From the archives: Bridging the divide between the “two cultures”

Dr. Scott Campbell, Director of the Centre for Society, Technology and Values (CSTV) and instructor of STV 100, still finds it useful to introduce students to the idea expressed by scientist and novelist C.P. Snow that Western intellectual life is split into two cultures—the sciences and the humanities. How Snow developed this basic idea is not the point here—or in STV 100. In a rough way, it expresses a partial truth about the University of Waterloo, where it is still easy to earn an Arts degree without ever taking a Science course and it is possible to get a Science degree without taking any courses in Arts.

A vision of bridging these two cultures can be found in the earliest activities of the Centre for Society, Technology and Values at Waterloo.

In March 1985, the Centre sponsored a workshop on human values and technology at the University of Waterloo. According to the CSTV Newsletter of April 19, it was attended by more than 60 students and faculty members from all six faculties, as well as some members of the community and other universities. Its purpose was to “initiate a dialogue on STV issues among scientists, social scientists, engineers, and humanists.” It was deemed a “success” by the newsletter’s authors, but with some qualifications.

From this workshop came a more defined sense of what the Centre should do and be.

  • CSTV was to be an “umbrella organization” at a university “where much time, money, energy, and expertise are devoted to developing advanced technologies,” and thus where “it is especially important to look closely at the implications of such technologies for the quality of human life, broadly conceived.”
  • The Centre was to foster and facilitate activities that shone light on both the humanly significant output of technology and the humanly significant inputs—"the values and institutions which determine whether and how technologies are developed and diffused.”
  • The Centre was to function as a bridge of communication between the “EMS Faculties” (Engineering, Mathematics, and Science) and the “AEH Faculties” (Arts, Environmental Studies—now Environment, and Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies—now Applied Health Sciences).
  • The Centre should be sponsoring research.
  • The Centre’s area of concern was viewed as “critical.”

Lofty goals. Worthy of everyone’s effort. But realizable? As the Newsletter’s authors noted in reference to the bridging function, “limited participation of EMS faculty members at the Workshop suggests, however, that the desired communication is still in its infancy.”

And the focus on research? Again, many ideas worthy of pursuit were suggested. Many are still relevant today, such as:

  • Privacy, security, and individual performance monitoring
  • Technology in peace and conflict
  • Health care and biomedical research.

A big question was: where is the money to support this research to come from? In 1985, the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) offered strategic grants in “The Human Context of Technology.” SSHRC’s website in 2017 doesn’t seem to offer anything like that.

The need for such research is still great. But how will it be supported? And by whom?

This university has an abundance of talent and energy and insights and, yes, even dollars. How do we focus just a small fraction of these resources on STV-related concerns?

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