Social shaping of technology

According to Robin A. Williams and David Edge (1996), "Central to social shaping of technology (SST) is the concept that there are choices' (though not necessarily conscious choices) inherent in both the design of individual artifacts and systems, and in the direction or trajectory of innovation programs."

If technology does not emerge from the unfolding of a predetermined logic or a single determinant, then innovation is a 'garden of forking paths'. Different routes are available, potentially leading to different technological outcomes. Significantly, these choices could have differing implications for society and for particular social groups.

SST is one of the models of the technology: society relationship which emerged in the 1980s with MacKenzie and Wajcman's influential 1985 collection, alongside Pinch and Bijker's social construction of technology framework and Callon and Latour's actor-network theory. These have a common feature of criticism of the linear model of innovation and technological determinism. It differs from these notably in the attention it pays to the influence of the social and technological context of development which shapes innovation choices. SST is concerned to explore the material consequences of different technical choices, but criticises technological determinism, which argues that technology follows its own developmental path, outside of human influences, and in turn, influences society. In this way, social shaping theorists conceive the relationship between technology and society as one of 'mutual shaping'.

Names associated with this field

Donald A. MacKenzie, Judy Wajcman, Bruno Latour, Wiebe Bijker, Thomas P. Hughes, John Law, Trevor Pinch (also Trevor J. Pinch), Michel Callon, Steve Woolgar, Carl May, Thomas J. Misa, Boelie Elzen, Robin Williams (academic), Ronald Kline, Marlei Pozzebon Robin A Williams, and Osman Sadeck

See also


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