Sustaining Urban Networks: The Social Diffusion of Large Technical Systems

Sustaining Urban Networks: The Social Diffusion of Large Technical Systems

Sustaining Urban Networks: The Social Diffusion of Large Technical Systems

Sustaining Urban Networks: The Social Diffusion of Large Technical Systems

Synopsis

Taking sustainability in its triple economic, environmental and social dimensions, the contributors take stock of previous research on large technical systems and discuss their sustainability from three main perspectives: uses, cities, rules/institutions.

Excerpt

Network Systems Revisited: the Confounding Nature of Universal Systems

Olivier Coutard, Richard E. Hanley, and Rae Zimmerman

This book is a contribution to the study of the development of the telecommunications, transportation, energy, and water supply, networked systems - sometimes referred to as large technical systems (LTSs) - that have gained crucial importance in the functioning of modern social systems over the past 100 to 150 years.

Previous research on industrialized countries has shown that, although many infrastructure networks have become quasi-universal, their development was not the spontaneous result of their technical and economic superiority. Rather, the development of networks is best understood as the result of a complex process of co-construction of systems, use(r)s and institutions. in line with this tradition, the authors in this book seek to escape deterministic views of the development of infrastructure networks and their “effects” on society. They consider, in particular, that new technologies do not mechanically produce social change, that it is not “in the nature” of LTSs to grow irresistibly, and that network development is a fundamentally contested process. At the same time, they also seek to escape “social determinism, ” i.e. the idea that the development of technical systems and their role in society are entirely determined by the interplay of “pure” (non-technical) social forces. Rather, the authors in this book would agree to the idea that society is, to a certain extent, determined by technologies in use (Edgerton 1998). They believe that technologies are shaped by society at the same time as they shape society or, in other words, that (social) technical systems and (technical) societies co-evolve.

Building upon the knowledge (both empirical and theoretical) in this area, the authors in this book investigate the development of LTSs in light of

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