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Unformatted text preview: SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 Textbook:
Volti, Rudi. 2009. Society and Technological Change. 6t h edition. Worth Publishers Inc.
REVIEW — PART TWO: The Process Of Technologica l Change. CHAPTER 3: THE SOURCES OF TECHNOLOGIC AL CHANGE
E (36-54*) Technological change is a social process. In recent year s, study of technological change was
strongly influenced by perspective known as “social cons
structivism”; technological change does
not occur because new devices and processes demonst rate their cle r-cut superiority over
other ways of doing things — analysis begins with need to explain why certain technologies are
assumed to work better than others. Social constructivis ts describe how social structures and
processes have affected choices of technologies (35*).
Social constructivists — particularly interested in delinea ting the main actors involved in the
development and selection of particular technologies, an d noting how their actions reflect their
positions in society. Technological “closure” (point at wh ich a technology is accepted as way to
do things, while others disappear or are marginalized) is closely tied to presence of specific
interest groups and their ability to affect the selection pro cess (35*).
Social, political, and economic forces are likely to exert greatest influence when several alternative
technologies emerge at about the same time. Difficult to deviate from path laid out by technical
requirements once a technology has become well established. Example: Automobile engines (36*).
Key players in technological advances are not inventors of new technologies, but entrepreneurs
who make inventions into commercial successes by takiing risks and generally doing what had
not been done before (36*).
A great deal of technological change is the result of sma ll, incremental changes which, as
individual contributions, may seem modest — but in agg regate have been an extremely
important source of technological advance. Example: A merican ra i lroads (37 * ).
Research (an expensive process) is the basis of technollogical progress, but the realization of
the potentialities created by research breakthroughs usu ally requires a lengthy process of
development (an even more expensive process). Proble ms must be resolved; the new material
or device must be put into a form that allows quantity pro duction at a reasonable cost. Example:
Penicillin (38*). 1928 — Scottish microbiologist Alexander Fleming
accident ally discovere d that a mold ( penicillium
notatum) growing on a petri dish inhibited bacteria growth and concluded the mold had produced a
compo und he called penicillin. His discovery was not
pursue d further.
1940 — Australian bacteriologist Howard Florey and
Germa n biochemist Ernst Chain isolated the
antiba cterial agent produced by the mold.
1941 — A patient was treated with penicillin to combat
an infe ction, but there was an insufficient supply to
cure h im and the patient died. Later, Florey and Chain
began to produce the antibiotic in bulk, growing the
mold i n large tanks containing corn-steep liquor.
1944 — Mass development of penicillin in U.S.
reduce d death toll of WWII.
1945 — Fleming, Florey, Chain awarded Nobel Prize
in Med icine for their discovery. Page 1 of 2 SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa , Fall 2010 Often, a technological leap forward takes place due to th e availability of complementary
technological developments that allow the resolution of f undamental problems (39*).
Read All Together Now (39-41*). Technological innovati on is a “coupling process” — occurs at
the interfaces between science, technology, and the ma rket (41*).
Supply and demand dictate the places and times in whic h technological innovation occurs.
Technology is like any other good or service — it will not be produced unless some person,
group, or organization wants it and is willing to buy it. In order to understand why certain
technologies have flourished while others have declined , the configuration of a society must be
considered along with how it determines the effective de mand for particular technologies.
Example: Horseshoes (43*). From its inception, a new p roduct or process must be developed
with an eye toward meeting the needs of actual or poten tial customers (44*).
Read Belated Demand (44-46*).
The great technological innovations that began in the miid-15th C. with improvements in
shipbuilding and ocean navigation were closely associat ed with the rise of capitalism and
emergence of a market system. A market system organi zed around the principle of private
property was of crucial importance for the stimulation an d guidance of inventive and innovative
abilities, and their application to production (46*).
One of the strongest accolades to technological dynamis m of capitalist society is found in The
Communist Manifesto. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels n ote with admiration that “the
bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years , has created more massive and
colossal productive forces than have all preceding gene rations together” (46*).
A market economy driven by activities of self-interested businessmen has produced the most
receptive environment for technological innovation. Ther e are several reasons for this:
A market economy will stimulate inventive eff orts — promises financial rewards
to those able to meet the needs of consumer s.
A market economy is characterized by the pr esence of numerous competitors —
producer strongly motivated to develop and a pply new technologies in order to
make better products and reduce production costs.
A market system is particularly effective in eliiciting the production of auxiliary
items necessary for technological innovation (47*). A market economy has two circular flows.
In a market system, every good or service
that flows is sold and bought, so every flow
of real stuff has a flow of money in the
In the diagram:
• One direction is resources, goods, and
• The other direction is money.
Source: USC, Arnold School of Public Health, 2003. Page 2 of 2 ...
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This note was uploaded on 11/15/2010 for the course SOC 415 taught by Professor Swift,d during the Fall '08 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.
- Fall '08