The Examination: The Technology that Shapes What We Can Know, Do and Be




Michel Foucault coined the term the examined society. He argued that, although we give it very little thought, the examination is one of the most brilliant, if least studied, inventions of our time. When we think of technologies what usually comes to mind are concrete inventions: the light bulb, the radio, the computer and the smart phone. But changes in societies are also driven by more diffuse technologies such as social media, advertising, and education. To that list I would add the examination. It is a technology as powerful in shaping who we are as humans as anything made of tungsten, copper or silicone.

When I first read Foucault’s writing about the examination it got me thinking: Who invented examinations? How did examinations become so ubiquitous that we can scarcely imagine life without them? What are the effects, good or bad, of so much examination? Do they improve us as individuals? Do they make our societies better? And what will happen as we increasingly ask intelligent machines to take on the task of examining humans? The purpose of this course is to address these questions.


  1. Be conversant about the history and social effects of the technology of examination
  2. Analyze critically uses of examination that are learning and growth oriented versus those for production or surveillance
  3. Identify the elements of examination design associated with validity
  4. Develop familiarity with a range of social science theories as they apply to examination


Brian David Hodges


The assessment for the course will consist of 3 parts: 45% Critical summary/application (3 X 15%), 15% Reflective piece on assessment, 40% Final paper