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Focus on SciencesPo

by Jonny Hankins [1], 20 January 2014

On Feb 10th 2014, long time friend of the Bassetti Foundation Bruno Latour opens his Scientific Humanities course to the world in MOOC form. The course is offered online, is conducted in English and is free, with just a simple registration required.

According to the website [2] "Scientific humanities means the extension of interpretative skills to the discoveries made by science and to technical innovations. The course will equip future citizens with the means to be at ease with many issues that straddle the distinctions between science, morality, politics and society".

The course provides concepts and methods to: learn the basics of the field called "science and technology studies", a vast corpus of literature developed over the last forty years to give a realistic description of knowledge production; handle the flood of different opinions about contentious issues and order the various positions by using the tools now available through digital media; comment on those different pieces of news in a more articulated way through a specifically designed blog.

Course Outline:
Week 1: How to patrol the borderline between science and politics?
Week 2: How to find one's way in the scientific literature?
Week 3: How to handle technical innovations?
Week 4: How to deal with controversies?
Week 5: Feedback: Bruno Latour comments on your blogs
Week 6: How to understand the shifting nature of the natural world?
Week 7: How to become a citizen in the public life of science and technology?
Week 8: Feebdback: Bruno Latour comments on your participation in public debates
(link: about the course [3])

Another long time friend of the Bassetti Foundation is Tommaso Vitale [4], Associate professor at SciencesPo. He is Scientific director of the Master "Governing the Large Metropolis" [5], an extremely interesting course that addresses many of the issues that the Foundation has broached over recent years.

The course aims to provide students interested in urban issues the concepts and tools needed to analyze risks in cities and urban regions. These risks may result from natural or man-made events, they can relate to violence, poverty, health, finance, environment, terrorism or infrastructures. Given the complexity and variety of both risks and cities, there is no single approach to this theme. Hence, the course aims to present and describe some approaches recently produced in the social sciences. It also aims to encourage students to think critically about frameworks promoted by international organizations in terms of disaster management, and more generally widespread efforts to redefine urban governance in terms of risk management. Lastly, it will suggest that taking the notion of risk further than is usually done can help modify the representation of urban regions and the problems they face.

By the end of the course, students will be capable of adopting a broad and comprehensive approach to the theme of risk and the city, critically assessing contingency plans in urban settings, and identifying potential unseen risks or unanticipated effects of urban projects.

The course includes the students' involvement in the Capstone Project, an involvement that really makes this course stand out from many others. The Capstone is defined as a client-oriented group research project, based on original field research which generates a deliverable product. Students are required to work in small groups, advised by a specialist, in order to conduct a high quality research project on a given urban policy question for a public or private organization. The capstone products are designed to provide key expertise in the management of urban problems and local governance of cities, with a specific focus on Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, East and South Asia.

In a recent interview conducted on behalf of the Bassetti Foundation, Prof Vitale gave more details regarding the methodologies and aims of the course. The following is a selection of points taken from our conversation.

The aims of the course are to produce professionals that are able to advise and work within public policy and who are able to put together different actors working in the field, and work with them all in order to understand the mechanisms that exist in metropolis governance. Focus is on operating within the real world, so importance is less geared towards developing an education of good governance and more towards developing a comparative real world approach that takes into account different problems and failures.

One of the tools used in these aims is the workshop, allowing students the chance to see what is feasible, what can be improved, the levels of involvement that they can claim and to understand real world dynamics and failures. The workshop format allows the development of projects within real world situations.

The students are independent and autonomous and spend one semester working for real world partners. Techniques developed include conflict management and creating research strategies into public participation within policy. They are not trained into specific techniques however, but learn how to work in a situation and provide something while experiencing and managing both their own and other participants' emotion. We might think of it as a 'learning to learn' approach, with learning skills both collective, real world and coherent. This approach involves personal development workshops whose aims include the students learning how to change contexts within which they find themselves.

Prof Vitale concluded his conversation by stating that the governance of the Master program follows the approach above, and is very much based upon a community that includes external clients. The Masters program is a mechanism for learning throughout its design, as the Directors, students and external clients work through the real world problems within their own relationships through the program.

Interested readers can discover more about this approach from the recently published "International Handbook on Social Innovation: Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdisciplinary Research" [6] that includes a chapter co-written by Prof. Vitale.

Enrollment for the course that will start in September 2014 is currently open, closing in late April.

On behalf of the Bassetti Foundation I would like to thank Prof. Tommaso Vitale for the time dedicated to the preparation of this post.


FUN-MOOC : Scientific Humanities [7] di fr-universite-numerique [8]

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Links in this document:

  1. 1] http://www.fondazionebassetti.org/schedabiografica/Jonny Hankins
  2. 2] https://www.france-universite-numerique-mooc.fr/courses/SciencesPo/05004/Trimestre_1_2014/about
  3. 3] https://www.france-universite-numerique-mooc.fr/courses/SciencesPo/05004/Trimestre_1_2014/about
  4. 4] http://www.cee.sciences-po.fr/en/le-centre/research-team/258-tommaso-vitale.html
  5. 5] http://www.sciencespo.fr/affaires-urbaines/en/node/25
  6. 6] http://www.amazon.com/International-Handbook-Social-Innovation-Transdisciplinary/dp/1849809984
  7. 7] http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x168gnv_fun-mooc-scientific-humanities_school
  8. 8] http://www.dailymotion.com/fr-universite-numerique
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