The Social Construction
Central elements of
this presentation come from the thoughts and ideas developed by Weibe Bijker in
"The Social Construction of Technological Systems" (1987) and "Of
Bicycles, Bakelites and Bulbs" (1992); as well as the work of Donald MacKenzie:
"The Social Shaping of Technology" with Judy Wajcman (1985) and "Inventing
- Understand links between
social and technical processes
- Understand both as human
- Technology shaped by-
- Human engineers
- Market forces
- Consumer needs and
- Government Policies
- All individuals and
groups who are also social products
- Attempt to link the activity
of individuals to wider social processes
- Internal Structure of
- New ways to theoretically
ground the relationship between Society and Technology in order to allow for
Action (case studies=> theoretical formulations=> political analyses
- Meaning of a technic
does not lie in technology.
- Avoid linear analysis
of technological development
- Avoid asymmetry: include
focus on failed technology: How a particular technic becomes seen as successful.
- Focus on the internal
dynamics (details of technologies) and the social context in which these details
come to have particular meaning
- The common evolution
of Technology and Society
- Invention and Creativity
as Social Processes. Individuals matter, yet only within particular social
contexts- the inevitability of inventions (Ogburn)?
Net result will be
the construction of an understanding of Socio-technical change which is Probabilistic:
neither simply rational and goal directed nor purely idiosyncratic and spontaneous.
Socio-technical change is contingent on a variety of factors, including systematic
structural constraints (which are contingent factors, too!).
- Accounts for both change
and continuity- specifies conditions in which either occurs
- Symmetry: Success and/or
failure of a particular technic is explained as a result of socio-technological
developments- not as a cause of these developments. Success does not equal
an artifact that "works," what works is a product of the eye of
- Bakelite was ignored
at first- only after WWI and the dumping of surplus phenols did the possibility
of low cost production become a reality. Bakelite "became" a
successful competitor to natural substances
- The criminalization
of hemp in 1937 "allowed" for the synthetic fibers and solvents
under development by DuPont to become commercially viable
- Actor/Structure Integration:
Understand specific individual actors within particular situations, yet options
and choices constrained by broad structural elements.
Web: No a priori
distinction between Society, Technology, Science, Politics, Economics, etc.
"A good engineer is a good technician, sociologist, economists, and politician."
- Science and Technology
as socially constructed sub-cultures
- Boundaries between them
are the product of social negotiations
- The meaning of an artifact,
the nature of Truth=> as a social construction. Focus on:
- Flexibility of interpretations
- Consensus building
and closure mechanisms: Stabilization
- This activity within
a socio-cultural milieu
The Safety Bicycle
Another example of
Interpretive Flexibility: The air tire
- The role of the "Penny-farthing"
in contrast to a variety of other models
- Many of the competing
models had success, yet the Penny Farthing is seen as the "direct decendent"
of the modern bicycle.
- Lawson's bicyclette (in
linear terms the direct successor) was not successful, yet gave rise to the
modern safety bicycle
- To understand the development:
focus on the problems, interests and groups which influenced the bicycles
- Variety of groups- Interpretive
flexibility: Engineers, consumers, anti-cyclists
- Heterogeneity: Users-
male and female users
- Women's use of the
high wheelers was viewed as inappropriate- moral concerns/dress codes
- Safety and stability
was a central concern for women who had previously been restricted to
the use of tricycles
- Some parts of the
modern bicycle's development are due to the specific interests and perceived
market influence of women bicyclists.
- Power and Economic strength
of relevant groups and artifact's interpretation:
- Early users of high
wheelers- young men, economically well off, concerned with bicycling as
a sport rather than a means of transportation- focus on speed.
- Solution to vibration
problems of the low wheeler, (other designs used springs in the frame) or..
- A means of incresing
- An ugly compromising
of safety (side slipping)
to different problems are related to needs and concerns of specific groups.
- Invention of the safety
bicycle was not an isolated event, but the culmination of a 19 year process
- At the end, 1898: The
low wheeled, rear chain drive, diamond frame and air tire cycle emerged as
- After 1898 these details
being solved versus relevant groups perceiving it as being solved?)
- Rhetorical closure: just
say the problem has been fixed. Advertising the improved safety features.
- Redefine the problem:
- Few liked the air
tire- difficult enginneering and practicality, ugly
- Dunlop- thought it
the best solution to vibration
- Sport cyclists- not
concerned with vibration
- Increased speed afforded,
won over significant groups
- Closure reached,
not due to vibration issue but as a solution to the "need for speed."
- Closure is not a "natural"
process, but a social construction.
Read the Exchange
between Bijker, Pinch, and Clayton concerning the revelance of SCOT and the
case study of the development of the safety bicycle.
Other Examples from
Focus on the
Interrelatedness of Technology and Everday Life
- Ruth Schwartz Cowan:
- Not technological
determinism, but a recognition of interrelatedness.
- Review L. Winner
on the politics of technology,
and "Techne' and
- Marx: People construct
(make) history, but they do so within the circumstances transmitted from
the past. "The legacy of technology."
- Impact of technology
on the environment (ecological critique as a significant voice in the
shaping of technology
Focus on Gender
and Technological Development
- Technology shaping technology
with the structure of socially constructed technological systems
on invention and innovation
Hughes on Edison
- Edison's work is
perhaps best seen as minute and paistaking modification of existing devices
- His imagination=>
looking at what exists in new ways and combinations
- Design and development
of the light bulb- as a part of a system of electrical generation and
distribution. The system designed the bulb!
- As system expands
and new elements are placed within it- we encounter "reverse salients":
Products of uneven development, technological lags. Attention is directed
there- defined as "critical problems"
- Example: electrical
supply- transmission requires high voltage, power is lost through the
lines: development of alternating current, transformers, power stations,
- The light bulb? In
order to make electric lighting competitive with gas systems, Edison had
to find a way to get lots of light from lower current levels (and lower
current allowed for less copper in the wires). Reverse salient (goal oriented
system)- unprofitabiltiy. Scientific research on electrical resistance
(Ohm's and Joule's laws)- search for the proper filament.
- Edison: Good grasp
of the system.
and Technological Change
- Understanding technological
change as within, rather than outside of, society.
- Power of "market
- Economic shaping of technology
is the social shaping of technology, and is particular to specific societies
and their social relations of production. Economic System<=>Social System<=>Technological
- Bhaduri's study of
agriculture in India. Limiting technological change limited productivity
and kept peasants tied up in a cycle of debt- reiforcing their dependency
on the landowners. Resistance to technological change cannot be explained
by "cultural backwardness," but by "rational calculation"
on the part of land owners (within a different "frame" than
industrial capitalism. (I.e. socio-economic sytem=> rate of innovation)
- Type of society:
Type of technology, yet many analyses suggest that technological development
is, in one way or another, a means to embody control (owners over workers,
producers over consumers)
Relations and the State
issues and other social relations shape technological development.
- Other needs: State determined
out weigh rational economic calculations (Germany and synthetic petrol during
- 17th and 18th Century
France and England: Technology as source of power, population and wealth-
yet in France- "work must be found for the largest number of hands."
Brocade loom vs English plain-cloth loom (Former required twice as many workers)
- Military operations:
The state's military interest in new technologies is often the critical element
that allows change in the face of overwhelming costs or other obstacles
- Nuclear power: Military
development, economic drawvbacks overridden by "need for autonomous"
- Jet airliners- technology
directly descented from military developments
- Electronics- especially
computers and the internet
of The Constructionist Perspective:
- "An actor network
is simultaneously an actor whose activity is networking heterogeneous elements
and a network that is able to redefine and transform what it is made of."
- An actor-network includes
both human and non-human elements
- An actor-network is not
fixed or stable- it is capable of redefining its identity and relationships
in new ways.
- (From: Michel Callon,
"Society in the Making: The Study of Technology as a tool for Sociological
Analysis" in The Social Construction of Technological Systems)
- "Technological systems
contain messy, complex, problem-solving components."
- "They are both socially
constructed and society shaping."
- They contain: artifacts,
organizations, and institutions
- They are shaped by their
- They are goal oriented
and evolve over time.
- "Reverse Salients"
- (from: Thomas P. Hughes,
of Technological Systems" in The Social Construction of Technological
Technically induced social change: IDUAR
- Innovation and Diffusion
(as above- shaped by SCES)
- Pattern of Use: purposes,
how much, how widely shapes social reality
- Adaptation (may or may
not require changes, similar in ways to Hughes' idea of momentum)- example
of the automobile
Power and Social Control: Marx and Conflict Theory
Owner: Robert O. Keel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 7, 2011 15:05