Talk:Theories of technology

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Descriptive vs. Critical?[edit]

I see what this article is getting at with this distinction, but I'm not sure it bears scrutiny. After all, SCOT and the other theories mentioned as "descriptive" developed as criticisms of the former linear model of technological innovation ("science discovers, technology applies"). So they're critical, too. And aren't the "critical theories" descriptive, too? Technological dramas are observable phenomena (see Pfaffenberger 1992). So I propose eliminating this distinction, listing the theories as alternatives, and providing a better conceptual framework. I think it might go something like this:

Theories of technology attempt to explain the factors that shape technological innovation as well as the impact of technology on society and culture. (list the disciplines concerned with this -- not just STS). Most contemporary theories of technology reject two previous views: the linear model of technological innovation (briefly explain) and technological determinism (define). To challenge the linear model, today's theories of technology point to the historical evidence that technological innovation often gives rise to new scientific fields, and emphasizes the important role that social networks and cultural values play in shaping technological artifacts. To challenge technological determinism, today's theories of technology emphasize the scope of technical choice, which is greater than most laypeople realize; as STS scholars like to say, "It could have been different." For this reason, theorists who take these positions typically argue for greater public involvement in technological decision-making.

(illustrate this -- I think Wiebe's work on flourescent lighting is perfect.)

The article should continue, I think, with the something like following structure (surely I've omitted some important stuff):

  • Historians of technology from 1960 begin to develop a contextual approach to technological innovation that repeatedly refutes technological determinism.
  • "Turn to technology" in STS and impact of SSK's principle of symmetry, which holds (as applied to technology) that we should explain successful and failed innovations the same way -- that is, by reference to social factors, rather than the presumption that the successful technologies "worked." (Example of suboptimal technology... Hmmm., Windows comes to mind.) SCOT and criticisms of SCOT.
  • Technological dramas as a possible solution to SCOT's problems - acts of social construction are caught up in broader social processes.
  • ANT. This should emphasize the stress ANT places on non-human "actants," which seemed to many of us to let technological determinism in through the back door. Introduce compelling metaphor of the "heterogeneous engineer" and illustrate with John Law's work as an effective way to counter such doubts.
  • increasing interest in technology throughout the disciplines:
    • Media theorists deserve inclusion here.
    • MUST mention Perrow's work on "normal accidents."
    • Sherry Turkle's work on technology and the self.
    • Feminist theories.
    • Normative theories, too... Postman, for instance, and in philosophy, Albert Borgmann.
    • Development of an anthropology of technology, described recently as the first successful subfield of that discipline to appear in a generation.

Shall we do it? Bryan 00:42, 31 October 2005 (UTC)

  • Feel free. As I mentioned in email "You're right, the distinction between descriptive and critical is completely specious and I have no attachment to it. Simply, for Wikipedia purposes (and while studying for my exams) I wanted to create some sort of comprehensible framework, and that was the best I could come up with at the time. (In fact, I maintain a concern that this article, as well as the structuration theory article are too academic and may be of little use to more general readers.) However, a thematic framework might be untenable, and as I understand it you are proposing a chronological rendering. That is fine by me. My three commitments in this article is that it be of some use to a nonacademic, that the salient key terms and authors of the theories be preserved, and I do think the distinction between group theories and larger societal theories is relevant -- not substantively, but in understanding the development of a multitude of these theories." - Reagle 14:12, 2 November 2005 (UTC)