Social role of technology

Applied Physics, First Cycle
3. year
Hours per week – 1. semester:

Enrollment into the program, familiarity with the content of courses Physics I and Physics II.

Content (Syllabus outline)

General description of course

The modernization of Western societies is usually interconnected with the accelerating pace of technological change and simultaneously with the emergence of new social institutions and actors. These modernization processes are, for the most part, global phenomena. In different continents and political regions, one can find specific sets of various factors of modernization, namely (1) economic and societal change, (2) political modernity and its (3) socio-cultural transformations. The dynamics of these modernization processes do not univocally follow from scientific and technological development, although one can single out the historical periods in which more transformative and far-reaching convergence of scientific, engineering and social change took place. Such periods generally had unprecedented consequences. The focus of the course lies in naming such milestones which enabled and accelerated new waves of scientific and technological innovations and social transformations. The course will be taught jointly by FMF and FDV faculty as well as by occasional guest lecturers specialized in specific fields of research.

Selected topics:
Every topic will be viewed from a dual perspective – the scientific standpoint will help to place the topic within the history of science and describe the research path that led to the breakthrough. The second standpoint will be the historical and political context, alongside other social and economic consequences which will sketch a cascade from which technological discoveries led to groundbreaking changes of everyday lives either at the level of the society or at the individual level.

Measuring time

Technological aspect: Advances of accuracy in time measurement. Better pendulum clocks, quartz and atomic clocks. The role in time measurements in astronomical navigation, satellite navigation and metrology.

Social aspect: Time in anthropology. Religion and the calendar as a source of political power. Transoceanic colonialism of the early modern age and innovations in distance/time measurements and orientation. The birth of capitalist relations of production and the conditions of secular time and the deployment of clocks in the work process.

Automation and industry

Technological aspect: Historical development of thermodynamics – the nature of heat and energy, phase transitions, mechanical work and efficiency. Basic concepts related to heat engines. Innovations in metallurgy and engineering required to manufacture heat engines.

Social aspect: Waterwheel, steam engine and industrial revolution. The conditions and factors for capitalist development in the United Kingdom, the emergence of new social classes. The Luddite resistance. The British cycle of global hegemony. The start of industrial production, based on fossil fuels and the question of ‘the anthropocene’. Steam, railways and space barriers. Monopolistic organisation of industry. Automotive industry, mass consumption and the rise of the middle classes in post-war West. Transformations in social needs and energetics. Alternatives to internal combustion engines and their sustainability.


Technological aspect: History of discovery of electrical phenomena. Alternating current generator and transformer. National alternating current grid. Basics of electrical circuits, operation of electrical light sources. Electrical motors and their role in machines and appliances.

Social aspect: Fascination and reluctance against the adoption of electricity. 19th century’s mechanization, motorization, electrification and the second industrial revolution. The boom of Fordist type of industrial production, postwar class compromise and the rising standards of living in industrialized societies. Examples of links between electrification and rises in workers’ strikes. Problems of contemporary electrification, decarbonization and the concept of ecological justice. The possibility of an electric Armageddon.


Technological aspect: Transfer of signals over wires. Telegraph, amplifiers. Radio transmitters and receivers. Modulation and demodulation of signals. Use of electromagnetic frequency spectrum.

Social aspect: Geographically scattered development, the role of war. The rapid domestication of radio transmitters and slower adoption of TV transmissions and devices – convergence with electrification and transistor technologies. The rise of entrepreneurship. The simultaneous proliferation of mass media, propaganda, advertising and Fordism – individualism and consumer culture. Mass media and democracies.

Nuclear physics

Technological aspect: The basics of nuclear reactions – composition of atoms, radioactivity, fission. Operation principles of nuclear reactors and weapons. Radiometric dating and radio therapy.

Social aspect: Atomic discoveries and the context of WW2 militarization. Post-war advancements in the applications of atomic energy and ‘big science’ programs. Nuclear weapons, cold war and the rise of American global hegemony. Examples of collective phobias of nuclear energy. Divergences between ecologists regarding the question of the construction of new nuclear plants.


Technological aspect: Function of biological systems; potential of modern genome sequencing technologies, recombinant DNA, design of proteins and biological systems. Synthetic biology, design and usage of genetically modified organisms (GMO), gene editing technology (CRISPR). Biological systems as circular technology, gene therapy.

Social aspect: Attitudes towards genetically modified organisms; nature vs. nurture; ethical considerations and guidelines regarding human gene-editing.


Technological aspect: Thermionic emission of electrons, discovery of vacuum diodes and triodes. Semiconductor basics, semiconducting diode, transistor, digital memory. CRT technology, LCD screens and light sensors.

Social aspect: Two sources of computational development. Computers as a 19th and 20th century female vocation. Moore’s law as an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Convergence with electrification and telecommunications. The World economic forum and the plausibility of a ‘third industrial revolution’ thesis


Jed Z. Buchwald, Robert Fox - The Oxford Handbook of the History of Physics (Oxford University Press, 2013)
Andrew Ede - Technology and Society (Cambridge University Press, 2019)
Kavita S. Jerath – Science, technology and modernity: an interdisciplinary approach (Springer, 2021)
Giovanni Arrighi – Dolgo dvajseto stoletje (Sophia, 2009) - izbrana poglavja
David Knight – The Making of Modern Science. Science, Technology, Medicine and Modernity: 1789-1914 (Polity Press, 2009)
Andrew Feenberg – Between reason and experience. Essays in Technology and Modernity (The MIT Press, 2010) - izbrana poglavja

Objectives and competences

Throughout the course, the students will get acquainted with the historical development of science and technology, focusing on the modern age or modernity. Students will gain a conceptual apparatus for analysing the social embeddedness of techno-scientific breakthroughs and their consequences which at the same time offers them a heuristic tool for understanding the developmental issues of contemporary technological innovation amidst complex social realities.

Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

Knowledge of selected scientific discoveries and their interrelatedness with their historical and political contexts, and the socio-economic conjunctures that followed. Acquaintance with various models of development and different paces of modernization processes. Understanding of complex links between changes in lifestyles and technological innovation, taking into account social and ethical challenges, novel opportunities and risks.


Ability to generalize the relationship between technological advances and shifts in society to other historical and recent cases. The student demonstrates the acquired skills on a selected case study in the form of a seminar.

Transferrable skills

The ability of critical assessment of the impact of scientific and technological innovations provides the mental framework for tackling problems outside the academic environment. The acquired skills can be transferred to science communication, popular science, writing grant proposals, interpreting science to the general public, and interdisciplinary communication required for facing socio-political and environmental challenges. The student acquires skills applicable to working in interdisciplinary work groups and organizations.

Learning and teaching methods

Lectures and exercise in discussion, final seminar.


The grade is acquired by means of a seminar paper.
grading: 5 (fail), 6-10 (pass) (according to the Statute of UL)

Lecturer's references

Simon Čopar:

ČOPAR, Simon, SVENŠEK, Daniel, MOHORIČ, Aleš, PRELOVŠEK, Saša. Rešene kolokvijske naloge iz fizike I in II. Ljubljana: DMFA - založništvo, 2016. 125 str., ilustr. Zbirka izbranih poglavij iz fizike, 50. ISBN 978-961-212-273-7. ISSN 1408-0451. [COBISS-SI-ID 286267392]

ČOPAR, Simon, KOS, Žiga, EMERŠIČ, Tadej, TKALEC, Uroš. Microfluidic control over topological states in channel-confined nematic flows. Nature communications. Jan. 2020, vol. 11, art. no. 59, 10 str., ilustr. ISSN 2041-1723., DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-13789-9. [COBISS-SI-ID 3400804]

ČOPAR, Simon, APLINC, Jure, KOS, Žiga, ŽUMER, Slobodan, RAVNIK, Miha. Topology of three-dimensional active nematic turbulence confined to droplets. Physical review. X. 2019, vol. 9, iss. 3, str. 031051-1-031051-13, ilustr. ISSN 2160-3308. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevX.9.031051. [COBISS-SI-ID 3358052]

POSNJAK, Gregor, ČOPAR, Simon, MUŠEVIČ, Igor. Hidden topological constellations and polyvalent charges in chiral nematic droplets. Nature communications. 2017, vol. 8, str. 14594-1-14594-9. ISSN 2041-1723. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14594. [COBISS-SI-ID 30270503]

ČOPAR, Simon. Topology and geometry of nematic braids. Physics reports. [Print ed.]. 2014, vol. 538, issue 1, str. 1-37, ilustr. ISSN 0370-1573., DOI: 10.1016/j.physrep.2014.01.001. [COBISS-SI-ID 2636388]

Franc Mali:

MALI, Franc. Razvoj novih tehnologij kot izziv sodobnim bioetičnim pogledom na človeka in svet. Analiza : časopis za kritično misel. [Tiskana izd.]. 2017, letn. 21, št. 3/4, str. 5-18. ISSN 1408-2969. [COBISS-SI-ID 35427677]

MALI, Franc, KRAMBERGER, Anton. Recent challenges in the social regulation of new emerging technologies : the case of synthetic biology. Teorija in praksa : revija za družbena vprašanja. sep.-okt. 2014, letn. 51, št. 5, str. 850-865, 998. ISSN 0040-3598. [COBISS-SI-ID 32988509], [SNIP, Scopus]

MALI, Franc. Razvoj družbenih študij znanosti in tehnologije. Teorija in praksa : revija za družbena vprašanja. mar.-apr. 2013, letn. 50, št. 2, str. 297-316, 455-456. ISSN 0040-3598. [COBISS-SI-ID 31981917], [SNIP, Scopus]

MALI, Franc. Razvoj moderne znanosti : socialni mehanizmi. Ljubljana: Fakulteta za družbene vede, 2002. 191 str. Knjižna zbirka Teorija in praksa. ISBN 961-235-111-2. [COBISS-SI-ID 121534976]