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Social Construction of
          Technology
                Florence Paisey
                      April 2011
Table of Contents
 Definition

 Importance

 Origins

 Core Assumptions

 Central Constructs

 Leading Advocates

 Significant Studies

 Limitations

 Conclusion
Definition
The Theory of the Social Construction of Technology
Definition

 The Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) has grown out
  of the tenets of social constructivism and the sociology of
  scientific knowledge.

 SCOT views the development of technology as an
  interactive process or discourse among technologists or
  engineers and relevant (or interested) social groups.

 SCOT may be defined as an interactive sociotechnical
  process that shapes all forms of technology.
Importance
A Ground-Breaking Perspective
Why SCOT?

 Technologies or innovations – like the wheel, the printing
  press, the bicycle, the assembly line, computers – all shape
  and organize the world and our lives.

 Individuals – you and me – decide what technologies or
  parts of a technology are useful, profitable, or comfortable –
  meaningful.

 Groups – assemblies of individuals – form, each
  characterized by particular variables, each group holding a
  stake in a technology.
Why SCOT?

 Relevant groups or “stakeholders” include scientists,
  technologists, economists, politicians, entrepreneurs,
  you, and me.

 Stakeholders interpret the innovations differently.
    One innovation may be a solution – but, also have a bug. If
      the “bug” or problem isn’t resolved, the innovation will fail
      – relevant social groups – or stakeholders will not buy in.

 In resolving the problems – accepted more or less by
  significant groups -- the social has shaped the technical.
  Hence, sociotechnical.
Origins and Social
Construcivism
Sociology of Technology and Science (STS)
Origins

 The Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) was
  introduced in 1984 by Bijker and Pinch.

 Their paper – “The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts
  or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of
  Technology might Benefit Each Other” introduced the theory
  and set forth an argument to support it.

 The paper identified mechanisms by which the social and
  the technical interact.
Social Constructivism

 The sociology of science and the sociology of technology
  had been approached separately.

 The sociology of science has recently applied the theory
  of social constructivism to explain its trajectory.

 Social Constructivism holds that knowledge is a social
  construction – (not an ultimate truth). As such
  knowledge/science can be interpreted in different ways.
Social Constructivism

 Bijker and Pinch relate this perspective to the progress of
  technology.
    Technologies work or fail because of a range of
      heterogeneous interpretations and variables – constraining
      or driving factors.

 Social Constructivism and technology hold that people
   attach meanings or interpretations to artifacts.

 People/social groups direct technological development
   through their interpretation/meanings – perhaps to
   fruition; perhaps to defeat.
A Break With the Past
Pioneering Ideas in the Sociology of Technology
Epistemology and Science

 The idea that the social shapes science was a new idea.
   Science is not directed independently, by an internal logic
    or “Determinism.”
   There is nothing epistemologically special about the path
    or nature of science.
   The epistemology of science, technology, and knowledge,
    then, did not exist independently of the human mind.
   It was not acquired through data obtained by a priori,
    deductive methodology.
   Social science now rejected the idea of an ultimate social
    reality that involved predictive, natural law.
Epistemology and Science

 SCOT is not a positivist or objectivist position.

 SCOT holds that science progresses due to social forces
    Includes all social pressures – economic, political, psychological
      – influences.

 Social entities attach subjective meanings to specific
   scientific endeavors, innovations, or related variables – if
   these meanings are accepted by relevant social groups –
   science progresses or moved in relation to socio-technical
   and socio-cultural issues.
Epistemology & Social Constructivism

 The trajectory of technology, like science, does not
   depend on its independent, exogenous nature.

 Technology is socially constructed – its progress or
   movement depends on many social factors and relevant
   social groups.
Arguments
The Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology
Some Problems

 Studies in the sociology of technology are problematic
   because most studies have been conducted on successful
   innovations—few studies done on the failures.

 These studies of innovation suggest that there is an
   implicit assumption that an innovation succeeded as if a
   magic wand “made it so.”

 The sociological variables that played into a success are
   not sufficiently analyzed.
Bakelite – A Famous Example

   Bakelite illustrates idea of social forces at work in
     shaping technology.

   Bakelike: an early plastic, started out as an artificial
     substitute for varnish.
      Not a market success.
      Accidental dumping of materials that make up Bakelite,
       proved that the material could be molded into plastics.
      The innovation redirected for use as plastic and all related
       applications.
      The scientist who developed Bakelite did not envision its
       use as a plastic and the many ways plastic is used.
Assumptions
How do Social Groups Form?
What Road Does Science Travel?


 Bijker and Pinch (1984) state that technology, like
   science, is socially constructed – its trajectory depends
   on many social factors and relevant social groups.
Assumptions

 An implicit assumption

   Social, political, economic and all other “societal”
     pressures are established (not forming) while shaping a
     technological innovation (Callon, 1987).

   Callon questions how the boundaries between social
     elements – economics, political, etcetera, are determined
     and defined.

      Callon (Actor Network Theory) views technology and social
        movement as working in tandem – one effecting change in
        the other until stabilization ( or failure) occurs.
Central Constructs
Interpretive Flexibility, Relevant Social Groups, Stabilization, Controversies,
Closure
Central Constructs

 Relevant Social Groups
   Who are the most influential social groups that could be
     interested in an innovation?
      Researchers
      Housewives
      Children
      Business
      Film makers
      Government
      Utility Companies
Central Constructs

  Interpretive Flexibility
     How to the relevant social groups ascribe meaning to an
       innovation.
        What does an innovation mean to:
           A businessman
           A housewife
           A researcher
           A researcher
Central Constructs
 Controversies

 If another innovation Is similar to the one just diffused:
   Among the relevant social groups – who has the most power –
      influence.
       Variables such as economic factors, political factors, business
        advantages come to the fore.
       Vehement debates take place among the relevant social groups –
        groups that have the most to gain – or lose.
         Proposed strategies for resolving a controversy may involve:
            Redesigning to meet specs. of stakeholders.
            Strong marketing campaigns – some more truthful than
               others
Diagram of Stakeholders
Technological Frames

 Goals

 Current Theories

 Problem Solving Strategies – how does an innovator or
  business market their technology most effectively.
   Educational Use
   Safety
   Convenience
Central Constructs

 Stabilization
  •   One social group overcomes another – the innovation of
      this group has been “socially constructed” through socially
      relevant groups, controversy, and technical framework.
Examples – Noted Studies

 The development of the Bicycle

 Bakelite

 Florescent Lamps
Limitations

 Does not describe how people “assemble.”

 Lack of granularity and longitudinal data covering many
  technological innovations – are there consistent
  proclivities among stakeholders.

 Does not account for some revolutionary discoveries –
  Copernicus.
Conclusions

 Silvia’s One to One Computing – Does school
  acculturation proceed through similar interplay.

 How is technology decided in a school?

 At what point in smart phone development did Apple’s
  iPhone capture the market.

 What technological frame, controversies, drive digital
  libraries and special collections?
Bibliography

 Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E. (1984). The social construction of
   facts and artefacts: Or how the sociology of science and the
   sociology of technology might benefit each other. Social
   Studies of Science, 14, 388 - 441.

 Callon, M. (1987). “Society the Making; the Study of
   Technology as a Tool for Sociological Analysis.” In Bijker W.,
   Hughes, T., Pinch. T. (ed.). New Directions in the Social
   Studies of Technology, Cambridge, MIT Press.
Thank you!
Florence M. Paisey, April 2011

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Social constructionism of technology

  • 1. Social Construction of Technology Florence Paisey April 2011
  • 2. Table of Contents  Definition  Importance  Origins  Core Assumptions  Central Constructs  Leading Advocates  Significant Studies  Limitations  Conclusion
  • 3. Definition The Theory of the Social Construction of Technology
  • 4. Definition  The Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) has grown out of the tenets of social constructivism and the sociology of scientific knowledge.  SCOT views the development of technology as an interactive process or discourse among technologists or engineers and relevant (or interested) social groups.  SCOT may be defined as an interactive sociotechnical process that shapes all forms of technology.
  • 6. Why SCOT?  Technologies or innovations – like the wheel, the printing press, the bicycle, the assembly line, computers – all shape and organize the world and our lives.  Individuals – you and me – decide what technologies or parts of a technology are useful, profitable, or comfortable – meaningful.  Groups – assemblies of individuals – form, each characterized by particular variables, each group holding a stake in a technology.
  • 7. Why SCOT?  Relevant groups or “stakeholders” include scientists, technologists, economists, politicians, entrepreneurs, you, and me.  Stakeholders interpret the innovations differently.  One innovation may be a solution – but, also have a bug. If the “bug” or problem isn’t resolved, the innovation will fail – relevant social groups – or stakeholders will not buy in.  In resolving the problems – accepted more or less by significant groups -- the social has shaped the technical. Hence, sociotechnical.
  • 8. Origins and Social Construcivism Sociology of Technology and Science (STS)
  • 9. Origins  The Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) was introduced in 1984 by Bijker and Pinch.  Their paper – “The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might Benefit Each Other” introduced the theory and set forth an argument to support it.  The paper identified mechanisms by which the social and the technical interact.
  • 10. Social Constructivism  The sociology of science and the sociology of technology had been approached separately.  The sociology of science has recently applied the theory of social constructivism to explain its trajectory.  Social Constructivism holds that knowledge is a social construction – (not an ultimate truth). As such knowledge/science can be interpreted in different ways.
  • 11. Social Constructivism  Bijker and Pinch relate this perspective to the progress of technology.  Technologies work or fail because of a range of heterogeneous interpretations and variables – constraining or driving factors.  Social Constructivism and technology hold that people attach meanings or interpretations to artifacts.  People/social groups direct technological development through their interpretation/meanings – perhaps to fruition; perhaps to defeat.
  • 12. A Break With the Past Pioneering Ideas in the Sociology of Technology
  • 13. Epistemology and Science  The idea that the social shapes science was a new idea.  Science is not directed independently, by an internal logic or “Determinism.”  There is nothing epistemologically special about the path or nature of science.  The epistemology of science, technology, and knowledge, then, did not exist independently of the human mind.  It was not acquired through data obtained by a priori, deductive methodology.  Social science now rejected the idea of an ultimate social reality that involved predictive, natural law.
  • 14. Epistemology and Science  SCOT is not a positivist or objectivist position.  SCOT holds that science progresses due to social forces  Includes all social pressures – economic, political, psychological – influences.  Social entities attach subjective meanings to specific scientific endeavors, innovations, or related variables – if these meanings are accepted by relevant social groups – science progresses or moved in relation to socio-technical and socio-cultural issues.
  • 15. Epistemology & Social Constructivism  The trajectory of technology, like science, does not depend on its independent, exogenous nature.  Technology is socially constructed – its progress or movement depends on many social factors and relevant social groups.
  • 16. Arguments The Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology
  • 17. Some Problems  Studies in the sociology of technology are problematic because most studies have been conducted on successful innovations—few studies done on the failures.  These studies of innovation suggest that there is an implicit assumption that an innovation succeeded as if a magic wand “made it so.”  The sociological variables that played into a success are not sufficiently analyzed.
  • 18. Bakelite – A Famous Example  Bakelite illustrates idea of social forces at work in shaping technology.  Bakelike: an early plastic, started out as an artificial substitute for varnish.  Not a market success.  Accidental dumping of materials that make up Bakelite, proved that the material could be molded into plastics.  The innovation redirected for use as plastic and all related applications.  The scientist who developed Bakelite did not envision its use as a plastic and the many ways plastic is used.
  • 20. What Road Does Science Travel?  Bijker and Pinch (1984) state that technology, like science, is socially constructed – its trajectory depends on many social factors and relevant social groups.
  • 21. Assumptions  An implicit assumption  Social, political, economic and all other “societal” pressures are established (not forming) while shaping a technological innovation (Callon, 1987).  Callon questions how the boundaries between social elements – economics, political, etcetera, are determined and defined.  Callon (Actor Network Theory) views technology and social movement as working in tandem – one effecting change in the other until stabilization ( or failure) occurs.
  • 22. Central Constructs Interpretive Flexibility, Relevant Social Groups, Stabilization, Controversies, Closure
  • 23. Central Constructs  Relevant Social Groups  Who are the most influential social groups that could be interested in an innovation?  Researchers  Housewives  Children  Business  Film makers  Government  Utility Companies
  • 24. Central Constructs  Interpretive Flexibility  How to the relevant social groups ascribe meaning to an innovation.  What does an innovation mean to:  A businessman  A housewife  A researcher  A researcher
  • 25. Central Constructs  Controversies  If another innovation Is similar to the one just diffused:  Among the relevant social groups – who has the most power – influence.  Variables such as economic factors, political factors, business advantages come to the fore.  Vehement debates take place among the relevant social groups – groups that have the most to gain – or lose.  Proposed strategies for resolving a controversy may involve:  Redesigning to meet specs. of stakeholders.  Strong marketing campaigns – some more truthful than others
  • 27. Technological Frames  Goals  Current Theories  Problem Solving Strategies – how does an innovator or business market their technology most effectively.  Educational Use  Safety  Convenience
  • 28. Central Constructs  Stabilization • One social group overcomes another – the innovation of this group has been “socially constructed” through socially relevant groups, controversy, and technical framework.
  • 29. Examples – Noted Studies  The development of the Bicycle  Bakelite  Florescent Lamps
  • 30. Limitations  Does not describe how people “assemble.”  Lack of granularity and longitudinal data covering many technological innovations – are there consistent proclivities among stakeholders.  Does not account for some revolutionary discoveries – Copernicus.
  • 31. Conclusions  Silvia’s One to One Computing – Does school acculturation proceed through similar interplay.  How is technology decided in a school?  At what point in smart phone development did Apple’s iPhone capture the market.  What technological frame, controversies, drive digital libraries and special collections?
  • 32. Bibliography  Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E. (1984). The social construction of facts and artefacts: Or how the sociology of science and the sociology of technology might benefit each other. Social Studies of Science, 14, 388 - 441.  Callon, M. (1987). “Society the Making; the Study of Technology as a Tool for Sociological Analysis.” In Bijker W., Hughes, T., Pinch. T. (ed.). New Directions in the Social Studies of Technology, Cambridge, MIT Press.
  • 33. Thank you! Florence M. Paisey, April 2011

Editor's Notes

  1. Groups are characterized by core values – political, economic, psychological.
  2. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).
  3. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).
  4. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).
  5. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).an early plastic, started out as an artificial substitute for varnish. It was not a market success. Due to an accidental dumping of materials that make up Bakelite, it was clear that this substance could be a cheap, artificial substitute for resin – an expensive organic substance
  6. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).
  7. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).
  8. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).
  9. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).
  10. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).
  11. The significant and fundamental idea that social constructivism brings to the sociology of science is that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of science. of science – science is no more or less than all other knowledge cultures or knowledge disciplines.This can be questioned with some revolutionary scientific discoveries such as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory – a theory that was not accepted by the church – the post powerful political power of the age (15th century).