The graduate certificate is open to Ph.D. students in any USC program. To complete the certificate, doctoral students are required to take one core course and three elective courses (see courses below).

In addition to the completion of these course requirements, students must demonstrate a focus on STS as a meaningful component of their doctoral dissertation. This will include working with faculty with expertise in STS on the doctoral committee (as a primary advisor or minor member). Faculty will be responsible for judging the adequacy of the STS component in the student’s dissertation. To apply for the certificate, contact

COMM 569/SOCI 653: Introduction to Science & Technology Studies

This course is designed to provide newcomers with an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of Science & Technology Studies (STS) at the doctoral level. It presents canonical and contemporary scholarship, providing an overview of some of the major themes and issues that occupy the field, with attention to different disciplinary areas of application and concern. STS provides tools for critical analysis of the forms of political, epistemological, and cultural authority that underpin scientific knowledge and technological systems. We will read examples of sociological, historical, and ethnographic approaches to the study of knowledge production, its relationship to technology, and political and social order. This course will provide doctoral students with a cross-disciplinary foundation for analyzing the material and epistemological dimensions of their proposed independent research sites.

Pre-Approved Spring 2024 STS Elective Courses

SOCI 610: Contemporary Sociological Theory

Professor Andrew Lakoff
Mondays 1:00-3:50pm

This course serves as an advanced introduction to recent developments in sociological theory. It covers roughly the period from the late-1950s to the present. The course will structure a conversation among several parallel but sometimes intersecting strands of social thought. In particular, the readings chosen in this class thematize the question of the role of social theory in articulating a critical and reflective stance toward modern institutions and forms of rationality. In various ways, these readings interrogate the relation between the assumed ‘goods’ of modern life—scientific progress, economic prosperity, individual freedom, and improved health—and ever-encroaching structures of power, as well as the unintended consequences of efforts to improve human welfare.

COMM 670: Culture and Economy

Professor Manuel Castells
Tuesdays 12:30-3:20pm

This is an advanced graduate seminar that aims to explore and analyze the interaction between culture and economy by observing different types of economic practices. The purpose of the seminar will be the generation of new knowledge in this field. Students will be expected to develop research and original thinking and to produce a research paper of publishable quality.

ANTH 499: The Future of Facts in Latin America

Professor Andrea Ballestero (USC) with Professor Eden Medina (MIT)
Tuesdays 3:30-6:20pm

If in the 20th century facts were presumed objective entities, in the 21st facts are up for grabs as manufactured doubt and distrust of expertise saturate the public sphere. To understand the future of facts, we need to expand studies of disinformation with approaches that examine the nature of facts in a global context. This requires going beyond truth/falsehood, fact/fiction discourses. This class takes an expansive approach and examines the making, use, and erasure of facts in Latin America. It will ask: Who produces a fact? Where is it produced? How is it circulated? And, how is it discredited?

Students will learn social science and humanities tools to expand the analysis of facts and better understand what is often referred to as the post-truth era.

Our case studies will include the role of genetic information in violent disappearances in Chile, the making of medical claims in Nicaragua, organizing aquifer protection in Costa Rica, inventing new technologies for the green revolution in Mexico, accounting for the body in legal proceedings in Colombia, distrusting algorithms in Costa Rica, religious facts in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.


· Parallel local field trips in Los Angeles, CA and Cambridge, MA. (*fully funded, students will have no out-of-pocket costs*)
· Lecture series on the nature and future of facts.
· Opportunity to interact across institutions and with faculty participants in the Future of Facts in Latin America Working Group

COMM 632: Cultures of Artificial Intelligence

Professor Jennifer Petersen
Wednesdays 2:00-4:50pm

What is the intelligence of artificial intelligence? What ideas about mind, reasoning and knowledge are embedded in the history of AI as an idea and in practice? What hierarchical social categories and classifications are extended or created in the deployment of AI in specific social and institutional sites? What exactly is at stake in the replication and automation of “human” perceptual and intellectual capacities? How does the use of machines for tasks we once thought were part of what makes humans special (e.g., making decisions, judgements, care) change how we think about and define personhood, subjectivity, and the human?

Drawing on work in STS, the history of technology, and social theory, we will explore such questions – and some of the existing answers to them. We will explore and analyze some of the core foundations of the very idea of artificial intelligence, the sites in which AI research was pioneered, and the problems we have imagined it might solve. Throughout, we will be concerned with the methods and questions that communication scholars, historians, sociologists, and anthropologists have brought to the study of artificial intelligence.

ANTH 609: Global Biopolitics

Professor Peter Redfield
Thursdays 2:00-4:50pm

Matters of life and death are increasingly matters of contemporary political and ethical concern. Power exercised in the name of life has addressed an extraordinary range of phenomena, from wellness regimes, vaccination campaigns and rewilding, to biometric systems of identification, concentration camps and aerial bombing. On the one hand new technologies extend possibilities of protecting and enhancing human (or more than human) existence, on the other they highlight enduring patterns of neglect and active eradication. In this course we will examine keywords in cultural theory related to biopolitics, looking at concepts they name, and considering how they might inform critical analyses of colonial, state, and corporate control of populations. In addition to working through a set of influential late 20th century theoretical writings and more recent responses, we will examine a series of case studies in which life and death are centrally at stake. Part of the course will be open to individual definition for those who might have established projects.

Engl 591: 20th Century American Literature and Cultures (“Unmaking the End of the World”: Intro to the Environmental Humanities)

Professor Devin Griffiths
Thursdays 2:00-4:30pm

How do we think and write the end of our world? How might our writing shape the world to come? These questions will be central to our seminar, which will examine major works of the environmental humanities to explore how a variety of writers, academics, and activists have explored the interpretation of nature and the place of humans within it.

In today’s world, environmental challenges have become increasingly urgent, complex, and interconnected. Addressing these challenges requires a holistic perspective that draws upon the insights and methodologies of various academic disciplines. This graduate seminar in the environmental humanities invites students to engage in a deep exploration of the intricate relationship between humans and the environment.

Though centered on the twentieth century, this seminar will explore the wider field of the environmental humanities from its seeds in nineteenth-century natural history and nature writing to its emergence as a full-fledged and deeply interdisciplinary research program in the twenty-first. Our readings will pair primary readings of creative works of fiction, poetry, art, and personal narrative, with secondary sources drawn from fields as diverse as ecological science, history, art history, sociology and anthropology. Over the course of fifteen weeks, we will consider the following topics: Indigenous knowledge and land management; histories of environmental racism; ecofeminism; environmental affects, including climate anxiety and ecological mourning; histories of environmental science, ecology, and ecosystem; deep ecology; the Western conservation movement; “slow violence,” and the environmentalism of the poor; extractivism and energy cultures; world perspectives on environmental history and colonialism; nature poetry and locodescription; “cli-fi”; environmental activism and the divestment movement; and green Marxism.

As part of the course, seminar participants will contribute to weekly discussions, select and present one additional primary source document from the historical collections of either the Huntington or Clarke libraries, and produce a 15-page critical research paper with bibliography.

Who Should Attend: This seminar is open to graduate students from a variety of academic backgrounds, including but not limited to literature, history, philosophy, environmental studies, anthropology, communications, and related fields. It is designed for those who are passionate about understanding and addressing environmental challenges through a humanistic lens.

By the end of this seminar, students will be equipped with a deeper understanding of the environmental humanities and will be better prepared to engage with and contribute to the critical environmental discussions and environmental activism of our time.

Pre-Approved Elective Courses

The following courses are pre-approved to apply toward the certificate. Other courses may be applied toward the certificate, as approved by the STS faculty advisor. One of these courses may be a research workshop geared toward doctoral prospectus development. Unless approved by the program director, directed research may not be counted towards the award of the certificate.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

AMST 640: Race, Technology, Power

Taught by Professor Juan de Lara, this course will introduce graduate students to an emerging field of scholarship that examines how race, science, and technology are mutually constituted. We will draw from a number of academic disciplines, including science and technology studies, ethnic studies, critical race studies, and the social sciences.

The class is divided into three sections. Section one will use scientific objects and genetic coding to illustrate how racial thinking has been shaped by and been central to technological innovation. In section two, we will interrogate the multiple ways that race and technology have transformed governance and human subjectivity. The final section will focus on more recent efforts to contest entrenched networks of power and to push for social justice through online platforms.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

AMST 700: Theories and Practices of Professional Development

This seminar is the “prospectus course,” in which each person completes a draft of his/her dissertation prospectus by the end of the Fall semester. Along the way, we will talk about how each dissertation project fits into the disciplines of American and Ethnic Studies, including practical matters of preparing for the job market and less tangible issues such as theories of these disciplines and their related scholarly and pedagogical practices.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

COMM 573: Networked Publics: Theories & Encounters

This course introduces students to historical and contemporary debates around how publics are made, what they can look like, and what they should be. It traces normative models of the public across communication institutions and infrastructures, focusing on the role that networked information technologies play in how publics are imagined and realized.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

CCOMM 574: Science & Technology Studies for Communication & Media Studies

How does knowledge acquire the status of fact, and how does it travel through the world? What is the relationship between science, technology, and social order? It’s tempting to see new technologies, especially new media technologies, as drivers of political and social change. But technological artifacts also embody the values and assumptions — and conflicts — of the societies that produce them, in complicated and surprising ways. This course provides an introduction to the field of Science & Technology Studies, examining the intersection of technology, knowledge, power, and society, with particular attention to cases and theories relevant to the study of communication and media. It takes as its premise that assumptions about society may come to be embodied in technological artifacts and technical knowledge, and undertakes to study how social relations get “inside” technology.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

COMM 632: Cultures of Artificial Intelligence

Taught by Professor Jennifer Petersen, the course will draw on literatures including feminist STS, histories of technology, and social theory to investigate the development and implications of AI. The focus will be on a critical genealogy of concepts and forms of knowledge central to AI.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

COMM 647: Network and Society

Advanced research seminar examining the interaction between communication technology, society, economy, politics and culture from interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

COMM 652: Ethnographic Field Research in Communication

Taught by Professor Christina Dunbar-Hester, the course explores ethnography as research mode including theory and practice of ethnographic research; epistemological and political underpinnings of ethnographic research.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

CSCI 631: Privacy in the World of Big Data

Privacy challenges that arise in the world driven by data. An overview of algorithmic and technical approaches to addressing them.
Recommended Preparation: thorough understanding of algorithms, proof-based mathematics, and basic probability.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

ENGL 509: Marx, Darwin, and the Evolution of Social Theory

Taught by Professor Devin Griffiths, this course will examine the dialogue between two of the nineteenth century’s most influential theorists of social change, while tracing their impact on later discussions of race, aesthetics, labor, and environmental thought.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

ENGL 610: Theory at the End of the World: Ecocriticism, Apocalypse, and the Anthropocene

How do we think the end of our world? How might our writing shape the world to come? These questions will be central to our seminar, which will examine major works of ecocriticism, systems thinking, and organic theory to explore how a variety of writers have conceived the world as an integrated ecology, and how such conceptions of the world system inform out attempts to deal with climate change and the dawn of the Anthropocene.

Pre-Approved Elective Course

LBST 572: Controversies in Science, Medicine and Ethics

Focus on how scientific developments drive ethical issues in medicine. Exploration of ethical dimensions of issues such as stem cells, genetic engineering and reproductive technology.