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Science as Culture: Introduction


Please note: this course description is not fully up-to-date for the academic year 2019-2020. A new version with marginal changes will be presented on this page shortly.


This course will introduce the minor STiS. Science does not arise and exist in a vacuum, but in specific historical, political, social, and (inter-) national contexts. Students will gain a basic understanding of the rise of scientific cultures, their histories, and their most important institutions. The course also gives a theoretical and methodological overview of the most important concepts in science and technology studies. This will enable students to understand how science itself can be studied in a rigorously scientific way.

The students will learn what it means to see science as a specific culture. The current discussion about the role of the university (including the student and staff protests in various countries) will be used as case study to highlight contemporary practices and problems. This will be interlaced with more theoretical explorations of the nature of science as it is practiced (rather than as it is preached).

Course objectives

After this course students will be able to:

  • Summarize “the Legend” about science.

  • Identify instances of this Legend in popular science stories and newspaper articles about universities.

  • Contrast common sense assumptions about research with the attributes of scientific culture as treated in John Ziman’s book Real Science.

  • Analyze standard textbook introductions to science on the implicit assumptions about science.

  • Identify the issues at stake in debates and protests about the role of the university and position it in the historical development of universities.


TBA. Two meetings per week

The classes will each week discuss in-depth selected literature, including chapters from Ziman’s book that is the basis of this module. All students must have read the literature in advance. The lecturer will give a short introduction to the main topics of the literature of that week and give contextual information. Each chapter or article is discussed by one student who gives her impressions and points out what according to her are the main arguments. The ensuing discussion is mainly aimed at deepening the student’s understanding of the underlying theoretical concepts and their relevance to understand the nature of science and the role of universities.

The extra working group meetings are meant to help the students to translate the theoretical knowledge acquired in the Monday classes to empirical research of his/her own. Each week a particular assignment is given to support the learning curve in empirical research. In addition, we discuss the progress in all student projects on a weekly basis.

Assessment method

  • An essay about a specified empirical or theoretical question on the nature of real science or the role of universities (2000 words)

  • A presentation about the Legend of Science as exemplified by a particular text about science

  • Participation in the classes and fulfilment of weekly assignments


We will use blackboard as communication platform for lecture notes, assignments and announcements.

Reading list

John Ziman, Real Science, What it Is and What it Means. 2000, Cambridge University Press.

Additional compulsory readings will be made available via blackboard or through the Leiden University Library. Supplementary reading will be encouraged throughout the course.


Students can register from 1 May to 31 July via uSis. The course catalogue code is 6000MSCTSN, activity number: TBA.

Please note that we can accommodate a maximum of 40 students. Admission is based on the students’ qualifications + a first come, first served basis.

Students from other universities will need permission to register. Please send an e-mail to Josephine Bergmans via This also applies to Exchange and Study Abroad students. For more general information for international students please see the Study Abroad website.

Contact information

For more information you can contact the coordinator of this course, Dr. Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner.