Social Construction of Technology

Another theoretical framework that I will apply to my study is the social construction of technology as a model to consider the social context of new technology. According to Pinch & Bijker (1987), a key assumption of this theory is that innovation is a complex process of co-construction in which technology and users negotiate the meaning of new technological artifacts. So, while new technologies arise relatively frequently, how we interact with them can vary greatly and can even differ from the purpose intended by the developer. The technologies are culturally constructed and interpreted. The use of such technologies, then, is formed from multiple parties negotiating the meaning through a particular application.

There are three concepts essential to understanding the way in which the social construction of technology affects the use and meaning of an emergent technology: the relevance of the social groups involved in negotiating meaning, the flexibility of interpretation, and the stabilization that occurs after the negotiation process.

  • Social Groups – While various groups may adopt a given technology for various purposes, each instance represents a relevant social group that shares a particular understanding about the meaning and purpose of the technology. These groups include the designers, developers, research entities, and users. Within each of these groups can exist many instances as well, such as groups of users who interpret and apply the technology differently.
  • Flexibility of Interpretation – Because technologies are socially constructed and interpreted, and there are various social groups that pick up the technologies, there is an interpretive flexibility that exists as the technology is understood and adopted by these groups.
  • Stabilization – After a technology is adopted and interpreted by a specific social group, a certain stabilization occurs in which the negotiation process closes and the technology is applied. However, the negotiation process and interpretation is not necessarily closed permanently for the group, as it may find new direction, application, and understanding of the technology. Naturally, new interpretations and applications can and do occur by other social groups as well.

I can apply this to my own research through the examination of how we, as an asynchronous online class (social group), have interpreted and found mutual meaning in this particular technology (the online video conversation), and how our understanding has stabilized into a consistent application.

Pinch, T., & Bijker, W. – The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. – The Social Construction of Technological Systems, – 50, 17.

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