Privileged positions of business and science

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The privileged positions of business and science refer to the unique authority that persons in these areas hold in economic, political, and technosocial affairs. Businesses have strong decision-making abilities in the function of society, essentially choosing what technological innovations to develop. Scientists and technologists have valuable knowledge and the ability to pursue the technological innovations they want. They proceed largely without public scrutiny and as if they had the consent of those potentially affected by their discoveries and creations.

Privileged position of business[edit]

Businesses have considerable power in decision-making processes in business-oriented societies. High level executives make discrete decisions about technological innovation without regard to consequences. Political scientist Edward Woodhouse states that businesses make key economic decisions that include creating jobs, choosing industrial plant and equipment, and deciding which new products to develop and market.[1] Additionally, businesses hold a privileged position related to politics in the sense that they are capable of considerable influence over key public choices.[2] The leadership role that business has in the economy gives executives of large corporations an unusual kind of degree of influence over governmental policy making.[3]

Government officials have incentives to carry out businesses' demands. They know that failure of businesses to maintain high employment will upset voters more quickly than anything else.[3] Our economy functions as a chain effect. Businesses that get what they want provide plentiful jobs and stimulate cash flow in the economy. As a result, citizens are happy, and this happiness translates to more trust and faith in the government party. Government officials thus have a higher chance of reelection.

It is clear that the businesses have the most influence in this chain effect. If a business fails, jobs are lost, citizens are unhappy, and the government party loses trust and their chance of reelection. One example of this was President Bush’s plummeting popularity and resulting defeat by Bill Clinton.[3] Therefore, it would make sense for government officials to reach out to these executives and provide valuable resources to benefit both parties. Power is shifted from government officials to business executives, because these executives have the ability to influence government officials to meet their demands. As a result, a large category of decisions is turned over to businessmen, and taken off the agenda of government. In a way, business managers become the public officials they represent.

This privilege of power is unique to corporations only. If workers want reform on unfair working conditions or pay, they must form a worker’s union. However, a worker’s union has considerably less influence than a corporation. As opposed to workers’ unions, businesses exercise more control on governmental policy making because workers are expendable – workers need money more urgently than society needs their services, so a business can operate for a lot longer than workers can afford to stay off the job.[4]

Privileged position of science[edit]

Without the knowledge of scientists and technologists, there would be no possibility of producing new technology and progress in a positive manner. Those who have these types of knowledge and abilities are essentially the "seed" of technological innovation. They have the following three privileges:

  • Knowledge
  • Learning and teaching of new knowledge
  • Political implications of innovation

Based on previous scientific knowledge, one or several are able to use it and/or build on it to innovate. Kleinman and Vallas point out that scientists control the modification, mediation and contest of emerging knowledge.[5] Those with this knowledge can also teach future generations the same to keep this process moving forward. Woodhouse states that engineers are among the top professionals that promote the new innovations without consequences.[6] This is the foundation of the privileged position of science, that only a select have scientific and/or technological knowledge and capable of substantial feats, good or bad. Engineers and scientists have the powerful position of being able to choose the path of innovation for emerging technology. Technologists and scientists hold a privileged position additionally in that their innovations often have political implications. Woodhouse makes the comparison of innovation to legislative acts, stating that they both establish a framework that will follow for many generations.[6]

Relationships between privileged positions of business and science[edit]

Business and science are part of an important societal circle specifically relating to the production and implementation of technology. In simple terms, scientists and technologists design and create, while businesses provide the means to create, produce and implement. As Woodhouse claims, it would be a mistake to overlook business executives' and elected officials' dependence on the technologists because innovation is so highly regarded.[5]

Businesses that rely on scientists and technologists cannot function without them, but have authority over them. Woodhouse claims that the one reason green technology has not emerged faster and stronger is because the brown chemistry formula fulfilled many of the needs of scientists and businessmen.[7] In other words, since brown chemistry was innovated over less toxic and recyclable green technologies, it is shown that business has more authority over that of technologists and scientists. Woodhouse points out that there has been considerable delay on a promising area of green chemistry: supercritical fluids. The opinions range from targeting the culprit as the complexity of the equipment, to maintenance difficulties, to the equipment costs.[8] This is an example of the interconnection of business and science, and how technology can be slowed by technology and/or business (and vice versa). Woodhouse also states that twentieth-century chemists, chemical engineers, and chemical industry executives made central decisions which considerably modeled society's experiences with chemicals.[9] The chemical industry, which includes scientists, technologists, and businessmen, uniquely controls what happens or what can happen to large number of people who are exposed to chemicals.

Business and science are considered of utmost importance in current developed countries. However, one working without the other has the potential to cause major issues. Woodhouse points out what the vice president of Shaw Carpets explained at a congressional hearing: that the V.P. is the person whose job it is to tell the chemists and chemical engineers that it is possible to produce carpets using "green" processes, because the students had not learned this from their respective university curricula.[10] There can be many positive outcomes of the unison operation of business and science, and it is vital that this does occur in order to prevent major problems and unintended consequences.

See also[edit]



  • Lindblom, Charles E.; Woodhouse, Edward J. (1993). The Policy-Making Process (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Woodhouse, Edward J. (1997). Proceeding from the 1997 International Symposium on Technology and Society: Technology and Society at a Time of Sweeping Change. Glasgow, UK: IEEE.
  • Woodhouse, Edward J. (2006). "Nanoscience, green chemistry, and the privileged position of science". In Scott Frickel & Kelly Moore (eds.). New Political Sociology of Science: Institutions, Networks, and Power. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)