Social construction of technology
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Social construction of technology (also referred to as SCOT) is a theory within the field of
SCOT draws on work done in the constructivist school of the
SCOT holds that those who seek to understand the reasons for acceptance or rejection of a technology should look to the social world. It is not enough, according to SCOT, to explain a technology's success by saying that it is "the best"—researchers must look at how the criteria of being "the best" is defined and what groups and stakeholders participate in defining it. In particular, they must ask who defines the technical criteria success is measured by, why technical criteria are defined this way, and who is included or excluded. Pinch and Bijker argue that technological determinism is a myth that results when one looks backwards and believes that the path taken to the present was the only possible path.
SCOT is not only a theory, but also a methodology: it formalizes the steps and principles to follow when one wants to analyze the causes of technological failures or successes.
At the point of its conception, the SCOT approach was partly motivated by the ideas of the
The Principle of Symmetry holds that in explaining the origins of scientific beliefs, that is, assessing the success and failure of models, theories, or experiments, the historian/sociologist should deploy the same kind of explanation in the cases of success as in cases of failure. When investigating beliefs, researchers should be impartial to the (
The symmetry principle addresses the problem that the historian is tempted to explain the success of successful theories by referring to their "objective truth", or inherent "technical superiority", whereas s/he is more likely to put forward sociological explanations (citing political influence or economic reasons) only in the case of failures. For example, having experienced the obvious success of the chain-driven bicycle for decades, it is tempting to attribute its success to its "advanced technology" compared to the "primitiveness" of the
A weak reading of the Principle of Symmetry points out that there often are many competing theories or technologies, which all have the potential to provide slightly different solutions to similar problems. In these cases, sociological factors tip the balance between them: that's why we should pay equal attention to them.
A strong, social constructivist reading would add that even the emergence of the questions or problems to be solved are governed by social determinations, so the Principle of Symmetry is applicable even to the apparently purely technical issues.