2023-2024 / SPOL0099-1

Policy and socio-technical change


30h Th

Number of credits

 Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Engineering5 crédits 
 Master in political sciences : general (120 ECTS) (in Science, Technology et Societies (STS))5 crédits 


Céline Parotte

Language(s) of instruction

French language

Organisation and examination

Teaching in the second semester


Schedule online

Units courses prerequisite and corequisite

Prerequisite or corequisite units are presented within each program

Learning unit contents

We live in a world in full transformation, in transition, with its moments of inertia or radical or incremental changes. But how do these changes take place? Who are the main actors? How do we, as citizens, political decision-makers, scientists or NGOs, understand these different changes? What are the time scales to be considered for action? What are the conceptual tools that help us think about transitions, whether they are political, environmental, economic or technical?
This course starts with a double observation. We live in a world of uncertainties. And in times of uncertainty, governing is always a complex form of social experimentation. Faced with this double observation, some technical projects cease to be exclusively the domain of engineers and are recognized by the actors involved as socio-technical projects, which need to be legitimized and recognized as acceptable by many actors (experts, decision-makers, civil society, citizens)? What roles can political and social sciences play to highlight the eminently political character of these socio-technical changes?
The central theme of this course is the mid-term and long term transition(s). This course is focused on problems with particularly uncertain contexts, such as having an unusual timescale, being extremely controversial or resonating with current hot or cold issues. Without requiring any particular prerequisites, the proposed teaching is nevertheless at the crossroads of several courses: innovation, science and technology policy, analysis and evaluation of public policies, practices of argumentation, transformation of public administration and public governance.

Starting from one or more concrete cases, such as the crisis management of Covid, floods, nuclear waste, smart cities, digitalization, innovation from below, low-carbon energy transition, infrastructure decay, the socio-technical changes operated over time by policy makers, experts, civil society will be analyzed and criticized by promoting the emergence of multiple critical and analytical perspectives.
Each concrete case, chosen by the students, will be analyzed with regard to the contributions of social studies of science and technology (STS) with the same weekly question: what would the STS authors of the week think about this case? What would they invite us to pay attention to? What are the questions they pose?  Each author offers an innovative perspective on analyzing, critiquing, and acting on these socio-technical changes. Their combined perspectives over the course of the weeks of readings will make it possible to multiply the points of view and the levels of analysis on an issue in order to grasp its full complexity.
The student takes the measure of these ST transformations in the political-administrative contexts that are close or different, independent or interdependent. They will approach the phenomena of institutionalization and power in their critical analysis. It will be able to compare and measure the different temporalities and dynamics at work at the administrative, associative, media, political and scientific levels, the way they respond to each other, co-produce or sometimes ignore each other.

The reading program is divided into four main parts:
1/ how to think methodologically and theorically the transition? 2/ Who are the important actors in the transition? 3/ Uncertainties and ignorances 4/ Imagining the futures of the transition

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

the course aims to enable students to benefit from a series of socio-political comprehension tools for major changes that touch on the relationships between science, technology and society. At the end of the course, students will be able to grasp the stakes, in a critical manner, and map the players and points of view to offer an analysis of different processes at work simultaneously on different levels, from a local arrangement to more systematic structural arrangement. During discussion sessions, they will also develop their ability to argue on complex themes, orally and in writing, in a critical and constructive manner.

Prerequisite knowledge and skills

Students should have a passive command of English, since the texts in the reading portfolio concerning the scientific references will mostly be in English.

Planned learning activities and teaching methods

* Work on your spontaneous thinking and reasoning abilities: The teaching framework will be defined with the students in a collaborative and participatory way during the first session of the course. The teacher will set up a so-called "arpentage" session for this purpose. (No preparation is required).

* Learn how to develop theoretical and practical arguments through written mode: The teacher will compile a reading portfolio based on the questions and the stages identified during the first session. Students must prepare two of the texts (per session) before each class and write a short individual response paper of 500 words maximum on one or several of the questions asked beforehand (by the teacher or which emerged during the workshop scenario). This response paper will be submitted to the teacher and the other students two days before the class. This will help identify the students' ability to integrate the texts, their ability to grasp two scientific texts in a critical manner and will also serve as a basis for discussion.

* Constructively evaluate peers and share your ideas: Every class will be organised on the basis of a specific point of view, texts and response papers. The course will always begin with a (student) peer-review of every response paper. The teacher will follow with a brief general explanation of the theme in question before overseeing a critical and detailed discussion on the texts and the students stances. Students are required to participate actively in every session.

* Learning by doing: Every response paper will receive feedback from the teacher and the students.

Mode of delivery (face to face, distance learning, hybrid learning)


Recommended or required readings

- Jasanoff, S. (2004). States of Knowledge. The Co-production of Science and Social Order, Routledge (chapter 1 and 2: "the idiom of co-production" and "ordering knowledge, ordering society")
- Joly, Pierre-Benoît (2015), "Governing Emerging Technologies- The need to think out of the (black) box", in S. Hilgartner, C. Miller, and R. Hagendijk (eds.), Science and Democracy- Making Knowledge and Making Power in the Biosciences and Beyond. (London: Routlegde), 21.
- Parotte (2020), "Séance d'introduction théorique: penser la transition avec Dean, Jasanoff et Joly", Option Master, Science, Technologie et Société de l'ULiège et UMaastricht, 10.
These three pieces of required reading justify the course's structure and the methodological and normative positioning adopted during this course. They will also help students when they write their final essay.
Students will have to read two texts per class.
The collection of texts is available on ecampus

Written work / report

Continuous assessment

Additional information:

Students will be assessed (1) on the basis of their active participation in class, their response paper (50 % of the final mark, continuous assessment by the teacher and the students);
(2) on the basis of a final essay which is a collection of the response papers improved by peer review process (10 pages maximum, spacing 1.5) including an introduction, a conclusion, a table of contend and references (of authors effectively mobilized during the course) (50 % of the final mark);

Work placement(s)

Organisational remarks and main changes to the course

The seminar will be held during the second term. 



Association of one or more MOOCs

Items online

Experimenting and Governing Emerging Technologies: Introduction and Overview
What if "governing" has always been a social experimentation? How to govern and decide in a high uncertainty context? 

Variation of scale analysis and perspectives is a required methodological tool to understand the complexity of a study case.