Fall 2016

STS 2761 - Governing Everyday Life

Tue, Aug 23
Governing Everyday Life: Why Study Boring Things?
An introduction to the class. We’ll review course mechanics, get a sense of the puzzles and problems of governing everyday life – and why they matter for public policy, design, and management.

The Basics: Concepts, Methods, Tactics

Thu, Aug 25
Studying Everyday Life
When we think about governance and regulation, we tend to think of “big” things, like institutions, law, party politics, accounting systems, management structures. So why look at everyday life? We’ll look at the example of security governance in the case of the NYC subway after 9/11.
  • Molotch, Harvey. 2012. Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 50-84 (Chapter 3: Below the Subway: Taking Care Day In and Day Out). [via Piazza]


Swyngedouw, Erik. 1997. “Neither Global nor Local: ‘glocalization’ and the Politics of Scale.” In Spaces of Globalization: Reasserting the Power of the Local, edited by Kevin R. Cox, 137–66. New York; London: The Guilford Press.

Woolgar, Steve and Dorothy Pawluch. 1985. "Ontological gerrymandering: The anatomy of social problems explanations." Social problems 32, no. 3: 214–227.

Tue, Aug 30
Fieldwork Tactics I: Observation and Strangeness
We will familiarize ourselves with a few essential fieldwork tactics: observing and recording everyday phenomena; technology questions; tricks for making the familiar strange.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 2009. Philosophical Investigations. 4th ed. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, §129 only.
  • Schwartz, Howard and J. Jacobs. 1979. Qualitative Sociology. New York, NY: Free Press, pp. 240-245.
  • Neyland, Daniel. 2007. Organizational Ethnography. London: Sage Publications, pp. 100-103, 106-109.
  • Raine, Craig. 1979. "A martian sends a postcard home." In A Martian sends a postcard home, 1–2. Oxford; New York; Toronto; Melbourne: Oxford University Press.


De Certeau, Michel. 1988. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, pp. 91-110 (Chapter VII: Walking in the City).

Schuetz, Alfred. 1944. "The Stranger: An Essay in Social Psychology." American Journal of Sociology 49, no. 6: 499–507.

Thu, Sep 1
Working with e-Portfolios
With a little help from our friends in Academic Technologies, we will familiarize ourselves with Digication, the Cornell-supported platform we will be using for our portfolio work.
Tue, Sep 6
Fieldwork Tactics II: Ethics and Analysis
Continuing Thursday’s theme, we shall focus on fieldwork ethics and the craft and art of analysis.


Policy #1: Determining whether a Research Activity Needs IRB Review or Exemption From IRB Review [pdf]

Activity 1: Playing Games

We’ll begin the practical part of our class with an important problem faced by managers, policy-makers, and designers every day around the world: what happens when you try to change the rules of the game?

Thu, Sep 8
Observation: Manipulating Board Games
We will play board games in class – and then change the rules to enact a randomly assigned social value. What does it take to change the rules of the game? What problems are you running into? How do you tackle them?
  • Bring your favorite board game. Ideally one that others in class already know.
Tue, Sep 13
Analysis: Rules in Formal Systems
  • Wieder D. Lawrence (1974). "Telling the code." In: Turner R (ed.), Ethnomethodology, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, pp. 144–172.


Garfinkel, Harold. 1963. “A Conception of and Experiments with ‘Trust’ as a Condition of Stable Concerted Actions.” In Motivation and Social Interaction: Cognitive Determinants, edited by O. J. Harvey, 187–238. New York: The Ronald Press.

Flanagan, Mary, Daniel C. Howe, and Helen Nissenbaum. 2005. “Values at Play: Design Tradeoffs in Socially-Oriented Game Design.” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 751–60. CHI ’05. New York, NY, USA: ACM.

Liberman, Kenneth. 2014. More Studies in Ethnomethodology. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 83-134 (Chapter 3: The Reflexivity of Rules in Games).

Teubner, Gunther. 1998. “Juridification: Concepts, Aspects, Limits, Solutions.” In A Reader on Regulation, edited by Robert Baldwin, Colin Scott, and Christopher Hood, 389–440. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Activity 2: Breaking Rules

Last week’s exercise was special in that it assumed a stable frame of reference in which everybody knew they played a game. Now, what happens when we drop this assumption and try to engage with rules in the wild?

Thu, Sep 15
Observation: Breaching Experiment
We will think through and design a breaching experiment. In short, our goal will be to participate in an everyday social occasion with a different understanding than the people we interact with.
Tue, Sep 20
Analysis: Background Expectancies
  • Garfinkel, Harold. 1967. Studies in Ethnomethodology. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 35-53.


Milgram, Stanley, Hilary J. Liberty, Raymond Toledo, and Joyce Wackenhut. 1986. “Response to Intrusion into Waiting Lines.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51 (4): 683–89.

Rosenhan, David L. 1973. “On Being Sane in Insane Places.” Science 179 (4070): 250–58.

Activity 3: Tracking Traffic

We have learned about rules in formal systems and rules in the wild. But what about the mechanisms for holding each other to account?

Thu, Sep 22
Observation: Crowded Junctions
How do cars, bikes, buses, trucks, strollers, and pedestrians manage to cross a street without disaster? We will observe a busy junction and carefully record our observations.
Cut-off #1 for portfolio grading: Friday, Sep 23, 6pm
Tue, Sep 27
Analysis: Relations of Accountability
  • Munro, Rolland. 1996. “Alignment and Identity Work: The Study of Accounts and Accountability.” In Accountability: Power, Ethos and the Technologies of Managing, edited by Rolland Munro and Jan Mouritsen, 1–19. London: International Thomson Business Press.


Liberman, Kenneth. 2014. More Studies in Ethnomethodology. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 11-42 (Chapter 1: The Local Orderliness of Crossing Kincaid).

Neyland, Daniel, and Steve Woolgar. 2002. “Accountability in Action?: The Case of a Database Purchasing Decision.” British Journal of Sociology 53 (2): 259–74.

Suchman, Lucy. 1993. “Technologies of Accountability: Of Lizards and Aeroplanes.” In Technology in Working Order, edited by Graham Button, 113–26. London: Routledge.

Activity 4: Probing Technology

What happens to everyday governance when technology enters the equation? In this segment, we shall have a closer look at the role of everyday technologies and think of their role in governing everyday life.

Thu, Sep 29
Observation: Things that Regulate
Find a place or situation on campus, in which regulation is “hard-coded” into some form of technology. An example would be a speed bump that “enforces” a speed limit. Be creative. Document the situation and carefully record your observations. What is happening? Does it work? Have people found a way around it?
Tue, Oct 4
Analysis: Delegation and Technology
  • Latour, Bruno. 1992. “Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts.” In Shaping Technology/building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, edited by W. E. Bijker and J. Law, 225–58. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Winner, Langdon. 1980. “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Daedalus 109 (1): 121–36.

Lessig, Lawrence. 1998. “The New Chicago School.” The Journal of Legal Studies 27 (S2): 661–91.

Activity 5: Navigating Campus

An important aspect of our lives are interactions with technologies and instructions we receive. In this segment, we explore this relationship with the help of a particularly famous technology for navigation: the map.

Thu, Oct 6
Observation: Navigating Campus with Sketched Maps
We will split up in groups of four. One member of the group picks a target on campus and sketches a map for the others to get there. The team tries to follow the map and carefully records their observations.
Thu, Oct 13
Analysis: Instructed Action
  • Brown, Barry, and Eric Laurier. 2012. “The Normal Natural Troubles of Driving with GPS.” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1621–30. CHI ’12. New York, NY, USA: ACM.


Liberman, Kenneth. More Studies in Ethnomethodology. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2014, pp. 45-82 (Chapter 2: Following Sketched Maps)

Cut-off #2 for Portfolio Grading: Friday, Oct 14, 6pm

Activity 6: Sorting Trash

Getting people to adopt certain habits is probably one of the hardest tasks. In this segment, we shall look at a particularly important example, recycling, and see whether and how it is possible to have people govern themselves.

Tue, Oct 18
Observation: Recycling Bins in Cornell Dining Halls
Pick a recycling station in a Cornell dining facility, where people return their trays after lunch. What does the set-up look like? Do people manage to get the job done? How or how not so?
  • Ellis, Erin. 2011. “New Recycling System Streamlines Disposal, Will Reduce Landfill.” The Cornell Daily Sun, November 10.
  • Grinspoon, Sloane. 2014. “Much of Composted Materials Rejected Due to Poor Sorting.” The Cornell Daily Sun, February 4.
Thu, Oct 20
Analysis: Governmentality
  • Jarrett, Kylie. 2006. “The Perfect Community: Disciplining the eBay User.” In Everyday eBay: Culture, Collecting, and Desire, edited by K. Hillis, M. Petit, and N. S. Epley, 107–21. New York, NY: Routledge.


Foucault, Michel. 1991. “Governmentality.” In The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, edited by Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller, 87–104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Miller, Peter, and Nikolas Rose. 2008. Governing the Present: Administering Economic, Social and Personal Life. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 199-218 (Chapter 8: Governing Advanced Liberal Democracies).

Woolgar, Steve, and Daniel Neyland. 2014. Mundane Governance: Ontology & Accountability. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 56-77 (Chapter 3: Classification as Governance).

Activity 7: Parsing Text

Reading a text sounds like a ridiculously mundane phenomenon of order. However, it is a very consequential one. Analyzing the organization of a text and the range of possible readings it affords is a very useful skill to master.

Thu, Oct 25
Observation: Textual Analysis
Bring a document from an organization you are interested in. This can be a brochure, a website, a letter. We will analyze a section of the document in class, using a technique called “textual analysis”.
  • Smith, Dorothy E. 1978. “‘K Is Mentally Ill’: The Anatomy of a Factual Account.” Sociology 12 (1): 23–53.
Tue, Oct 27
Analysis: Relations of Ruling
  • Smith, Dorothy E. 1996. “The Relations of Ruling: A Feminist Inquiry.” Studies in Cultures, Organizations and Societies 2 (2): 171–90.


Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. 1999. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.1-32 and Chapters 2 and 3.

Woolgar, Steve. 1981. “Discovery: Logic and Sequence in a Scientific Text.” In The Social Process of Scientific Investigation, edited by Karin D. Knorr, Roger Krohn, and Richard Whitley, 239–68. Sociology of the Sciences A Yearbook 4. Springer Netherlands.

Activity 8: Hacking Algorithms

Advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence have brought about “smart” machines. What is the role of algorithms in ordering our lives?

Thu, Nov 1
Observation: Reverse-engineer an Elevator of Your Choice
Pick an elevator and try to understand its algorithm. What kind of rules is it operating by? Does it “have” a bias? How or how not so?
Cut-off #3 for Portfolio Grading: Friday, Nov 4, 6pm
Tue, Nov 3
Analysis: Recursive Rules and Automation
  • Gillespie, Tarleton. 2013. “The Relevance of Algorithms.” In Media Technologies, edited by Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, and Kirsten Foot, 167–94. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Diakopoulos, Nicholas. 2015. “Algorithmic Accountability.” Digital Journalism 3 (3): 398–415.

Introna, Lucas D., and Helen Nissenbaum. 2000. “Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matters.” The Information Society 16 (3): 169–85.

Activity 9: Your Choice

As the semester proceeds, we will gather ideas for a topic, concept, theory, or activity you are especially interested in.

Thu, Nov 5
Structured writing exercise
Your choice – to be determined during the semester
Tue, Nov 10
Your choice – to be determined during the semester
Thu, Nov 15
Case discussions I
Your choice – to be determined during the semester
Tue, Oct 17
Catch-up session
Time to catch up on everything we did not get to do before.
Tue, Nov 22
Case discussions II
Your choice – to be determined during the semester

Review and Wrap-up

In this last section of the class, we will spend some time to develop portfolios for submission. We shall also use the occasion to reflect on what we learned and how the knowledge from this class will be useful for your future careers.

Tue, Nov 29
Portfolio Review
We shall use class time to work on our portfolios, discuss open questions, and help each other out.
  • Come prepared to work on your portfolio in class. Bring any questions you might have about concepts, readings, activities, observations.

Thu, Dec 1
Lessons and Leftovers
Time to say goodbye and look back at what we learned this semester.

Final submission due: December 9, 2016 at 4:30PM