This anthology arose from the papers of a workshop held at the University of Twente in July 1984, and like one of Bijker's own artifacts, has stabilized across seven printings. The work features a turn to thick descriptions of technology, as various contributors open up the black box of technology. Many of the authors, and certainly the editors, employ the concepts of interpretative flexibility, closure, relevant social groups, reverse salients, seamless webs, and actor/actant networks. The assemblage of authors do not by any means speaks with one voice but collectively they argue for the integrated study of science and technology, offer specific tools and research sites available for use, and question the line between sociology and science. (5-6)
Part One sets the tone for the studies to follow: Pinch and Bijker, sociologists working in science and technology, respectively, argue that discoveries in science and technology feed upon each other, and that basic research in science, in particular, is not the start of an assembly line that advances to an end product in new technology. The Empirical Program of Relativism (EPOR) and the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) are glossed as fruitful sources of theory. A case study on the closure and stabilization of the bicycle is used to illustrate themes from EPOR and SCOT and to make the case for integration of the fields of science and technology. In the following essay Thomas Hughes sets out the theory and evolution of systems, particularly the electrical power grid. Michel Callon rounds off Part One by introducing the themes of the actor-network theory, the notion that scientific truth is built within webs of heterogeneous actors and actants (artifacts) who compete for resources, and perhaps most significantly, compete for the coin of the 20th and 21st century, media attention. These are the founding themes taken up in the essays of Part Two and Three.
John Law explores with the Portuguese down the coast of Africa; Henk
van den Belt and Arie Rip limn the dye industry; Weibe Bijker follows the
invention of Bakelite: what do the essays of Part Two have
in common? They locate technological meaning in the context of competing
social groups and specific economic environments; they explore particular
tools and processes that stabilized; and they offer models of thick descriptions
required by work in social constructivism. "The three chapters in part
II deal explicity with [the] issue of how to order the results of detailed
case studies ...." Part Three groups essays that feature specific
research sites. Missile accuracy, Franklin stoves, sonar scans, drug
regulation, the organization: each of these artifacts and processes
suggest places within complex networks where attention may be focused.
Of the essays in these two chapters, perhaps most interesting to me were Ruth Schwarz Cowan's essay on the consumers of Franklin stoves and John Law's essays on navigation, since both had to do with the dispersal of technology.
Part Four concludes with two essays by Steven Woolgar and Trevor Pinch
on the problem or question of artificial intelligence. Woolgar delineates
the congnitive vs. performance question, and suggests that no intelligence
may be codified apart from its social aspects. Pinch explores the expert
system, offers four components of the knowledge, and suggests that using
knowledge is inherently social because all systems are based on constantly
changing end-user capacities and skills.
This volume served as a kind of manifesto of how social constructivism was to be done, and in grouping the authors as they have done, Pinch, Hughes and Bijker have offered a clear picture of what they would like to see obtain in the field. Certain traditions are left out: the more politically polemical are disenfranchised; and the sociology of science seems a bit thin. However, the work is a useful gathering of good examples. It would be interesting to see the editors compile Volume II, a similar anthology of articles written from 1995 on.