December 8, 2010

Reactions to Bijker

There are some criticisms [Langdon Winner] that can be leveled at the concept of 'relevant social groups.'
  • Who has the power/authority/expertise to determine what a relevant social group is?
  • Are there any groups who are affected by the technology (or by technological change) but who are disenfranchised, and thus cannot speak up?
  • Are any groups excluded from the equation? 
Winner stresses the importance of 'looking at the other side of the coin': not just to look at which questions are asked but also which questions are overlooked; which debates are left off the agenda; which groups do not participate in the decision-making process.  There is some validity to this argument.  We get a fuller picture of society and its structures when we study not only the movers and shakers, but also those at the periphery who usually have no say.

As an aside (but still related), scholars have studied the classic technologies throughout history (nuclear weapons, steam power, automobile, etc.)  One thing they all have in common is that they are (or were) successful technologies.  No one has seen fit to look at technologies that have failed.  Examining what went wrong with a failed technology can surely tell us volumes about the society from which it emanated.

Langdon Winner.  "Upon opening the black box and finding it empty: social constructivism and the philosophy of technology."

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Digital Telephone Book by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.