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Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch, The Social Construction of Technological Systems

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The Social Construction of Technological Systems eds. Wiebe E. Bijker, Thomas P. Hughes, and Trevor Pinch (MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, 1987)


Context.
Rise of the computer/information age

Scope.
Describing technology as an agent of social change


Haiku.
Technological
systems are both social and
overly complex.


Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker – The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts
19 – The treatment of scientific knowledge as a social construction implies that there is nothing epistemologically special about the nature of scientific knowledge: It is merely one in a whole series of knowledge cultures.
20 – Project Hindsight, funded by the US Defense Department, found that most technological growth came from mission-oriented projects and engineering R&D, rather than from pure science. … On the other hand, Project TRACES, funded by the NSF in response to Project Hindsight, found that most technological development stemmed from basic research … one must be cautious in drawing any firm conclusions from such work
21 – Scientists and technologists can be regarded as constructing their respective bodies of knowledge and techniques with each drawing on the resources of the other when and where such resources can profitably be exploited. … the boundary between science and technology is, in particular instances, a matter for social negotiation and represents no underlying distinction.
22 – preference for successful innovations seems to lead scholars to assume that the success of an artifact is an explanation of its subsequent development.
27 – Three stages in the explanatory aims of the EPOR (Empirical Programme of Relativism) can be identified. In the first stage … it is shown that scientific findings are open to more than one interpretation. … Social mechanisms that limit interpretative flexibility and thus allow scientific controversies to be terminated are described in the second stage. A third stage … is to relate such “closure mechanisms” to the wider social-cultural milieu.
28 – In SCOT (Social Construction of Technology) the developmental process of a technological artifact is described as an alternation of variation and selection. 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. … It is only by retrospective distortion that a quasi-linear development emerges
40 – interpretive flexibility: There is no just one possible way or one best way of designing an artifact.
44 – To close a technological “controversy,” one need not solve the problems in the common sense of the word. The key point is whether the relevant social groups see the problem as being solved.


Thomas P. Hughes – The Evolution of Large Technological Systems
51 – Among the components in technological systems are physical artifacts … organizations … research programs … regulatory laws … natural resources … If a component is removed from a system or if its characteristics change, the other artifacts in the system will alter characteristics accordingly.
52 – the components of technological systems are socially constructed artifacts. … One of the primary characteristics of a system builder is the ability to construct or to force unity from diversity, centralization in the face of pluralism, and coherence from chaos.,,, Because components of a technological system interact, their characteristics derive from the system.
53 – Over time, technological systems manage increasingly to incorporate environment into the system, thereby eliminating sources of uncertainty…. Technological systems solve problems or fulfill goals using whatever means are available and appropriate … usually concerned with the reordering of the material world to make it more productive of goods and services. (and if there isn’t a problem for the solution we’ve found, we’ll create one)
54 - Technological systems are bounded by the limits of control exercised by artifactual and human operators. … A crucial function of people in technological systems, besides their obvious role in inventing, designing, and developing systems, is to complete the feedback loop between system performance and system goal and in so doing to correct errors in system performance…. Old systems like old people tend to become less adaptable
55 – Large systems with high momentum tend to exert a soft determinism on other systems, groups, and individuals in society…. Systems over time tend toward a hierarchical structure.
56 – The history of evolving, or expanding, systems can be presented in the phases in which the activity named predominates: invention, development, innovation, transfer, and growth, competition, and consolidation…. The phases in the history of a technological system are not simply sequential; they overlap and backtrack.
57 – Inventions can be conservative or radical. Those occurring during the invention phase are radical because they inaugurate a new system; conservative inventions predominate during the phase of competition and system growth, for they improve or expand existing systems. … organizations rarely nurture a radical invention.
59 – Radical inventions often deskill workers, engineers, and managers, wipe out financial investments, and generally stimulate anxiety in large organizations.
62 – Development is the phase in which the social construction of technology becomes clear. During the transformation of the invention into an innovation, inventor-entrepreneurs and their associates embody in their invention economic, political, and social characteristics that it needs for survival in the use world.
63 – Because new problems arise as the system in endowed with various characteristics, radical inventor-entrepreneurs continue to invent during the development period.
64 – Innovation clearly reveals technologically complex systems…. consisting of manufacturing, sales, and service facilities.
66 – The transfer of technology can occur at any time during the history of a technological system.
67 – Because a system usually needs adaptation to the characteristics of a different time or place, the concepts of transfer and adaptation are linked.
68 – adaptation to environment culminates in style
71 – in modern industrial nations technological systems tend to expand
72 – a major explanation for this growth … is the drive for high diversity and load factors and a good economic mix…. The load factor is the ratio of average output to the maximum output during a specified period.
73 – As technological systems expand, reverse salients develop. Reverse salients are components in the system that have fallen behind or are out of phase with the others.
75 – A mission-oriented laboratory tied to an industrial corporation or government agency with vested interest in a growing system nurtures it with conservative improvements or with inventions that are responses to reverse salients…. When a reverse salient cannot be corrected within the context of an existing system, the problem becomes a radical one, the solution of which may bring a new a competing system.
76 - Technological systems, even after prolonged growth and consolidation, do not become autonomous; they acquire momentum…. The large mass of a technological system arises especially from the organizations and people committed by various interests to the system.


Michel Callon – Society in the Making
Blah blah, French electric cars, socio-mumbo-jumbo


John Law – Technology and Heterogeneous Engineering
111 – two alternative approaches to the social study of technology … social constructivism … assumes that artifacts and practices are … the constructions of individuals or collectives that belong to social groups…. The second approach … understands technological innovation and stabilization in terms of a systems metaphor (see Tom Hughes)
113 – an explanation of technological form rests on a study of both the conditions and the tactics of system building. … heterogeneous engineering … a network of juxtaposed components.
121 – the structure of the network reflects the power and the nature of both the forces available and the forces with which the network collides.
129 – in the collisions among different networks, some components are more durable than others and that the successes achieved by one side or the other are a function of the relative strength of the components in question.
131 – If the system builder is forced to attend to an actor, then that actor exists within the system. Conversely, if an element does not make its presence felt by influencing the structure of the network in a noticeable and individual way, then from the standpoint of that network the element in question does not exist.

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