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Bijker_Social+Construction+of+Technology

Bijker_Social+Construction+of+Technology - The Social...

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Unformatted text preview: The Social Construction of Technological Systems New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology edited by Wiebe E. Bijker, Thomas P. Hughes, and Treoor ]. Pinc/z The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 28 Common Theme; M TF5 SOC/A; CONSTRUCF/O'U ad a e, in that the resulting consensus can be monitored n other words, the ' ' eorize at the research frontiers an roiled in scientific contro- versy will also reflect the ‘* sus as to the outcome ofthat controversy. The 3 group ofcore set scien . , "in then be studied in both the and second stages ofthe EPOR. For t It. ~poses of the ' stage, the notion ofa core set may be too limited. - The Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) Before outlining some of the concepts found to be fruitful by Bijker and his collaborators in their studies in the sociology of technology. we should point out an imbalance between the two approaches (EPOR and SCOT) we are considering. The EPOR is part of a flourishing tradition in the sociology of scientific knowledge: It is a well«established program supported by much empirical research. In contrast, the sociology of technology is an embryonic field with no well-established traditions ofresearch, and the approach we draw on specifically (SCOT) is only in its early empirical stages. although clearly gaining momentum.29 In SCOT the developmental process ofa technological artifact is described as an alternation ofvariation and selection.30 This results in a “multidirectional” model, in contrast with the linear models used explicitly in many innovation studies and implicitly in much history of technology. Such a multidirectional view is essential to any social constructivist account oftechnology. Ofcourse, with historical hind— sight, it is possible to collapse the multidirectional model on to a simpler linear model; but this misses the thrust ofour argument that the “successful" stages in the development are not the only possible ones. Let us consider the development of the bicycle.“ Applied to the level ofartifacts in this development, this multidircctional view results in the description summarized in figure 2. Here we see the artifact “Ordinary" (or, as it was nicknamed after becoming less ordinary, the “Penny-farthing”; figure 3) and a range of possible variations. It is important to recognize that, in the view of the actors ofthose days, these variants were at the same time quite different from each other and equally were serious rivals. It is only by retrospective distortion that a quasi~linear development emerges, as depicted in figure 4. In this representation the so-callcd safety ordinaries (Xtraordinary (I878), Facile (1879), and Club Safety (1885)) figure only as amusing aberrations that need not be taken seriously (figure 5, 6, and 7). Such a retrospective description can be challenged by looking at the actual Serial Couslmclion q/ Farts and xlrltfaclj 29 Boneshaker Geared Facile Lawson‘s Bicyclette Figure 2 A multidirectional \’l(‘\\' ofthc developmental process ofthc Penny Farthing bicycle. 'l‘hc shaded area is filled in and magnified in figure I l. The hexagons symbolize artifacts. situation in the l880s. Some ofthc “safety ordinarics" were produced commercially. whereas Lawson's Bicyclette, which seems to play an important role in the linear model. proved to be a commercial failure (Woodforde 1970). - However, ifa multidirectional model is adopted, it is possible to ask why some ofthe variants “die." whereas others “survive." To illumi- nate this “selection" part of the developmental processes, let us consider the problems and solutions presented by each artifact at particular moments. The rationale for this move is the same as that for focusing on scientific controversies within EPOR. In this way, one can expect to bring out more clearly the interpretative flexibility of technological artifacts. 30 Common Thtmm‘ Figure 3 A typical Penny Farthing, the llayliss—'l‘homson Ordinary ([878). Photograph courtesy ol‘thc Trustees ofthc Science Museum, London. In deciding which problems are relevant, the social groups con- cerned with the artifact and the meanings that those groups give to the artifact play a crucial role: A problem is defined as such only when there is a social group for which it constitutes a “problem." The use of the concept ofa relevant social group is quite straight— forward. The phrase is used to denote institutions and organizations (such as the military or some specific industrial company), as well as organized or unorganized groups of individuals. The key require- ment is that all members ofa certain social group share the same set ofmcanings, attached to a specific artifact.“ In deciding which social groups are relevant, we must first ask whether the artifact has any meaning at all for the members ol‘thc social group under investiga- tion. Obviously, the social group of “consumers" or “users” of the artifact l‘ullills this reutluirement, But also less obvious social groups Nm‘iul (.‘uIIAIIIu‘IIvm u/ I'llrh «IIIr/ .‘lI/[lhrh 3/ Macmillan's bicycle Boneshaker Gui|rnet‘s bicycle Penn Lawson's Bicyclette 4 Figure ‘1 line traditional quasi-linear vii-w nl‘tln‘(levelt)pmental prm essol'tln- I’t'nny Farthing bicycle. Solid lines intlirate \llt’H'SSllll tlewlopnn-nt. and dashed lines indicate failed development. 32 Common Themes "“11" 5U" ‘ ”Wj'd-W ," g i 4’: . ’I‘ Figure 5 The American Star bicycle (I885). Photograph courtesy ol‘the 'l'rustees ofthe Science Museum, London. may need to be included. In the case of the bicycle, one needs to mention the ”anticyclists." Their actions ranged from dcrisive cheers to more destructive methods. For example, Reverend L. Meadows White described such resistance to the bicycle in his book, A Photo- graphic Tour on I/V/zeels: . . . but when to words are added deeds, and stones are thrown, sticks thrust into the wheels, or caps hurled into the machinery, the picture has a different aspect. All the above in certain districts are ofcommon occurrence, and have all happened to me, especially when passing through a village just after school is closet]. (Meadows, cited in Woodforde 1970, pp. 49—50) Clearly, For the anticyrlists the artifact “bicycle” had taken on meaning! Another question we need to address is whether a provisionally defined social group is homogeneous with respect to the meanings given to the artifact ~ or is it more ell'ective to describe the develop- mental process hy dividing a rather helerogmteous group into several Social (.‘mnlrm‘lim: q/‘I’arlx 11an .-lrl§/}1rl; 33 Figure 6 Facile l)i(‘\'t‘le t 1874‘}. Photograph tout'tesy ol'the 'l‘I‘ttstt-es oll lllt‘ St‘it'nt‘e Museum, London. Figure 7 A form ol'lln' Kaltgaton hint lv‘ , “Will l'lnvtogxnph (‘otnlesV ol the ‘l'rustet's ol the S('l('llt‘|' Museuttr London. 5’4 Common Theme: different social groups? Thus within the group of cycle-users we discern a separate social group ofwomen cyclists. During the days of the high-wheeled Ordinary women were not supposed to mount a bie ele. For instance in a ma razine advice column 1885 it is Y i f: proclaimed, in reply to a letter from a young lady: The mere fact of riding a bicycle is not in itselfsinful, and if'it is the only means of reaching the church on a Sunday, it may be excusable. (cited in Woodforde 1970, p. 122) Tricycles were the permitted machines for women. But engineers and producers anticipated the importance of women as potential bicy- clists. In a review ofthe annual Stanley Exhibition of Cycles in 1890, the author observes: From the number of safeties adapted for the use of ladies, it seems as if bicycling was becoming popular with the weaker sex, and we are not surprised at it, considering the saving of power derived from the use of a machine having only one slack. (Stanley Exhibition of Cycles, 1890, pp. 107—108) Thus some parts ofthe bicycle’s development ca n be better explained by including a separate social grottp of feminine cycle-users. This need not, of course, be so in other cases: For instance, we would not expect it to be useful to consider a separate social group of women users of, say, fluorescent lamps. Once the relevant social groups have been identified, they are described in more detail. This is also where aspects such as power or economic strength enter the description, when relevant. Although the only defining property is some homogeneous meaning given to a certain artifact, the intention is notjust to retreat to worn-out. general statements about “consumers“ and “producers." We need to have a detailed description of the relevant social groups in order to define better the function ofthe artifact with respect to each group. Without this, one could not hope to be able to give any explanation of the developmental process. For example, the social group of cyclists riding the high-wheeled Ordinary consisted of “young men ofmeans and nerve: they might be professional men, clerks, schoolmasters or dons” (Woodforde 1970, p. 47). For this social group the function of the bicycle was primarily for sport. The following comment in the Daffy Telegraph (September 7, 1877) emphasizes sport, rather than transport: .H'urin/ (.‘mt.t/I'tu'limt (if/"(Iris and .‘1r/t'frtrls .75 Social group Social group Artifact Figure 8 'l'ht‘ relationship 1H'l\\’1'4'l| an ill tifiu‘t autl the relevant social groups. Bicycling is a healthy and manly pursuit with lunch to recommend it. and, unlike other foolish crazt's, it has not (lit‘tl out. [tilt-t1iu\\'oodfiu‘dt‘ 19711. p. 122] Let us now return to the exposition oftht- model. flaring identified the relevant social groups fora certain artifact (figure 8), we are espe— cially interested in the problems each group has with respect to that artifact (figure 9). Around each problem, several variants ofsolution can be identified (figure 101.111 the ease ofthe bicycle. some relevant problems and solutions are shown in figure 1 I, in which the shaded area of figure '2 has been filled. This way ofdescribing the develop- mental process brings out clearly all kinds of conflicts: conflicting technical requirements by different social groups (for example, the speed requirement and the safety requirement): conflicting solutions to the same problem (for example, the safety 1o\\'-whec|ers and the safety ordiuarit-s‘): and moral conflicts (for example, women wearing skirts or trousers on high-\rfn't'lers; figure 1‘31. Within this scheme, various solutions to these conflicts and problems are possible not 36' Common Thane: Dvlm Dvoblem Problem Figure 9 The relationship between one social group and tho pcrccivcd problems. Problem Figure 11 .0 Social (.‘mulrurlion of Farm and Alli/act: 37 m cvclnu TOHH‘I Snort Wflmmv rVCHHS .vcmu Elderly rm-n Baku Flam lovk stop-n9 bank Lowov howl whmyl 9%. W 0 @ anonfi Encychrm- Figure 10 Some rr‘lcvanl social groups, pmhh‘ms, and snlulions in lhl" dm'vlopmt‘nlnl process nflhv l’vnny lehing hicyt'lr. Brmus‘v nl‘lm'k nl‘s‘pm'v, Iml :Ill :n‘liIthS. rclcvunl social groups, pmlflvms. and snhuinns nrv slunvn. The relationship between one prohlcm and its possihlr' solutions. .10 (mmman 'l heme! Figure 12 A solution to the women’s dressing problem with respect to the high-wheeled Ordinary. This solution obviously has technical and athletic aspects. Probably, the athletic aspects prevented the solution from stabilizing. 'l‘he set-up character ofthe photograph suggests a rather limited practical use. Photograph courtesy ol‘the Trustees ofthe Science Museum, London Stum/ (Luna/nu low wt I'm/t ulttl .lelt/m'lt fir) Figure 13 Lawson's liicyelette 1‘ 187m. l‘hotograph courtesy ol'tlte 'l'rustees ol' the Science Museum. London. only technological ones but also judicial or even moral ones (for example, changing attitudes toward women wearing trousers). Following the developmental process in this way. we see growing and diminishing degrees ol'stabilizalion ol‘the tlillereut artifacts.“ In principle. the degree ol‘ stabilization is (lillerent in (lillerent social groups. By using the concep: ol'stabilization, we see that the “inven- lion” ol‘ the safety bicycle was not an isolated event :l88-l). but a nineteen-year process (I879 98). l"or example, at tlte beginning ol' this period the relevant groups (lid not see the “sal'ety bicycle" but a wide range of hi- and trieycles and, among those. a rather ugly erococlilelike bicycle with a relatively low li‘ont wheel and rear Chain drive (Lawson‘s Bieyelette: figure 13]. By the end ol‘the period. the phrase “safety bicycle" denoted a low-wheeled bicycle with rear chain drive. diamond frame, and air tires. As a result ofthe stabiliza- tion ol'the artifact after ”398, one did not need tospecil‘y these details: They were taken for granted as the essential “ingredients" of the salety bicycle. We want to stress that our tnodel is not used as a mold into which the. empirical data have to be loreed. (mi/r (/Iu' ("mi/e. The model has been developed li‘om a series ol~ case studies and not li‘om purely philosophical or theoretical analrsis. lts litnction is primarily heuristic to bring out all tue aspects rele\'anl to our purposes. This is not to sat that there are no explanator) and theoretital aims, 40 Common Thane: analogous to the different stages of the EPOR (Bijker 1984 and this volume). And indeed, as we have shown, this model already does more than merely describe technological development: It highlights its multidirectional character. Also, as will be indicated, it brings out the interpretative flexibility of technological artifacts and the role that different closure mechanisms may play in the stabilization of artifacts. The Social Construction ofFacts and Artifacts Having described the two approaches to the study of science'and technology we wish to draw on, we now discuss in more detail the parallels between them. As a way of putting some flesh on our discussion we give, where appropriate, empirical illustrations drawn from our own research. Interpretative Flexibility The first stage of the EPOR involves the demonstration ofthe inter- pretative flexibility ofscientific findings. In other words, it must be shown that different interpretations ofnature are available to scien- tists and hence that nature alone does not provide a determinant outcome to scientific debate.“ In SCOT, the equivalent ofthe first stage ofthe EPOR would seem to be the demonstration that technological artifacts are culturally constructed and interpreted; in other words, the interpretative flexi- bility ofa technological artifact must be shown. By this we mean not only that there is flexibility in how people think of or interpret artifacts but also that there is flexibility in how artifacts are designed. There is not just one possible way or one best way of designing an artifact. In principle, this could be demonstrated in the same way as for the science case, that is, by interviews with technologists who are engaged in a contemporary technological controversy. For example, we can imagine that, ifintervicws had been carried out in l890 with the cycle engineers, we would have been able to show the interpreta- tive flexibility of the artifact “air tyre.” For some, this artifact was a solution to the vibration problem ofsmall-wheeled vehicles: [The air tire was] devised with a view to afford increased facilities for the passage ofwheeled vehicles—chiefly ofthe lighter class such for instance as velocipedes, invalid chairs, ambulances—over roadways and paths, especi- ally when these latter are ofrough or uneven character. (Dunlop 1888. p. I) For others, the air tire was a way of going faster (this is outlined in Social Caluhurlinn (if Facts and .‘lrlt'fncli 41 more detail later). For yet another group ofengineers, it was an ugly looking way of making the low-wheeler even less safe (because of side-slipping) than it already was. For instance. the following com~ ment, describing the Stanley Exhibition onycles, is rev taling: The most conspicuous innovation in the cycle construction is the use of pneumatic tires. 'l‘hcstt tires are hollow. about 2 in. diameter, and are inflated by the use ofa small air pump. They are said to afford most luxurious titling. the roughest macadam and cobbles being reduced to the smoothest asphalte. Not having had the opportunity oftcsting these tires, we are unable to speak of them from practical experience: but looking at them from a theoretical point of view, we opine that considerable diflieulty will be experienced in keeping the tires thoroughly inflated. Air under pressure is a troublesome thing to deal with. From the reports of those who have used these tires, it seems that they are prone to slip on muddy roads. lfthis is so, we fear their use on rear-driving safeties—which are all more or less addicted to side- slippinghis out ofthe question, as any improvement in this line should be to prevent side slip and not to increase it. Apart from these defects, the appearance ofthc tires destroys the symmetry and graceful appearance ofa cycle, and this alone is, we think, sufficient to prevent their coming into general use. (Stanley Exhibition onyclcs, I890, p. 107) And indeed, other artifacts were seen as providing a solution for the vibration problem, as the following comment reveals: With the introduction ofthc rear-driving safety bicycle has arisen in demand for anti-vibration devices. as the small wheels ofthesc machines are conduc- ive to considerable vibration, even on the best roads. Nearly every exhibitor ofthis type of machine has some appliance to suppress vibration. (Stanley l‘ixhibilion ol'Cyclcs, I889, pp. “37-158) Most solutions used various spring constructions in the frame, the saddle, and the steering-bar (figure I4). ln l896, even after the safety bicycle (and the air tire with it) achieved a high degree ofstabiliza- tion, “spring frames" were still being marketed. It is important to realize that this demonstration ofintcrpretative flexibility by interviews and historical sources is only one (ifa set of possible methods. At least in the study oftcchnology, another method is applicable and has actually been used. It can be shown that different social groups have radically different interpretations ofone technological artifact. We call these differences “radical” because the (TO/Ilt‘lll ofthc artifact secms to be involved. it is something more than what Mulkay rightly claims to be rather easy “to show that the social meaning oftclcvision varies with and depends upon the Social 42 Common Tlmnu ’éé ‘ 3 Viz/as "'llIID/ I; Figure 14 \‘Vhippa Spring frame “885). Photograph courtesy ofthe 'l'rustees of the Seienee Museum, London. context in which it is employed." As Mulkay notes: “It is much more dillicult to show what is to count as a ‘working television set" is similarly context-dependent in any significant respect" (tVIulkay l979a, p. 80). We think that our account—in which the different interpretations by social groups of the content of artifacts lead by means of different chains ofproblems and solutions to different further developmentsb involves the content ofthe artifact itself. Our earlier example ofthe development of the safety bicycle is of this kind. Another example is variations within the high-wheeler. 'l‘he high—Wheeler‘s meaning as a virile, high—speed bicycle led to the development of larger front wheels—for with a fixed angular velocity one way of getting a higher translational velocity over the ground was by enlarging the radius. One ofthc last bicycles resulting from this strand of develop- ment was the Rudge Ordinary of l892, which had a 56-inch wheel and air tire. But groups of women and of elderly men gave quite another meaning to the high-wheeler. For them, its most important .S'nrml (.‘nmlrurlimt (3/ Fuels (nu! shit/21cm 43 'igurc 15 Singer Xlraordinarv bit'yrle (lll7tlt. Photograph t'onrtesy ofthe 'l‘rnstees ofthe Science Museu...
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