Technology and Social Process

By Brian Elliott | Go to book overview

THREE: JOHN LAW
THE ANATOMY OF A SOCIO-TECHNICAL STRUGGLE: THE DESIGN OF THE TSR2

It is widely held that technological innovation is a function of the operation of social and economic interests. In this paper I do not want to say that this is wrong. I am certain that much innovation can be treated in this way. I want, however, to recommend an alternative approach to the analysis of innovation. I want to argue, and I do not suggest that this is a novel claim, that what, following Hughes ( 1983), I shall call sociotechnical systems are partially directed by the concerns of heterogeneous engineers ( Law, 1987). These concerns may be treated as goals, so long as it is understood that goals are usually complex, often only partially articulated, and are liable to change -- that is, they are not typically generated in rationally calculating manner of a homo economicus. Goals or concerns are not the same as economic interests, though they may sometimes coincide ( Callon and Law, 1982). Thus they may be connected with a variety of discursive forms -- love, duty, fear, impossibility -- that are quite detached from profit or market return. Often, of course, in a capitalist society the latter are important, discursively, in the formation of goals, and sometimes these goals are articulated as interests ( Hindess, 1986).

If sociotechnical systems, and the innovations which form a part of these, are best seen as being directed by concerns rather than interests, then it is also important not to assume that the detection of relevant goals or concerns constitutes a complete explanation for an innovation. Changes in sociotechnical systems are also a function of the capacity of those who direct such systems to mobilise and juxtapose a heterogeneous range of elements -- for instance, technological devices, organisations, scientific theory and skills. One may be tempted, as a short cut, to suggest that the shape

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