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Chapter 21 ~ “The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts” by Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker September 2, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR.
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Pinch and Bijker contend that the study of science and the study of technology can benefit from each other, and one way to do this is through social constructivism.

First, Pinch and Bijker outline three bodies of literature in science and technology studies: sociology of science, the science-technology relationship, and technology studies.

In regards to the sociology of science, they primarily looks at the emergence of sociology of scientific knowledge, in which “the actual content of scientific ideas, theories, and experiments” (221) are the subject of analysis – far removed from previous studies that regarded “science as an institution” (221). With this lens, researchers can “understand the processes of the construction of scientific knowledge in a variety of locations and contexts” (222).

Looking at the science-technology relationship, Pinch and Bijker note the attempt to separate technology and science on analytical grounds, something that seems to be an ongoing theme. I have read several times about science being about the discovery of truth and technology being the application of truth, in essence, becoming second to the powerful science. But what the authors realize, and I agree, is that it’s nearly impossible to separate technology and science.

Several points are made in their discussion on technology studies; one point they made I found very interesting was that studies seemed to show a linear, progressive, successive growth with technological devices as opposed to showing the failures as well. By doing this, I would think the outcomes would make people believe that 1) all technological advances are successful (and solely because of the innovator) and 2) there’s no need to explore failures in order to make things better.

Pinch and Bijker finish their essay but exploring the two methods they wish to employ: Empirical Programme of Relativism (EPOR) and Social Construction of Technology (SCOT).

EPOR, which is particularly conducive to the study of scientific controversies, has three aims: 1) interpretive flexibility, 2) describing of social mechanisms that limit interpretative flexibility, and 3) relating “closure mechanisms” to the wider social-cultural milieu.

SCOT, though not as established as EPOR, seems to break away from other traditions to examine the technological artifact in a non-linear way, thus becoming a multidirectional model.

In the end, for Pinch and Bijker, I can see that social construction is an important computer to their vision of studying technology. Situations and people do influence “norms and values,” do help to construct meanings to things. Why would we think any differently about technology?

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