Topics in Science and Technology

Fabian Fischer
Arts and Society, Cross-Disciplinary Strategies
2024S, scientific seminar (SEW), 2.0 ECTS, 1.0 semester hours, course number S04950


Scaling Frictions

In this seminar, we will approach the topics of scaling, scalability, and non-scalability. We do so by drawing on a range of literature from Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Computer Science. Questions that will be discussed: When is something scalable? What does it mean to scale? When is something non-scalable? What happens if the scalable and non-scalable meet?

Point of departure for these discussions is the observation by Pfotenhauer, Laurent, Papageorgiou and Stilgoe "'vast scale' has become quasi-synonymous with ... success" (2022, p. 4), especially in the so called platform economy, but not only there. While the phenomenon of scalability is not limited to information technology (IT), it is maybe its most poignant example and will form the core of this seminar's discussion: As more and more aspects of our lives go digital, the amount of data generated increases at staggering speeds (just think about the increasing amount of sensors constantly producing data in various smart devices and infrastructures). Similarly, recent advances in generative AI allow us to create new(ish) textual and visual content at unprecedented speed and scale. At the heart of much of computer science is the quest to create algorithms and systems that can scale adequately in accordance with increasing input, i.e., data.

However, as Tsing notes, "[m]aking projects scalable takes a lot of work. Even after that work, there will still be interactions between scalable and nonscalable ... elements." (2015, p. 38) At these interactions, frictions can show up. In the seminar, we will explore these scaling frictions. Examples where these frictions can show up are when scaling meets planetary boundaries (e.g., through the limited supply of rare materials and energy) and the limited embodied experience of humans.

Throughout this course, we will mostly be doing close readings and discussion of a selection of texts.

Examination Modalities

Grading consists of the following:

30 % active participation in class
70 % questions/statements on the readings


Students from other study programs or other universities are welcome, provided the room capacity permits.

Key Words

Scaling, Scalability, Nonscalability, Critical Algorithm Studies, Critical Data Studies, Generative AI, STS, Computer Science


07 March 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room (preliminary discussion)
21 March 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room
11 April 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room
18 April 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room
25 April 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room
16 May 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room
23 May 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room
06 June 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room
13 June 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room
20 June 2024, 09:30–12:00 CDS Seminar Room , "Wrap-up and feedback to the lecturer"

Course Enrolment

From 05 February 2024, 00:00 to 11 April 2024, 23:55
Via online registration

Cross-Disciplinary Strategies (Master): Study Areas 1-3: Study Area 2: Science and Technology 569/020.02

Cross-Disciplinary Strategies (Bachelor): Science and Technology: Deepening / Application 700/002.20

Cross-Disciplinary Strategies (Bachelor): Economy and Politics: Deepening / Application 700/004.20

Co-registration: possible

Attending individual courses: possible