UNDERSTANDING TECHNOLOGY: SOME POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS OF WORK IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF SCIENCE
Much work on technology, whether it be studies of the process of technological innovation, diffusion or transfer and whether it be carried out by sociologists or economists, has one characteristic in common -- it treats technology as a 'black box'. As Edwin Layton has noted:
What is needed is an understanding of technology from the inside, both as a body of knowledge and as a social system. Instead technology is often treated as a 'black box' whose contents and behaviour may be assumed to be common knowledge ( Layton, 1977:198).
Increasingly researchers are looking inside the 'black box' (e.g. Rosenberg, 1982). In this paper I want to pursue one line of inquiry as to how we may go about 'opening the box'. My argument will be that work in the field of sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) provides strategic and methodological guidance as to how we may understand technology.
Fifteen years ago, in a well-known article entitled 'Black Boxism in the Sociology of Science', Richard Whitley ( 1972) argued that the then predominant Mertonian tradition in the sociology of science treated scientific knowledge as if it were a 'black box'. Mertonian sociologists were interested in the institutional structure