November 30, 2010

The Social Shaping of Technology

MacKenzie, Wajcman 
The Social Shaping of Technology (1985)

Social scientists look at technology's effect or impact [my pet-hate word!] on society. 
Prior to this, we have to ask: What is shaping technology for it to have these effects?
What causes the changes in technology?
[i.e. a change in perspective from technological determinism to social determinism]

Questions the authors examine:
Which social factors shape technological change?
Does the type of our society affect the type of technology we produce?

If you accept technological change as an independent given,  then you see our social responses to that technology as passive; but,
If you concentrate on the effects of society on technology, then technology is no longer independent/autonomous.

From a SST perspective, technology is just another facet of our social life, just like our political or economic system.

Warning - just because technology can be shaped socially, it does not mean that it is easy to change technology

Technological Determinism
Technology is autonomous, independent, outside of society;
Changes in technology cause changes in society
It is problematic to ascribe agency to inanimate objects or systems - how can they cause society to be this or that?
Some technologies are resisted or rejected - which technologies are eventually adopted depends on the characteristics of the society.  Technology then is not so autonomous after all.

Contradiction to technological determinism - the same technology can have different effects in different societies.  When explaining social change, we must look to other factors in addition to technology.

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