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Monitoring Air Bag Performance: Exploring The Social Facets Of Engineering With Sts

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Integrating H&SS in Engineering I

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.944.1 - 10.944.9



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Paper Authors

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Jameson Wetmore

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Monitoring Air Bag Performance: Exploring the Social Facets of Engineering with STS

Jameson M. Wetmore

Department of Science, Technology & Society University of Virginia


Over the past several decades a new social science discipline has been emerging that seeks to better understand the relationship between technology and society. This discipline is sometimes called “Science & Technology Studies” or “Science, Technology, and Society,” but is often simply given the umbrella title of “STS.”1 The discipline has attracted scholars from the fields of sociology, history, anthropology, philosophy, political science, law, and others, and has even begun to produce scholars with PhDs in STS.

This paper will offer an example of how STS can be used to educate engineers. Specifically I will focus on how STS has explored the complex ways in which technology and society co- create one another. The basic insight of STS is that science, technology, and society, are not separable entities. Rather, all three are intimately interwoven; they grow and change with each together. As such, one cannot understand one of the three without also understanding the other two. For instance, STS scholars have examined the ways in which risk is constructed, perceived, and dealt with; how political decisions are often disguised as technically necessary decisions; and how the success or failure of simple negotiations with co-workers can have profound effect on a final product. These insights can be used in the classroom to enable engineering students to better see the social aspects of their day-to-day practice and better understand the broader social effects that their practice helps to create. By exploring STS texts and arguments, students can be better prepared to grasp the social, political, and cultural facets of engineering and introduced to complex social issues that are an inextricable part of engineering.

In this paper I want to examine a particular social and political history of engineers in practice to demonstrate how STS can provide a window into aspects of engineering that are not always addressed, but are important for the profession nevertheless. The particular cases involves the efforts that engineers took to anticipate, determine the cause of, and then deal with the fatalities associated with air bags in the 1990s.

1 There are some who claim that there are distinct differences between S&TS and S, T, and S. The argument is usually that the former is more theoretical and academic and is often associated with constructivist ideas. The later, on the other hand, is framed as being more focused on practical change and sometimes has activist tendencies. For the sake of brevity, I will gloss over these differences in this paper and refer to the field more generally.

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Wetmore, J. (2005, June), Monitoring Air Bag Performance: Exploring The Social Facets Of Engineering With Sts Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14625

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