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Unit information: Technocracy (Level H Lecture Response Unit) in 2014/15

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Unit name Technocracy (Level H Lecture Response Unit)
Unit code HIST30039
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Jones
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


From economists to climate scientists, technocrats help rule our modern lives. They play key roles in the ways that governments govern, shaping human society while claiming to be objective and neutral. Whether in the democratic USA, the communist Soviet Union, or in Pakistan under military dictatorship, technocrats are indispensable to the people in power. This unit examines the use and abuse of technical expertise in politics and culture. It seeks explanations for ways that experts have advised political leaders, and asks what happens when experts themselves have become leaders. Topics range from dam-building in the American West, through the Rockefeller Foundation’s anti-malaria work in Egypt during the Second World War, to the controversial relationship between illegal drug policy and scientific advice in contemporary Britain. It raises ethical and practical questions relevant to today’s society: does a technical viewpoint preclude political common sense, and vice versa? Who has the right to decide how to use scientific knowledge? What does technocracy mean for democracy? Locating such issues in different historical and geographical contexts, this unit asks how certain kinds of knowledge become allied with social and political power.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have developed: (1) a broad understanding of the development of technocracy in the modern era; (2) the ability to analyse and generalise about how technocrats and technocratic approaches to government have shaped policy formation; (3) the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general issues and arguments; (4) the ability to derive benefit from, and contribute effectively to, large group discussion; (5) the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically, and form an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour interactive lecture per week.

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 8 (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs 1-3, and 5.

Reading and References

Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (1989) Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, technopolitics, modernity (2002) Michael E. Latham, Modernization as ideology: American social science and "nation-building" in the Kennedy era (2000) James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed (1998) Patricio Silva, In The Name of Reason: Technocrats and politics in Chile (2008) Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, aridity, and the growth of the American West (1985)