Sts 411 – Lecture – Social Construction of Technology II “Working” Technology

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STS 2411 – Lecture 9 – Social Construction of Technology II

Working” Technology



  • Standard account of technological development, impact of technology on society, social studies of technology, technological development

  • Sociology of technology: “why a particular technology is chosen over others”

  • Traditional response: successful technologies work better than their rivals

  • The claim that a technology “works better” is socially constructed, open to social causation

  • How do social causes shape the criteria for determining “working” technology

  • QWERTY keyboard, typewriter hammers and layout, computers

  • Traditional explanation of layout is efficiency

  • SCOT: relevant social groups, consumers, preference for established layout

  • Closure attributed to influence of strong relevant social group, or more than one relevant social group

  • High wheeled bicycle: transition to lower wheeled bicycles with air tires, elderly men and women preferred the safety of lower wheels and air tires, and young men preferred the speed that air tires offered


The Technological Frame

  • SCOT: relevant social groups share a particular interpretation of what a technology means, shared interpretation influences how the relevant social group views the technology and shapes its development

  • “Technological frame” shapes the interpretation of the technology shared by members of a relevant social group

  • The technological frame includes, “problem solutions, current theories, tacit knowledge, testing procedures, and design methods and criteria”

  • Technologies developed without the benefit of a dominant technological frame are more likely to have radical innovations

  • Dominant technological frames: conservative development, competing technological frames: developments driven by external factors

  • Background knowledge and technical standards that shape this interpretation

  • Technological frame and more accurate representation of the source of innovation and change


Some Problems for SCOT

  • Are technological frames, and shared interpretations of technological meaning, related to wider macrosocial groupings?

  • For example, were bike designers that shared the same technological frame with respect to the bicycle also members of the same social group, trained in the same place by the same people, etc.? Were the relevant social groups that shared interpretations of bicycles part of the same class or nationality?

  • As Rosen puts it,

    • “They (Pinch and Bijker) identify three RSGs whose interests have decided the shape of bicycles for almost a hundred years. It is important to understand why it was that these particular groups, rather than the others that Pinch and Bijker refer to, were the relevant ones. Although women and elderly men made up over half the adult population, we are told nothing about the social make-up of these groups, how large a proportion of them were cyclists, from which social classes they came, and so on.” 483

  • RSG’s and technological frames are also socially constructed, further analysis needed

  • Linking technological frames or shared meanings to larger social categories, reduction to traditional social explanations


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