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TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM VS.

SOCIAL SHAPING OF
TECHNOLOGY
Introduction
Technological determinists are staunch believers that trends in social changes and history
alike are determined by technology (Chandler, 2000). However, in lieu of this, criticism have
been drawn out in the form of Social constructivists who argue out that it is Social norms that
dictate the design and usage of technology. This essay will look into both beliefs and also include
an example each to support further discussion. The first section of this paper will provide
overviews on both theories and the second section will discuss these models, critically
comparing them with causality and relative examples. The last section will draw a conclusion on
what this paper believed in respect of the two primary theories.

Overview
Technological Determinism (TD)
This term, first coined in the 1920s, was first used by Thorstein Veblen who deeply
believed that technology is a parent determinant in social change (Chandler, 2000). Do machines
make History? (Technology and Culture, 1966). Perhaps this question has led us to believe so as
well. Technological determinism advocates primarily that a society is shaped by the most
dominant technological innovation present in that society.
Technological determinism (TD), in simple terms, is the idea that technology has significant
effects on our lives.
We can understand this further if we select some of the theories that support this claim. For
example The theory of Media-technological determinism, where the introduction of such
innovations like the telephone, radio, television and vehicles have shaped society (Chandler,
2000). This is further seen by the use of this commodities have placed themselves on a higher
social ranking than those who do not use them.
Technological determinism is further based in two forms; soft and hard determinism. The soft
claim on technological determinism impact in a society is not absolute while the hard is so huge
that it is autonomous (Joseph, 2004). Both ideas, however, are based on the belief that
technology shapes a society.

Social Shaping (SS) of Technology


Social Shaping perspective arose from the long-standing critics of the unrefined forms of
technological determinism (Edge 1988), which maintained that:
i)
The nature of technologies and the direction of change were predetermined.
ii)
The technology had determinate `impacts' on work, economic life and the society in
general.
The origins of a social shaping perspective were linked to opposing ideas on technological
imperatives common in the UK government and industry in the late 70s and early 80s which
argued out that paths to technological changes were inevitable.
Therefore, critics came up with the belief that it is the society that shapes technology and
not the other way around. SS of Technology based its ideas on different concepts like the Actor
Network Theory (ANT), and Social Construction of technology (SCOT).
ANT, a concept derived by Latour and Calon, describes technology as a battle between
the users and the AI embedded in the technology. ANT is also useful for the attempt to
understand the scholarly evolution of communication networks available (Beagle, 2001). ANT
concept deals with the information of network technology of actors on it, it is a "program" of
sorts that is done with the assumption of user behaviours that were overcome by "anti-program".
An example of this is a proximity alarm device, where it occasionally beeps when someone or
something in motion triggers it. This is inconvenient is the user has to frequently shut off the
beeping, most likely if the alarm trigger is birds of squirrels. Therefore a user will programme it
to a specific degree to only beep when a human crosses it. This way the user controls the
technology.
Also Social Media, a networked environment enabling one actor to amass a huge amount
of connections giving them some sort of partisan power. Social Media Platforms use their elite
status to black-box the social and technological actors interactions into a product. Cressman
(2009, p.6) suggests that this act of black-boxing denies sociological relationships redistributed
in any given network.
SCOT, developed by Pinch and Bijker (1984), on the other hand, is based on detailed research on
users as the agents of technological change (Trevor, 2010). SCOTs focus is on the way different
groups of people interact with technology which can result to these people have a completely
different understanding of that said technology. This approach draws upon earlier technologies
issuing a sociological perspective to scientific knowledge. Here a technology can be used for a
different purpose other than its original function. For example, a car to light up a house through

its battery power. Thus, in general, Social constructivist ideas points to Users as a determinant of
technology.

Discussion
There are a number of strengths supporting ANT. Williams-Jones (2003) explains that it
explores how within a network, certain effects are produced. Cressman (2009) identifies another
strength of ANT, stating that it can be used to better reveal the sociotechnical world complexities.
However, this model also has weaknesses. ANT is the basis of the heterogeneous association, is
value neutral (Williams-Jones, 2003).
SCOT achievement of its claim has led to Klein and Kleinman (2002) explaining the four
components of SCOTs conceptual framework. Interpretive flexibility, a relevant social group
attached to a specified artefact (Pinch & Bijker, 1987), closure and stabilisation and the wider
context.
Klein (2002) identifies two weaknesses in SCOT model; method and explanation.
SCOTs own snowball methodology is not accurate or comprehensive and can give rise to
distortions. The second weakness in SCOT (Klein & Kleinman, 2002) is that it is impossible to
distinguish between cause and effect.
However these two do have some similarities, Meyer (2003) states that both are approaches that
assist in the understanding of the role that social behaviour and use of technological artefacts.
Also, both reject technological determinism as too simplistic.

Conclusion
Important problems posed by technological determinants cannot be addressed by social
constructivism which ultimate goal is to reduce technology to the social level, thus becoming
impossible to consider the possibilities of autonomous qualities it may possess.
This essay clearly concludes by implying that SCOT utterly rejects TD while ANT can be
considered a subset to SCOT and it shares some similarities with TD.

References
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Bijker, Wiebe, Hughes, Thomas & Pinch, Trevor (eds.) 1987, The Social Construction of
Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology
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Callon, Michel, 1980. The State and Technical Innovation: a case-study of the electric vehicle in
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