April 19, 2010

Edgerton - ten eclectic theses

Innovation and technology have been conflated.  Distinction should be made and emphasis placed on use, not innovation.
  1. Study of technology-society relationship focuses on innovation (i.e. emergence of new technologies).  It does not focus on study of everyday technologies (i.e. old, outmoded, obsolete technologies) which are in use.
  2. Histories of technology-in-use (old) and histories of innovation (new) differ re. Geography – Chronology – Sociology
  3. Conflation of innovation-technology is obvious in national histories.  BUT – nation-state is not a microcosm for the whole world.
  4. It is difficult to engage general history with history of technology when most studies of technology focus on innovation only.  However, studying general historical problems has produced histories of technology-in-use.
  5. “Technological Determinism” says that technologies in use determine a society.  Sometimes this is perverted into “technical innovation determines social change.”
  6. “Technological Determinism” is a theory of society, not a theory of technology.
  7. The importance of a technology can’t be determined only by its pervasiveness.  We must always look at alternatives.
  8. Invention and innovation rarely lead to use, rather, vice versa.
  9. Don’t confuse changes in knowledge with knowledge-in-use.  Doing lots of research doesn’t mean a country has technical capabilities.  Knowing and creating are two separate entities – a growth in one does not necessarily entail a growth in the latter.
  10. “Innovation-centred and knowledge-centred accounts of technology are central to twentieth century culture.”  Governments’ policies on science and technology focus on innovation, not all science and technology.  Data re. innovation (e.g. statistics on R&D) are great but not so data on diffusion and use.  Here technique-in-use is not ‘technology’ but common phones, cars, aeroplanes, electricity, etc.

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