The first three essays of this volume ask, "Do technologies have trajectories?" Wiebe Bijker, John Law, Michel Callon and Geof Bowker address this issue through the construction of a British fighter plane TSR2, through the turn of the century patents on oil prospecting, and through the creation and marketing of the fluorescent light. The introduction to section one suggests that the standard historical trajectory for innovation -- discovery, development, and marketing -- is "quite inadequate." "[T]here is nothing inevitable" about new technologies." Rather, technologies "are the product of heterogeneous contingency." By focusing on one particular case study, each author traces the interactions between the social/political actors -- and in some cases the obdurate non-human actors -- and creates a vocabulary/model for talking about the development of technology in the context of society. Callon and Law describe local and global networks with obligatory points of passage; Bijker the technological frame, and Bowker the internal/external textual descriptions of patents.
The essays in section two describe the development portion of the "trajectory:" the shaping of society by technology, the further stabilization of networks. Thomas Misa, Adri de La Bruheze and Bernard Carlson offer views of steel- making, radioactive wastes and Edison's foray into the motion picture industry. In the context of the other essays, Carlson's argument is a bit startling , in that it blithely posits two kinds of societies (19th century production-oriented and 20th century consumer-oriented) and an inventor who was unable to change his mental frame of reference from one to the other. Section three carries forward the program of dveloping models and vocabularies. Madeline Akrich focuses on lighting technologies brought from the first world to the third, and how they were or were not open to user negotiations and changes within the new culture. Bruno Latour describes doors, locks, seatbelts, and the "morality" entrusted to technology. Together Akritch and Lator compile a vocabulary list (much needed) in order to help readers grasp important points of their semiotic "path-building" theory. Trevor Pinch rounds out the section with a revision of an earlier article on health care budgeting, describing the alternation of strong (economic) and weak (service) rationales for the implementation of a new accounting system.
Shaping Technology/Building Society offers a set of hard-working
SHOT/SSK practitioners applying theories to a wide range of case studies.
Bijker and Law suggest that some essays lean more toward an interactionist
view and others to a seamless web view, but that all deal with some version
of a struggle between internal and external descriptions of technology.
If there is a problem with these essays as a whole, it perhaps lies in
the ostensibly and respectably academic project of "creating a model" or
"compiling a vocabulary." To the extent that the actor-network theory,
the technological frame theory, the local and global network, and the seamless
web emphasize causality at every and any point, it becomes impossible to
pursue accountability. I was impressed by the omnipresence of money,
power and self-aggrandizement as motives: the collection could as
easily be a set of parables, a call to action. I had a sense
that the editors would not object such a reading, but also, that they had
given no help in knowing where to begin pulling down the web.