Social construction of technology

Social construction of technology (SCOT) is a theory within the field of science and technology studies. 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 a technology is used cannot be understood without understanding how that technology is embedded in its social context. SCOT is a response to technological determinism and is sometimes known as technological constructivism.

Lateral view of human faces filled with artificial intelligence tools.

SCOT draws on work done in the constructivist school of the sociology of scientific knowledge, and its subtopics include actor-network theory (a branch of the sociology of science and technology) and historical analysis of sociotechnical systems, such as the work of historian Thomas P. Hughes. Its empirical methods are an adaptation of the Empirical Programme of Relativism (EPOR), which outlines a method of analysis to demonstrate the ways in which scientific findings are socially constructed (see strong program). Leading adherents of SCOT include Wiebe Bijker and Trevor Pinch.

SCOT holds that those who seek to understand the reasons for acceptance or rejection of a technology should look to the social world. It is not enough, according to SCOT, to explain a technology's success by saying that it is "the best"—researchers must look at how the criteria of being "the best" is defined and what groups and stakeholders participate in defining it. In particular, they must ask who defines the technical criteria success is measured by, why technical criteria are defined this way, and who is included or excluded. Pinch and Bijker argue that technological determinism is a myth that results when one looks backwards and believes that the path taken to the present was the only possible path.

SCOT is not only a theory, but also a methodology: it formalizes the steps and principles to follow when one wants to analyze the causes of technological failures or successes.


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