Comparing and contrasting theories of Technological Determinism and Social Construction of Technology using technological artifacts
Every individual experiences various roles that technology plays in the social change on a daily basis. Technology exists when cleaning our homes, making an online purchase of an air ticket, and borrowing books from the library. We experience technology in various aspects on our normal ways of doing things. However, there are conflicting views as to whether the development influential started by society creating and paving way for technology, or technology giving way to changes in the society1. Seen as reductionist view, technological determinism proposes that the available and evolving technology drives social change and is responsible for historical events. Contrast to this theory is the social construction of technology which argues that human beings and society gears the development of new technologies. The aim of this essay is to compare and contrast the two theories using two technological artefacts to develop an analysis. This essay will illustrate conflicting ideas and perspectives of the two theories.
Technological Determinism and Social Construction of Technology
The theory of technological determinism assumes that the society’s technology determines the social structure, cultural values and social history. Theory should not be confused with the inevitability thesis which assumes that after the introduction of technology into a culture, it would be followed by unavoidable enhancement of the technology2. Technological determination is the belief that technology is the fundamental governing force in the contemporary society3. It is the belief that every progress in the society is geared by technological innovation. Lawson concurs to this definition by adding that technological determinism determines social changes. Similarly, Brooks argue that technological determination forces cultural and social changes4. However, despite the numerous interpretations, there are two general ideas shares in most of the interpretations. First, the development of technology is predictable and is a traceable path that goes beyond both the influence of politics and culture. Second, the technology has impacts on inherent societies rather than the society organizing itself after the introduction of technology. The theory of technological determination opposes the theory of social construction of technology which assumes that innovation and consequences of technology strongly influence human beings is it is not shaped by the society. The shaping of the society might come from the influence of culture, economic arrangements and politics. Various scholars have discredited the theory of technological determination, especially studies on science and technology. However, the view remains dominant within popular culture and mews media.
While examining determinism, it is important to discuss the two major types of determinism; hard and soft determinism. Soft determinists see technology as a guiding force rather than an omnipotent force within the society. From this view, while technology controls the society’s evolution, it is not a single explanation to the evolution. Despite the fact that technology is the key force in the society, the society have room to adjust to the consequences that come with major inventions even if the consequences are experiences after a cultural lag. The Luddites is an example of a soft determinism where a group of workers revolted against the implementation of the use of new machines that would replace their jobs. On the other hand, hard determinists view technology as independent from the social concerns. Hard determinism is where technology does not have any collaboration with the society5. However, technology has caused problems in our daily lives despite the fact that we have also derived elicit positive changes within the society.
Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) is a theory within Technology and Society that assumes that technology do not affect or determine the actions of human beings but rather, it is the human beings that shapes the technology. Fulk argue that the manner in which human beings use technology cannot be simply understood without recognizing how technology is linked to the social context.6 The theory of social construction of technology is a response to the theory of technological determinism. Some scholars term SCOT theory as social constructivism because it draws upon the work done in the constructivist school of sociology of knowledge management. the theory assumes that individual who want to understand the reasons why technology is accepted or rejected have to look at the social world . According to this theory, it is not satisfactory to explain that the success of technology by underlying what is the best. Fulk say that is would be more efficient if scholars look at the criteria of defining ‘the best’ and identify the groups and stakeholders involved in the definition. Specifically, Fulk states that they have to ask who defines the technical criteria and it is measures, and who is included and excluded within the definition7. Due to this reason SCOT is not only a theory but also a useful methodology that formalizes the principles and steps taken when analyzing causes of success or failure of technology.
Following the technological awareness the late 20th and early 21st century, scholars and scientists are more concerned with the impacts of technological development on the society. According to Fulk, the society is the edge of change as compared to the increasing human life on earth. Other scholars argue that the major cause of this change is the creation by technological entities that are greater than the intelligence of human beings8. Therefore, there is a probability that technology may overtake and become the major force that controls development as technological determinism proposes.
Technology and society occur in an entirely different lifespan and cultural development. Despite this argument, the interaction between technology and society is increasing in the contemporary world. Contrary to the proposed view by technological determinism that technology is a driving force that is behind social change, the social construction of technology assumes that the development of technology occurs as a result of and after changes occurs in the society9. As previously seen, development and enhancement in technology also have serious effects on the global society. Taking an example of the use of cars, vehicles have become an essential part of the modern society, reduced time spent on journeys and quicker emergency travel. As a result, the society has adjusted to the invention by widening roads and creating safety measures to remedy the problems that may be caused by technology. After the invention of the car, the need increased and the demand resulted to increased production. As a result, the following manufacturing and technological developments were driven by the society10. Currently, individuals do not desire mobile phones or cars. Instead, the society needs the cars and the mobile phones. Therefore, modern technology has become a tool for civilization. Technological efficiency is no longer an option as it has been imposed on almost all activities of the society.
Technological determinism assumes that technology influences the society but the technology is not influenced by society. On the other hand, social constructivism assumes that society influences technology. An example of a technological artefact that demonstrates technological determinism argument is the alarming development of the internet. The internet has resulted to changes and evolution of the society by creating a world of communication and knowledge that continue to expand. The development of technology may be seen in terms of the binary of yin and yan. The society has ceased to understand the power that technology have and as a result, human beings are being overpowered by technology. However, there are other critics that view this argument as overly negative. As a result, the argument feeds off the opportunity of technology that is positive.
In the theory of technological determinism, only technological factors determine the technology’s success or failure and not the social factors. Social constructivism holds that the social factors significantly contribute towards the success or failure of the technology. The use of technology brings values of possession and control that dominates the social life of human beings. However, there are other questions about social constructivism that remain unanswered based on this argument11. The basis seems to be in differentiating contingency and the irreducibly social nature of technology, in the argument that social nature of technology calls for contingency, it is worth noting that the social phenomenon of technology is missed.
In technological determinism, successful technological developments are termed as superior while the failed ones are inferior even if other human beings cannot prove or see. Similarly, social constructivism views successful technologies as superior and the failed ones inferior. However, the different is that social constructivism views the superiority and the inferiority is based on the story of the technology’s success or failure. Both theories argue that superior technologies will become proliferate throughout the social system, replacing the technologies that are inferior. However, the difference occurs by SCOT challenging this view. SCOT argue that the success of a technological artefact is what need to be explained and not to make assumption from the circular argument that since it is proliferated, it has to be innately superior. As a result, the superiority or inferiority of technology and its economic efficiency are not major features of the artefacts but are categories created by the social groups.
While technological determinism argue that technology is developed linearly, that is, created, developed and implemented, social constructivism holds that technological development occurs in a recursive manner. The social construction of technology involves all members of a specific group that share same ideologies regarding a particular artefact. The development of technology involves different social groups who show their views on a particular artefact and come together to negotiate the design of the artefact while at the same time constructing various objects. The development process goes on until every individual in the social group ascertain that the artefact is working effectively. Other critics on technological determinism are that most modern thinkers do not view the theory to be accurate on the way human beings interact with technology. Other scholars argue that technological determinism is not strongly founded on the concept as the theses are questionable and calls for democratic rationalization.
In conclusion, the theory of technological determinism can be viewed as a daunting prospect that has little or no control over social factors. The theory of social construction seems to be more plausible as the society has been influences and effected by technological developments. Besides, it is also evident that much is still under the control of human creativity for the development of technology. This essay have discussed the theories of technology determinism and social construction of technology and identified the components of the theories. This essay has also identified the critics that exist on the two theories. This essay finds that social construction argue that the use and application of technology is connected to the social context and that the SCOT theory acts as a response to the technological determinism.
Brooks, R. A., ‘Flesh and Machines: How Robots will change us. Reviewed by Phil Husbands. Cognitive and Computing Sciences. University of Sussex, UK: Pantheon Books.
Ceruzzi, P. E. ‘Moore’s Law and Technological Determinism: Reflections on the History of Technology’. In Technology and Culture. Vol. 46. USA: John Hopkins University Press. 2005
Dafoe, Allan. 2015. «On Technological Determinism.» Science, Technology & Human Values 40, no. 6: 1047-1076.
de la Cruz Paragas, Fernando, and Trisha T. C. Lin. «Organizing and reframing technological determinism.» New Media & Society 18, no. 8 (September 2016): 1528-1546, 2002
Fulk, Janet. «Social Construction of Communication Technology.» Academy Of Management Journal 36, no. 5 (October 1993): 921-950
Lawson, C. «Collective Learning and Epistemically Significant Moments.» In High Technology, Networking and Collective Learning in Europe, edited by D Keeble and F Wilkinson. Ashgate, 2000.
Lawson, T. Reorienting Economics. London: Routledge, 2004.
Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch, ed. How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology. MIT Press. pp. 247–269. (2003) ISBN 0-262-15107-3.
Pinch, Trevor J. and Wiebe E. Bijker. «The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other.» Social Studies of Science 14 (August 1984): 399-441
Singh, Tanuj, Alka Sharma, and Chandra Singh. «Social Construction of Technology: A Flexible Strategy for DL Success.» Global Journal Of Flexible Systems Management 17, no. 3 (September 2016): 265-273
1 Allan Dafor. “On Technological Determinism.» Science, Technology & Human (2015) Values 40, no. 6: 1047-1076.
2Ceruzzi, P. E. ‘Moore’s Law and Technological Determinism: Reflections on the History of Technology’. In Technology and Culture. Vol. 46. USA: John Hopkins University Press, 2005.
3Lawson, T. Reorienting Economics. London: Routledge, 2004.
4 Dafor, On Technological Determinism, 1048
5Singh, Tanuj, Alka Sharma, and Chandra Singh. «Social Construction of Technology: A Flexible Strategy for DL Success.» Global Journal Of Flexible Systems Management 17, no. 3 (September 2016): 265-273
6Janet Fulk «Social Construction Of Communication Technology.» Academy Of Management Journal 36, no. 5 (October 1993): 921-950
7 Fulk, Soial Construction of Communication Technology, 930
8Pinch, Trevor ,“Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch, ed. How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology (2003). MIT Press. pp. 247–269. ISBN 0-262-15107-3.
9de la Cruz Paragas, Fernando, and Trisha T. C. Lin. «Organizing and reframing technological determinism.» New Media & Society 18, no. 8 (September 2016): 1528-1546
10 Ibid., 927
11Pinch, Trevor J. and Wiebe E. Bijker. «The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other.» Social Studies of Science 14 (August 1984): 399-441