Term Paper: Social Construction of Technology &#8230

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[. . .] SCOT is more than a supposition, it is a theory grounded in specific methodologies and techniques. Farlano explains:

The social construction of technology (SCOT) is a particular way of conceptualizing and understanding the social shaping of technology as well as, in turn, the technological shaping of society. This perspective can be understood to include the interplay between socio-economic, political, cultural and environmental factors in the process of technological development…This viewpoint is in stark contrast to the perspective of technological determinism or realism, which stresses the inherent properties of technologies and their impacts on society. (Farlano, 2012)

SCOT argues that there is a fluctuating and semiotic relationship between technology and social reality. Those who agree with SCOT would say that just as art imitates life and life imitates art, the same can be said, relatively, for technology and society as well. Technology shapes the society, which seems transparently intuitive, yet at the same time, the culture influences the technology. Regardless of the flow of influence, this kind of push, pull, ebb and flow, shaping and sculpting occurs constantly and with great intensity & frequency in the heavily mediated, technological cultural landscape of the 21st century. Communicationista drives this point home:

Currently, of course, there is speculation about the way that information and communication technologies (ICTs) may be determining our world, its social structures and economies, as well as individual consciousness…Advocates of SCOT -- that is, social constructivists -- argue that technology does not determine human action, but that rather, human action shapes technology. They also argue that the ways in which a technology is used cannot be understood without understanding how that technology is embedded in its social context. (Communicationista, 2012)

This explanation of SCOT speaks to the semiotic aspect of technology and how semiotics plays a role in the overall use of the theory. The quotation also speaks to the predominance of technological determinism as the theoretical explanation for the relationship between technology and society. SCOT was in some ways, a welcome change from the technological deterministic viewpoint. From the SCOT point-of-view, humans are the agents of our change in society. Humans have the power to create technology and human actions shape the kinds of technology that are produced as well as influence the functions of the technologies produced. This quotation moreover concurs with prior statements regarding the nature of technology, in that it is essentially meaningless without and/or outside of social context. Therefore the consideration for the social context of a specific piece of technology should be, if it is not already, considered as part of its structural design. In fact, supporters of SCOT may go so far as to argue that something is not a definitively a piece of technology without social context. SCOT, as a relatively new theory, at least expands the debate and considerations of how technology relates to society. Again, such issues will grow in prevalence as the world continues to become more and more technologically dependent or integrated.

This paper argues in support of the relevance and utility of SCOT with respect to technology and issues of politics, sociology, culture, communication, consumption, and behavior. Just over a decade after the theory of SCOT was published in the mid 1980s, here came the mid and late 1990s and the beginning of the technological surge. In the attempt to stay relevant, the original theorists added a slight modification to their theory so that it could keep up with the technological and theoretical times. Klein and Kleinman elaborate:

Since the original presentation of this framework, one major concept has been introduced into SCOT. To the four foundational concepts, Bijker (1995) added that of the technological frame…A technological frame may promote certain actions and discourage others: "Within a technological frame not everything is possible anymore (the structure and tradition aspect), but the remaining possibilities are relatively clearly and readily available to all members of the relevant social group (the actor and innovation aspect)" (Bijker 1995, 192). Bijker's introduction of the technological frame to the SCOT framework is an important first step toward recognition of structure, yet numerous possibilities exist for additional insights. (Klein & Kleinman, 2002,-Page 31)

There are numerous occasions when a theory is developed and the originators hold fast to the original form or idea of the theory. There are times when researchers come up with theories that do not stand up to the changes over time, or perhaps were to restricted or confined in the structure or reasoning to lend itself to flexibility. This does not prove to be the case with Pinch and Bijker's theory of SCOT. The theory, in its structure, retains some of the impermanent closure and interpretative flexibility, which are core concepts to the theory itself. Structurally, SCOT practices what it preaches contentwise. The demonstrates to this author that this theory was soundly structured and proves to be an enduring, useful theoretical perspective with potential to remain so for at least a few more decades without significant modification.

The paper will now consider the counterargument to SCOT as part of its analysis and critique of the theory. On the other end of the spectrum from technological constructivism is technological determinism. Bijker summarizes the technological determinist viewpoint and provides insights regarding the faults of the determinist argument:

Technological determinism was taken to comprise two elements: (1) technology develops autonomously, and (2) technology determines to an important degree societal development. This view was seen as intellectually poor and politically debilitating. Technological determinism implies a poor research strategy, it was argued, because it entails a teleological, linear and one-dimensional view of technological development. And it was considered politically debilitating because technological determinism suggests that social and political interventions in the course of technology are impossible, thus making politicization (see below) of technology a futile endeavor. To bolster this critique on technological determinism, it was necessary to show that the working of technology was socially constructed -- with the emphasis on social. (Bijker, 2009,-Page 89)

In addition, to the determinist view, numerous scholars criticize the original formulation of SCOT, calling it insufficient. Pinch and Bijker realized this, readily acknowledge this weakness in the theory and even participate in this critique, part of which is aforementioned and came in the mid-late 1990s. Essentially, SCOT assumes that groups are equal and that all relevant social groups with respect to technology or other cultural artifacts are present and equally represented in the design process. This presumption fails to adequately attend to power asymmetry between groups. (Klein & Kleinman, 2002) This aspect of the theory does not stand up well to debate with access and quality of access to the Internet around the world is an easy example to use to undermine implicit equality in their theory. Just as a technological framework was added to enhance the scope and accuracy of the theory, perhaps a framework with respect to class and gender would assist in the productive expansion and application of SCOT.

There is further division within the debate among the technological determinists. Early in the 21st century, the idea of hard and soft determinism created a rift on that side of the spectrum.

Hard determinists would view technology as developing independent from social concerns. They would say that technology creates a set of powerful forces acting to regulate our social activity and its meaning. According to this view of determinism we organize ourselves to meet the needs of technology and the outcome of this organization is beyond our control or we do not have the freedom to make a choice regarding the outcome. Soft Determinism, as the name suggests, is a more passive view of the way technology interacts with socio-political situations. Soft determinists still subscribe to the fact that technology is the guiding force in our evolution, but would maintain that we have a chance to make decisions regarding the outcomes of a situation. (Communicationista, 2009)

It would be interesting to look at which cultures around the world side more with determinism and which side more with constructivism. The constructivism side is more active, which makes sense that the countries that agree most with SCOT are powerful and progressive nations in the West, which is more active culturally relative to cultures from the East. In any case, the paper sides more with SCOT, though the paper acknowledges the philosophical practicality of the determinist view. It may hold true to a limited extent, but This paper agree that SCOT is a more relevant, practical, and useful theory when considering the science-technology connection and their relationship to society. Many argue that the people of the world, especially those in the industrialized world, have grown more lazy and selfish, some of which is attributed to forms of technology. At least with the use of SCOT, the theory puts more of the responsibility and accountability for the state of the world and the quality of life back upon human beings, making us responsible for our current state, and capable of enacting the necessary change for the better.



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