Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2017/2018

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course, the student: ˗ will understand the role that science and technology plays in the economic and social development of Western culture; ˗ will be able to discuss aspects of the relationships between science and society; ˗ will not feel uneasiness towards science, since s/he will be able to recognize the social and cultural aspects of it, handling science with curiosity and skepticism; ˗ will know the origin and meaning of the concept of gender, and s/he will be able to use it appropriately depending on the context; ˗ will be able to compare the main stages in the history of women's access to higher education in Italy, Europe, and the US; ˗ will have knowledge of the main relevant episodes in the history of the relationships between men, women, and the culture of science since the Enlightenment; ˗ s/he will recognize the social and economic cost of gender inequality in science .

Course contents

Science and technology cultures are fundamental in understanding reality and ourselves, in addition to guaranteeing our survival as a species. In defense of science and technology cultures, we will understand how a scientific fact is constructed, and what it means to say that science is a (social) culture. In particular, the case study we will focus on will be the evolution in time of the scientific fact called “women’s inferiority”.

A quote by 1965 Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman (1918-1988) addressing school teachers will be the thread of the course: “What science is, is not what the philosophers have said it is […] As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts” (What is Science?, 1969).

It will be in that perspective, shared by many scientists, that we will deal with some of these queries: Why is our relationship with science and technology oftentimes controversial? Are science and technology good or bad? Why is it the case that, in Italy in particular, science is denied status as a culture? What are the consequences of such instances in the educational setting, and consequently in the economic and social settings?

Besides, what distinguishes countries in which girls perform as well as or even better than boys in maths - according to PISA data - from countries in which girls still show persistent difficulties in maths? According to OSCE data, there is a worldwide feminization of schools: What effects does this phenomenon have on girls’ performance in maths ?

Lessons will start on 27 September.


The following program is the same for attending and non attending students.

1. Texts and PowerPoints posted (during the course) on the e-learning platform.

2. Bruno Latour, La scienza in azione. Introduzione alla sociologia della scienza, Edizioni di Comunità, Torino, 1998, “Introduzione” e capitolo 1. Italian edition out of print; with the author's permission, a pdf copy of the introduction and of chapter 1 will be available on the e-learning platform.

3. Eredi di Laura Bassi. Docenti e ricercatrici in Italia tra età moderna e presente, a cura di M. Cavazza, P. Govoni e T. Pironi, Milano, Angeli, 2014: Preface + essays by Cavalli, Leonelli e Tomasetto.

4. P. Govoni, Che cos’è la storia della scienza, Carocci, Roma, 2004 (12° reprint 2016). Study chapters 1, 2 e 5; read chapters 3 and 4 [for having an idea of the book, please, read the Introduzione].

Erasmus students will have to study part of the total program. They will find all useful information on the e-learning platform after the start of lessons.

Teaching methods

Inquiry-based learning.  An active participation is highly recommended. 

Lectures will be alternated by one or two field trips, supported by the vice presidency of the Scuola di psicologia e scienze della formazione.

At the end of the course, students who attended the lessons will be able to take a written pre-exam on class discussions and on the field experiences (up to a maximum of 5 points).

Assessment methods

Students can choose whether they wish to take a written or an oral examination.

There will be one written examination in the first session that follows the conclusion of the course. There will also be another possible written examination in the September session.

Oral exams will be available to take place in every exam session.

Written exam: students will be asked to answer three of the queries presented to them. These will be essay questions to be answered in a total of 1 hour 30 minutes. It will be forbidden to exit the room before time's up.

Oral exam: this consists of two or three questions, stemming from a freely chosen topic.

In both kinds of examination, students will be tested on their knowledge of the course’s bibliography, as well as on their ability to reason in a logical, concise and personal way. The accuracy and precision of the student’s way of expression will also be taken in consideration.

Grades are calculated over a total of 30. There will not be the so called “salto di appello”. For further information, please consult the educational guidelines here (Regolamento didattico).

Teaching tools

PowerPoint; e-learning tools; science museums.

Office hours

See the website of Paola Govoni