Kathryn. Chapter 11, Reimagining Asian Women in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk Science Fiction

  3. Ishii, Douglas. Chapter 13, Palimpsestic Orientalisms and Antiblackness

Nov 25



Nov 30


Systems and Scientific Research

  1. Meadows, Donella. A Philosophical Look at System Dynamics

Dec 02

  1. Nowotny, Helga. The Cunning of Uncertainty

  2. Ullman, Ellen. Close to the Machine. Chapter 1.

Dec 07


Final Class: Moving Forward, seeds of repair, reparations.

  1. Jackson, Steven. Rethinking Repair

Course Expectations and Assignments


For full participation credit, students will be expected to:

  • attend all classes (unless excused in advance),

  • complete the assigned readings before class,

  • and engage in discussions (whether that be listening/talking or both).

  • Students are NOT required to talk every class session if they are uncomfortable, but students will be expected to reflect on the readings through written assignments.

Weekly Student-Led Discussion

On the first day of class, students will choose two weeks that they are interested in leading discussion for that class along with one other group member. Group members will meet to prepare material and plan discussion before the assigned class session (make sure to note down your group members’ names and contact info before your assigned class time).

Students will be required to create a ~10 minute presentation which includes an analytical summary of the main arguments for the readings for that day (much more brief than your outline). You must also identify key terms, highlight key quotes and include questions to guide discussion. After your presentation, you are expected to help guide discussion through questions you come up with. Please also complete a reflection paper on the readings for this week with more details outlined below.

Students are HIGHLY encouraged to come to office hours to go over the presentation materials before class.

What we expect you should do in order to successfully lead class:

Present/Summarize Key concepts: You should begin with a brief (≤15-minute) presentation of the main ideas/arguments/key concepts of the readings. Your goal will be to ensure that all seminar participants come to a deep understanding of these key concepts and the main arguments/ideas in your assigned readings.

Facilitate discussion: You should have a flexible plan for guiding our discussion through the key elements of the assigned portion of readings. Your primary goal is to raise questions, critiques, and dilemmas that compel us to think more deeply about the topics under consideration. Highlight new discoveries or creative proposals and ideas. Also, be prepared to share your insights about the answers to these questions.

Think of creative ways to get discussion going. Do you want students to first discuss in pairs or small groups and then report back? Do you want everyone to address the same question? Do you want to organize a debate? Also think creatively about different tools you might want to use/try out to facilitate or enhance discussion. Will you be using Google Docs? Jamboard? Polls? to communicate and engage with the class?

We highly encourage groups to meet with the student facilitators on Monday before your presentation to go over your plan for discussion.

Grading: The following will be taken into account when determining your grade: whether you are prepared for the pre-meeting; the functionality of your framework, i.e. appropriateness and utility of questions and information presented; mastery of the subject material; clarity of explanations; guiding discussion, i.e. keeping it on point; and punctuality.

Reflection Papers

Students will be expected to choose TWO weeks to write a reflection paper based on the topics and readings covered in that particular week. The paper should reflect a thorough and critical analysis of the readings, with citations to support your assertions. Students will be expected to individually write and turn in a reflection paper for the day that their in-class presentation is due.

The paper should be APA format, double-spaced, 2-3 pages long. The paper is due the SUNDAY night of the assigned week of when the readings and presentations are due.

The rubric for the reflection paper can be found on this google doc.


Students will be expected to keep a journal that they write into at least once a week. The entries can be reflections on the week’s readings, discussion, or any questions that weren’t not explored in class. This is a safe space for students to write down any thoughts. Journal entries will be due mid-semester and at the end of the semester and will only be checked for completion. They will not be read (unless otherwise requested) by the student facilitator or the professor in order to maintain privacy of the journal writer.

Final Paper

This final paper provides students with an ample opportunity to explore and traverse a topic of their choice, given all of the academic material we have covered throughout the semester. Students will be expected to utilize the readings to provide evidence for their claims, and use critical thinking and constructive criticism to elevate their understanding of what they have been learning in the course.

The paper should be 5-7 pages in length, APA format and due TBA.

Rubric: will be released in the future.


Grades will be weighted as follows:




Weekly presentation (two weeks per semester)


Midterm presentation


Journal (graded for completion)


Final paper

Late Policy

With the exception of some specific circumstances (which will be elaborated below), all students are expected to attend every class and submit all assignments on time in order to receive full credit. However, we are willing to work with students and potentially provide accommodations on assignments that cannot be completed on time for situations like medical illness or other circumstances that are out of your control. What we ask of students is to please contact the student supervisors and/or faculty supervisors in advance of the deadline, preferably as soon as possible, explaining your situation so that we can work with each student on an expectation that meets their needs as well as ours.

If you feel that you need an extension on an assignment or that you are unable to attend class for two or more meetings due to a medical condition (e.g., extended illness, concussion, hospitalization) or other emergencies, you must contact the dean’s office and your instructors. Faculty will coordinate with the deans to determine and provide the appropriate accommodations. Note that for illnesses, the College’s medical excuse policy states that you must be seen and diagnosed by the Worth Health Center if you would like them to contact your class dean with corroborating medical information.

Academic Accommodations

If you believe you need accommodations for a disability or a chronic medical condition, please contact Student Disability Services (via email at studentdisabilityservices@swarthmore.edu) to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs. As appropriate, the office will issue students with documented disabilities or medical conditions a formal Accommodations Letter. Since accommodations require early planning and are not retroactive, please contact Student Disability Services as soon as possible.

For details about the accommodations process, visit the Student Disability Services website.

You are also welcome to privately contact Professor Kevin Webb, Professor Edwin Mayorga, or the student facilitators to discuss your academic needs. However, please note that all disability-related accommodations must be arranged, in advance, through Student Disability Services. To receive an accommodation for a course activity you must have an official Accommodations Letter and you need to meet a member of the course staff to work out the details of your accommodation at least two weeks prior to any activity requiring accommodations.

Academic Integrity

This course operates under the assumption that all members take personal responsibility to adhere to the College’s academic policies. Evidence of academic misconduct will result in the processes described on the website linked above.