A Behavioral Framework
The preceding chapters have presented a panorama of eighteenth-century electrical artifacts in relation to specific activities and the communities that carried them out. Although this technology had its beginnings as the laboratory apparatus of electrophysicists, from the mid-1740s onward a host of new functional variants was invented—everything from Seiferheld's electric oracle to Bertholon's electro-vegetometer to Volta's electric lamp. I was drawn to this technology in part because its seemingly relentless growth and change conformed to a common pattern, the process of “technological differentiation, ” which is familiar to most archaeologists. 1 Many technologies, from Neolithic pottery to twentieth-century home electronics, began their developmental trajectories in a limited number of functional variants. Over decades, centuries, even millennia, these technologies became diversified as people in different communities, capitalizing on technological effects, created and acquired new variants, often highly specialized.
Regrettably, scholars studying technological change have available precious few theoretical tools for dealing with large-scale processes such as technological differentiation. An old favorite, diffusion theory—even in its modern quantitative guises—furnishes at best a superficial description of the temporal, geographic, or social “spread” of a particular technology. Because technological differentiation entails not only spread but also change, diffusion theory is clearly unhelpful. Suffering defects similar to diffusionism, other theories in history and in the social sciences cannot convincingly handle large-scale processes of technological change in a behaviorally sound manner. By “behaviorally sound, ” I mean theories grounded in the materiality of human life—in the concrete people-artifact interactions that comprise activities.
In view of the dearth of relevant theory, Icrafted an archaeological frame-