Blackboxing

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For other uses, see Black box (disambiguation).

In science studies, the social process of blackboxing is based on the abstract notion of a black box. To cite Bruno Latour, blackboxing is "the way scientific and technical work is made invisible by its own success. When a machine runs efficiently, when a matter of fact is settled, one need focus only on its inputs and outputs and not on its internal complexity. Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become."[1]

Social constructivist approaches to science and technology studies, such as Social construction of technology (SCOT) often revolve around "opening the black box", or attempting to understand the internal workings of a given system.[2] This then allows the researcher to provide empirical models of technological change that are specific and better able to describe the events that took place during the development of the technology. This approach has also been criticized by scholars such as Langdon Winner for being overly formulaic in its methods and overly narrow in its focus.[3]

The concept of the "black box" is also important in Actor–network theory as it relates to simplification. As Michel Callon notes, an actor-network is a system of discrete entities or nodes, while the reality that it represents is theoretically infinite. Therefore, in order to describe something in terms of an actor-network, complex systems must be simplified down to individual nodes, ignoring their internal workings and focusing only on their interactions with other nodes within the network. However, if the simplified "black box" is insufficient modeling the system in question, it must be opened, creating a "swarm of new actors."[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bruno Latour (1999). Pandora's hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 
  2. ^ Pinch, Trevor and Wiebe E. Bijker (1987). "The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might Benefit Each Other". In Wiebe E. Bijker, Thomas Hughes and Trevor Pinch. The social construction of technological systems: New directions in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. pp. 21–22. 
  3. ^ Winner, Langdon (1993). "Upon opening the black box and finding it empty: Social constructivism and the philosophy of technology". Science, Technology, & Human Values 18 (3): 365–368. doi:10.1177/016224399301800306. 
  4. ^ Michel Callon (1986). "The sociology of an actor-network: The case of the electric vehicle". In Callon, M., Law, J. and Rip, A. Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology: Sociology of Science in the Real World. Sheridan House Inc. pp. 29–30. ISBN 0333372239.