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The Social Construction of Technology

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1 The Social Construction of Technology
Susan Halford, Sociology and Social Policy Please use the dd month yyyy format for the date for example 11 January The main title can be one or two lines long.

2 Modernity, Science and technology
Situating science Emergence of scientific epistemology in the trajectory from feudalism-modernity-late/post modernity Offers critical perspectives on science Technology? Relationship between science and technology? From the ‘empirical programme of research’ (EPOR) in the ‘sociology of scientific knowledge’ (SSK) to the ‘social construction of knowledge’ (SCOT) Critiques of SCOT  ‘actor network theory’ (ANT) If using a school logo, make sure that if you have a long page title, it does not encroach on the logo. Allow about 2cm around the logo. Run the page title onto two lines if necessary.

3 Science and Technology?
Science technology: technology as the application of science? (Bacon, Descartes; Vannevar Bush) ‘… basic research creates the fund from which the practical application of knowledge must be drawn’ Sismondo p.77 But: (i) scientific knowledge may have little to do with the development of technologies and (ii) science may owe more to technologies than vice versa  ‘Technoscience’ – interdependence of science and technology (Latour 1988)

4 Learning from SSK Pinch, T. and Bijker, W. (1990) ‘The social construction of facts and artefacts: or how the sociology of science and the sociology of technology might benefit each other’ Roots in EPOR: situated within wider analysis of the enlightenment, focus on everyday practice of scientific work and what comes to count as scientific knowledge

5 Underlying principles
Science produces its categories of investigation Ian Hacking ‘ … constructivists maintain that classifications are not determined by how the world is but are convenient ways to represent it. They maintain that the world does not come neatly wrapped up in facts’ (Kirkpatrick 2008; p.26) Karen Barad: the agential cut – what kind of actors exist in the world. Attention to the social actions that it takes for things to become ‘scientific knowledge’ Interpretive flexibility of scientific findings: controversies Closure Set in a wider context of social, cultural and economic relations

6 The Social Construction of Technology
Focus on the evolution of technologies over time Challenging the idea that technologies are: In the eye of the inventor Finished once invented Separate from social influence  ‘de-essentialising’ technological artefacts

7 The 3 Stages of SCOT Technological artefacts are culturally constructed and interpreted – ‘interpretive flexibility’ Which artefacts come to be in production is determined by a phase of ‘controversy’ over what is needed, for whom, what is acceptable and what works (or counts as working). This is a process of contest between relevant social groups (engineers, consumers, manufacturers, governments, etc.) Groups will have varying interests and different interpretations of what is needed/acceptable/works/etc. Prototypes circulated and alternatives considered ‘Technology is actively shaped by social actors who invest it with meanings and bend it to the desires and interests of (non-technical) forms of collective life’ (Kirkpatrick 2008; p.25)

8 (2) Closure Emergent consensus over what an artefact should be/for/whom/etc. Multiple interpretations decline. (i) Rhetorical closure – where controversies are redefined e.g. by advertising (ii) Redefinition of the problem – where a new issue is defined that everyone can agree to a particular technical solution -> stabilization

9 (3) Framing Situating the above processes in the wider socio-cultural milieu Emerged later following criticism of 1990 framework Recognises differential forms of power: Between different social groups In terms of dominant values and interests e.g. the technological frame that shapes meanings and behaviours in relation to particular artefacts

10 Pinch and Bijker’s Bicycle History

11 Web Science Questions Evolution of the web?

12 Carr, L., Pope, C. and Halford, S. (2010)

13 What is the relationship between earlier initiatives and today’s www?
Which interest groups shaped the www? How/has this changed over time? What is the www for and who is it for? Why did www flourish whilst other variants didn’t? To what extent does the concept of closure apply to the www today?

14 Critiques of SCOT Factually incorrect? (Clayton Pinch and Bijker 2002) Focuses too closely on design at the expense of use? (Law and Mol’s study of the Zimbabwe bush pump – a ‘mutable mobile’) Relatively little (later) attention to structural exclusion – whose interests can shape the evolution of what artefacts? Ignores the reciprocal relationship between artefacts and social groups? From technological determinism to social determinism?  Actor Network Theory

15 REFERENCES Barad, K. (2003) ‘Posthumanist performativity: towards an understanding of how matter comes to matter’ Signs, 28(3) pp Bijker, W., and Pinch, T. (2002) ‘SCOT answers, other questions: a reply to Nick Clayton’ Technology and Culture 43 (2) pp Carr, L., Pope, C. and Halford, S. (2010) Could the Web be a Temporary Glitch? In: WebSci10: Extending the Frontiers of Society On-Line, April 26-27th, 2010, Raleigh, NC: US. Clayton, A., (2002) ‘SCOT: does it answer?’ Technology and Culture 43 (2) pp Hacking, I., (1999) The Social Construction of What? Cambridge, MASS., Harvard University Press. Latour, B. (1988) Science in Action Cambridge, MASS., Harvard University Press Kirkpatrick, G. (2008) Technology and Social Power Basingstoke, Palgrave. Mol, A-M., and Law, J., (2001) ‘Situating Technoscience: an enquiry into spatialities’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space Vol.19 pp Pinch, T., and Bijker, W., (1990) ‘The social construction of facts and artefacts: or how the sociology of science and the sociology of technology might benefit each other’ in Bijker, W., Hughes, T., and Pinch, T., (Eds) The Social Construction of Technological Systems Cambridge, MASS., MIT Press. Sismondo, S. (2006) An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies Oxford, Blackwell. (Second edition is published by Wiley 2009).

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