Saturday, July 18, 2009


a fun exchange in technology and culture between historian nick clayton and social construction of technologists wiebe bijker and trevor pinch.

clayton tries to sink the scot ship by pointing to flaws in b&p's historical accuracy. i don't fully agree with b&p's assertion that since they were not trying to contribute to the history of the bicycle that clayton's entire argument is misdirected (it seems like you should try to get your historical house in order before embarking on theoretical expeditions), but their endorsement of the privilege of the analyst in staking out relevant boundaries is well-taken. however, i felt like they didn't really go far enough with this idea. to my mind, the reason that we privilige the analyst is to make studies more objective by explicitly introducing the perspective of the analyst as an object of critique. b&p do mention this, but it should really form the cornerstone of their arguemnt. otherwise they could be misconstrued as advocating relativsm, which is sort of how the whole thing comes off.

in any case, the scot idea of a "relevant social group" seems way too easy. as latour teaches us, "there is no relevant group that can be said to make up social aggregates, no established component that can be used as an incontrovertible starting point" (Reassembling the Social, p. 29). it's so tempting to close off an entire class of individuals made the same by one or more characteristics. if we can't do this, then what's the alternative? (this is one of the things i'm struggling with, going through latour's texts, trying to connect his methods to useful insights i can glean for my own work.)

i do like some of the notions of scot though, that different people embody different hopes and ideas onto the same piece of technology. it'll surely be interesting to dig into some of this work.

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