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Social Construction Of Technology

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  • 1. An Analysis of Readings Week 5 Social Construction of Technology
  • 2. The Authors: Trevor Pinch & Wiebe Bijker
    • Trevor Pinch is a former chair of the Science and Technology Studies department at Cornell University at which he is currently a professor of science and technology studies, as well as a professor of Sociology
    • He completed a degree in Physics at the Imperial College London and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Bath.
    • Other texts contributed to include - How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology and Perspectives on Science: Historical, Philosophical, Social.
    • Wiebe Bijker is a professor of Technology and Society at the University of Maastricht. He was also President of the Society for Social Studies of Science, director and chairman of the board of the Netherlands Research School on Science, Technology and Modern Culture.
    • He helped to establish, and was the first scientific coordinator of the European master’s degree program on Society, Science and Technology now offered by 18 universities.
    • He received a BSc degree in Philosophy from the University of Groningen, an engineer’s degree in applied physics from the Technical University of Delft and completed his PhD in the sociology and history of technology at the University of Twente.
  • 3. Context
    • The two authors met at European Association for the Study of Science and Technology.
    • Proposed an integration between the sociology of scientific knowledge and the study of technology
    • The results of this early work were demonstrated in Paris, 1983
    • Workshop was then organised, for a max of 30 academics from historical, sociological and philosophical backgrounds, at the Tewente University of Technology.
    • Contributions included the development of a ‘systems’ approach by Thomas Hughes a technological historian and the ‘actor network’ theory through Michel Callon, Bruno Latour and John Law.
    • This workshop led to the book of which the first reading is an extract from
  • 4. The Social Construction of Fact and Artifacts
    • Attempts to integrate the Empirical Programme of Relativism (EPOR) with Social Construction of Technology through three stages: - interpretative flexibility - closure mechanisms through consensus, redefinition of the problem, stabilisation - connection between closure mechanisms and society
  • 5. The Authors: Langdon Winner
    • Langdon Winner’s education at the University of California (1966 – 1973) was largely focused on Political Science.
    • Winner has been a Professor of Political Science in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, since 1990.
    • He is a member of several organisations including, Society for the History of Technology, Society for Social Studies of Science, Society for Philosophy and Technology.
    • Winner is known for his articles and books on science, technology, and society. He also spent several years as a reporter and contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine.
    • He also contributed to the 1969 hoax LP The Masked Marauders, s upplying piano and backing vocals on the fictional supergroup’s self-titled album.
    • Focuses on the intersection between politics and technology, and its resulting potential.
  • 6. Upon the black box
    • Inability to recognise the importance of social consequences of technical choice
    • How can one decide who the relevant social groups/social interests are?
    • Disregards deeper, underlying causes for technological change – cultural, intellectual or economic
    • SCOT is simply descriptive, makes no moral or political standpoints, or guidelines to shape future change
  • 7. Criticisms of SCOT
    • Criticised for the way in which they used the bicycle as their case study (Nick Clatyon, 2002)
    • Criticised for its over simplification when applied (Paul Rosen, 1993)
    • Political concerns from both Winner and Stewart Russel
    • Has been argued that the analysis of SCOT is too structured and too heavily focused on the design stage of technological development (Winner, Clayton)
  • 8. SCOT Case Study: E-Learning
    • Who are the relevant social groups?
  • 9. SCOT Case Study: E-Learning (2)
    • Relevant Social Groups:
    • - Students - Teaching staff - IT Professionals - Mid-Level Administrators - Educational Planners - Educational Publishers
  • 10. SCOT Case Study: E-Learning (3)
    • Course Management Software (Stabilized)
    • Technological Stabilisation: Yes
    • Role of Relevant Social Groups:
    • IT professionals : minimal
    • Educational planners : none
    • Mid-level administrators: cost savings, cost transfer to central IT
    • Faculty: no discernable change to teaching style, compatible with existing software tools, less clerical work such as automated grading Students: better access to course materials, one point of contact, reinforce established teaching methods.
  • 11. SCOT Case Study: E-Learning (4)
    • Distance Learning (Failure)
    • In previous years distance e-learning looked to become an integral feature of the educational institution
    • Role of Relevant Social Groups: IT Professionals : important to finetuning the technical aspects, though not to the actual decision to take on the technology Educational Planners : needed to consider the way in which it would restructure education, as well as cut costs through standardised teaching modules Mid-Level Administrators: similar to educational planners Faculty: conflicted between possibility of either increased workload or deskilling of educational profession Students: benefits of increased access, but concerns as to quality of material and the degree to which credentials would be recognised
  • 12. Technological Determinism Case Study: E-Learning
    • What is Technological Determinism?
    • Rogers’ ‘Dissemination of Innovation’ Model
    • However, things are clearly not this black and white - Classroom is still the dominate medium - Web technology has been modified - Has reinforcing features, rather than revolutionary effects
  • 13. Key questions
    • What value would Winners’ criticisms add to SCOT if they were to be adapted? Are they valid criticisms? Can we use it to create ‘guidelines’ for future technological development?
    • Can SCOT explain unexpected failures or successes in technology
    • Both SCOT and alternatives such as Technological Determnism tend to be rather black and white perspectives. Can one learn from the other?