The Joy of Science

I promised my friend Bill Hooker at the Science Blogging Conference that I would attempt to conduct a course of sorts on the blog. What I mean is that I am actually going to be teaching myself the course and discussing it on the blog; you are all invited to follow along if you like, or just listen in on my discussion of course material if you like.
The course syllabus is one I designed for a course called Feminist Theory and the Joy of Science. I never got to teach this course so I’m pleased to now enroll myself as a student. Hopefully I will complete the assigned readings on time. I plan to give myself several chili peppers on, if I keep up my interest in the class.

Here’s the brief description of the class from the syllabus:

This course explores the existence of pleasure, intellectual excitement, and desire as an important component of theorizing and doing science and engineering. We will examine the presence and/or absence of accounts of pleasure/desire in feminist theories of science, and in mainstream science and engineering texts and pedagogy. We will also examine feminist accounts of what might be termed the diversity challenge in engineering, and how feminist theories of science and pleasure can inform this issue. The implications for an adequate feminist theory of science, and for attracting members of underrepresented groups to science and engineering, will be a focus of the course.

You can find the full course syllabus here. I’ll be following a slightly modified version of this syllabus for several reasons.

  • There are two videos listed on the syllabus to which I don’t have access. I won’t be discussing them, unless by chance I find I way to get hold of them in time.
  • Since I only have one student (me), I won’t be having the group presentations each week. However, I do have readers – that’s you! And we do have a comments section. If you’ve done the readings and the theoretical analysis, you may have some insights you want to share with the world at large. Even if you haven’t, you may read my take on the week’s readings, and decide you have something to say about that. The comments section will, I hope, function as a sort of class discussion.
  • I won’t be assigning final papers – though I may write one myself.
  • The course was designed assuming that mostly non-scientists and non-engineers would be taking it. The final project, taking apart a hand mixer and describing its workings and their experience in taking it apart, was intended to let them encounter a simple, everyday, technological object from a new viewpoint. I wanted students to explore how well the feminist theory they’d been reading about applied – or did not – to their experience. Perhaps at the end I’ll ask you, the reader, to talk about your encounters with simple, everyday technology. I’ll have to do some more thinking on this one.
  • Oh, and no grades! THAT ought to get me a good rating on!

That’s basically it. I’ll try to stick to a weekly format, and will plan to post my first piece on Monday, February 5th. You can find the assigned readings for week 1 on the syllabus. Most of the books are available through The only one you might have trouble finding is Sally Hacker’s book (the full title is Pleasure, Power, and Technology : Some Tales of Gender, Engineering, and the Cooperative Workplace), but if you have access to a university library you should be able to find it there. Otherwise, try used booksellers/services.
I hope this sounds interesting enough that you might want to try a few of the readings, or at least come to see the summaries and add your comments to the “class discussion”. I’m looking forward to seeing what evolves out of this.
Now I’d better get reading. I have some theoretical analysis to do!

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  1. January 27, 2007 at 11:47 am

    This sounds fabulous! I’ll be reading along with you!
    I now wish I had taken classes in women’s studies when I was in school, but back then I so bought into the worldview that physics was a “hard” science and women’s studies was “soft” and so therefore less valid. And questioning gender roles was just not something that was done that much at my Midwest suburban Catholic girls’ high school back in the ’80s.
    Anyway, you might be amused to know that among my on-again, off-again attempts at fiction, I did write a scene in which my preteen female character’s cool, fun aunt (who is also an engineer) coaches her to take apart a toaster! If I revise this scene, though, I’m going to have to do the same thing myself–which I’ve never done, because I’ve just never tinkered with the innards of the commodity-type household appliances that have become cheaper to throw away than replace. Tinkering like this just wasn’t part of my family’s household culture while I was growing up, and it certainly wasn’t something that girls did.

  2. January 27, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    I didn’t take our conversation as a promise, but I’m glad you’re going to do this. I’ll be back in a bit with some ideas on getting hold of the texts.

  3. January 27, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    I was going to give direct links, but prices change all the time and there are price comparison sites that will do a better job anyway: try, AddAll,, BooksPrice and
    If you shop around, I estimate about $50 for purchase + shipping of all the required texts (new, they would cost about $100 altogether).
    You can also find the nearest library which carries any of these books using WorldCat (10^8 items, 10^4 libraries).

  4. Matt
    January 27, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    The Brainard and Carlin report is on the net via Google Scholar. Might be able to follow along without leaving the comfort of a computer chair.
    “I am not lazy. I am an effort minimalist.”

  5. January 28, 2007 at 1:30 am

    Well, the best I could do was about $40 for the books plus $20 for shipping. I raided the family piggy bank pretty hard to attend the NC conference, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to cough up that much.
    I will still follow the course here though!

  6. January 28, 2007 at 5:52 am

    Excellent idea! The course sounds like fun. I’m going to have a look at some of the titles.

  7. January 29, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    Great course idea – I’d have to suggest for any budding scientist (and biologist in particular) John Javony Jr.’s On Becoming A Biologist. For those readers not becoming biologists however, well, sorry, Javony won’t be much help!

  8. January 30, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    “Feminist theory of science”?! Other than a nice set of buzzwords, what does that even mean??

  9. January 31, 2007 at 2:21 am

    Other than a nice set of buzzwords, what does that even mean??
    You know, I was just the other day looking at a list of books and articles that might help you answer that question… it was on a blog somewhere…

  10. January 31, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Well, Mollishka, I invite you to sit in on the course and make your own determination. In the meantime, you could consult this bibliography Just perusing the list of titles will give you some idea of the kinds of things that feminist theorists of science are concerned with. This site which discusses feminist epistemology and philosophy of science gives an excellent overview of the field.
    By the way, I found these two sites by googling “feminist theory of science”. They were the first two that came up, after “scholarly articles on..”.

  11. Sharon
    January 31, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    I am a bit late getting on board here and i am rushing out the door as i frantically type this. However, i have just ordered books and will send more later. Looking forward to this and have another freind or two that might be interested.

  12. Zuska
    February 2, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    Daniel, I just looked up Javony’s book on Amazon…it looks soooo wonderful. And I’m not so sure it wouldn’t be useful for scientists other than biologists…Great suggestion.

  13. Zuska
    February 2, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    Daniel, I just looked up Javony’s book on Amazon…it looks soooo wonderful. And I’m not so sure it wouldn’t be useful for scientists other than biologists…Great suggestion.

  14. Sharon
    February 13, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Are we to go ahead and post on the reading here or is there another location for the discussion of readings?

  15. February 13, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    If you visit the archives at and click on “Joy of Science” under Categories, you will find all posts related to the course. If you click on that, you’ll find a post called “Joy of Science Week 1 Reading Summaries” which is just what it says it is. The four most recent posts are discussion posts. You could post on any of these that seems most appropriate to you. Each week of the course, there will be a reading summary post and several discussion posts; readers can comment on any of these posts.

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