Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Philip Scranton, “Determinism and Indeterminacy in Science & Technology”

Does Technology Drive History: the Dilemma of Technological Determinism (1994)

How do we write the history of science and technology?  If we set aside technological determinism than we must also abandon the idea that changes and shifts in technology govern the restructuring of social formations and organizations or of cultural practices.  So how do we capture the dynamics of the interactions of science and society without resorting to new reductionisms that substitute a new universal for an old one?  Neither can we assume that technical change represents a unified process.

Deterministic approaches to the history of technology have meant that the situational links between technical changes and social and political relations have often been left unspecified and under-investigated, because technological determinism insulates technological change from extra-technical initiatives.  But once we move past linear and reductionist accounts of technological change we can begin to fill in some of the gaps and silences of the history of technology and science.  Gaps such as non-Western concepts of technology and technical practice, technical-environmental relations, technologies of sexuality and family limitation, or to technologies of the management of the incarcerated or the dead.

It is Scranton’s belief “that technological change proceeds in the absence of overarching rationalities; that it proceeds along multiple coexistent trajectories; that links between technical change and sociopolitical relations are intimate and underspecified; and that stepping beyond reductionist teleologies reveals an array of intriguing silences in the history of technology.” (p. 163)