FALL 2003

STS A12 INDIA TODAY (Freshman Advisor Seminar)

In the last decades, India has changed from a country that could not feed its own people to an agricultural exporter. The Indian software industry has grown at an annual rate of 40-50% for more than a decade. India today is said to have the world’s largest middle class, is a nuclear power, and has advanced space capabilities. Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management produce some of the world’s most gifted engineers and managers. Yet India remains a nation where, out of a billion people, almost a third go to bed hungry. Sixty million children under the age of twelve are not in school. Literacy rates run about 50%. The contrast between wealth in cities like Bombay and the poverty of the Indian countryside is extreme.

The seminar will focus on the changes in India since Independence, on what is genuinely new and transformative, and on the persistence of older problems like poverty, caste barriers, and corruption. Readings will be drawn from books on India, Indian novels and short stories, and films: e.g., Gandhi, The World of Apu, Monsoon Wedding, at least one Bollywood hit, and so on. Each week, students will write a short (300-500 word) paper.


In the last few years, the hope that modern information and communication technologies can provide a stimulus for development has spread across the entire world. Virtually every international organization, private foundation, state and national government has plans for “IT for the masses” – intended to alleviate poverty, help poor people meet fundamental needs, rectify injustices, reduce corruption, and enable the citizens of the developing countries to assert their fundamental rights.

But this enthusiasm rests on uncertain theoretical and empirical bases. No agreed-upon theoretical framework justifies it, and a number of critiques have emerged. Is this a classic case of “technology transfer,” of “leapfrogging” the industrial stage of development? Of linguistic imperialism? Of empowering the “information poor”? Of selling more computers to the poor countries of the world? Is it the inevitable consequence of the emergence of a “networked world”?

Equally important, there are virtually no empirical studies of the effectiveness of introducing sophisticated information technologies into developing countries. Instead we have many “stories” – invariably stories of success. Serious evaluations, especially those that take into account startup costs, sustainability, alternatives forgone, etc. are almost nonexistent. Despite this, every day sees the announcement of a new international conference on the subject, of new projects, and of new hopes.

The seminar will examine some of the theoretical arguments, pro and con, about IT for development. The second half of the seminar will consist of an examination of case studies which are relevant to gauging the effectiveness of IT for development. Although the primary focus will be on South Asia, students with interest and experience in other parts of the developing world are welcome.

The seminar is open to graduate students in Computer Science, Media Studies, Media Lab, STS, Political Science, and related fields. Undergraduates are admitted by permission.



The purpose of this seminar is to expose advanced students interested in environmental studies to historical trends and contemporary controversies that bear on environmental debate and policy. The course should be understood as an introduction to a deeper, larger, and more intensive literature in environmental studies. It includes readings and ideas which should be part of the intellectual equipment of anyone seriously interested in environmental studies. Readings include Crosby, Cronon, Thoreau, Hersey, Carson, Muir, McNeill, Pinchot, Roy, and Lomborg.

The course also looks at specific controversies in which the ideas discussed in the first half of the semester are embodied or contested. For example, the Hetch Hetchy Dam controversy, revived recently with a proposal to drain the reservoir, helped at the beginning of the twentieth century to set the terms for a debate about the environment in America ever since. Controversies over genetically modified cotton and the extension in height of the Narmada Dam raise old issues but also new issues about the relationship between environment and development, especially in the Third World. The Earth First movement raises questions about the urgency of the so-called “crisis”, and the kinds of actions that are justified and necessary to “preserve the environment”.

There will be a required paper at the end of the semester. This paper should be an effort to extend one or more of the central ideas in the course to the particular field or area in which the student is working.

STS 095/STS 905 INTRODUCTION TO INDIA (pre-internship seminar)

A second term workshop intended primarily for graduates and undergraduates who expect to be working, interning, studying, or traveling in India in the forthcoming summer. Other students are also welcome to attend.

The course will cover, necessarily superficially, some aspects of current Indian life, society, and politics. Special attention will be given to issues of travel, health, and hospitality in India. Students will be briefed on health maintenance, and advised on aspects of Indian society which may be unexpected.

Readings will include India, by S. Wolpert; Everybody Loves a Good Drought, by P. Sainath; selections from the anthology, Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing 1947-1997, edited by S. Rushdie and Elizabeth West; and advice from various travel manuals like The Lonely Planet.

The class will begin immediately after MIT Spring Vacation, and will end during final examinations. For undergraduates the course will be given on a pass-fail basis, and will have six units of credit. For graduate students, it is mandatory to assign a grade, and six units of credit will also be assigned. (The course does not qualify for the fulfillment of the HASS requirement.) Listeners are welcome, and should be prepared to do the reading and take part in discussions. Several films will be seen or recommended, including Gandhi, the World of Apu, Salaam Bombay, and Monsoon Wedding.