In the preface to Science, Technology and Society: New Directions
Andrew Webster offers this apology for his work: "a text which linked
the insights of sociology with the concerns of science policy was needed
and might be especially useful for students on both natural and social
science courses pursuing the broad dynamics of the relationship between
science and society." To fulfill these goals, Websterís work traces five
new currents for science and technology, offers a short history of the
sociology of science, surveys the ways science and technology are currently
being used (exploited), suggests how science and technology could be and
are being controlled, and concludes with a list of the crucial needs of
Webster traces five new currents in the relationship between science, technology and science. First, science is no longer individual but team-oriented. As part of this shift, basic and applied research can no longer be easily distinguished. Second, science and technology are also increasingly difficult to usefully distinguish, and the whole research enterprise has become very much industrialized. To be successful, science and technology must be used, exploited, and maintained by multinational firms (and smaller firms). In the same vein, science and technology must be understood and taken into account by the state -- strategies and priorities for funding must be developed.
To support his thesis, Webster offers a short history of sociology of science. He begins with Thomas Merton, a functional sociologist, who summed up the effort of "good" science in four "a-social" qualities: universalism, communality, organized skepticism and disinterestedness. Webster contrasts Mertonís thesis with Kuhnís paradigm theory. Kuhn argues, in effect, that scientists do not think, explore and discover in a vacuum, but rather are deeply embedded within accepted social paradigms of knowledge. Webster points out that controversy studies are particularly fruitful for comparing models of scientific inquiry like Kuhnís and Mertonís. Webster contrasts the "interests" approach (strong program, Bath school) with the ethnographic/discourse analysis approach (the even more relativist approach) and notes the exasperating reflexivity problem that plagues those who engage in deconstruction. He poses a question that the discourse analysis school cannot well answer (in fact, cannot even pose): what makes science qualitatively different in its authoritative voice? Webster allies himself with constructivists, taking the view of scientists as social actors in a network of actors.
Chapters Three through Six survey technology transfer, exploitation and control. Webster raises the question of innovation, how it is encouraged, measured, and evaluated. He forefronts the growth of science parks and the public policies that (like science parks) hope to solve social problems by creating technological growth. He notes that in the scientific realm, skills developed by particular scientists for particular processes make repetition of experiments and technology transfer difficult. Even if replication and transfer were easy, those industry and government programs promoting innovation and technology transfer do not necessarily equal prosperity and peace. (Shades of Sarewitz!) Webster is interested in the political economy of the laboratory, in the relationships between workers in labs, and in this line, he has put his finger on an interesting figure: the itinerant, potentially powerless, highly-skilled white-collar worker. Like Langdon Winner, Webster is sensitive to the trends that change power structures. For instance, multinational firms who run closed R&D labs repeat the "traditional" industrial de-skilling of workers, simply doing it on a higher educational level with lab technicians, but reverse the scientific "value" of openness in reporting results Ė now the commercial value lies in exclusivity. "[T] the commercial exploitation of science and technology is now a century-old phenomenon but is taking on new dimensions as research-intensive industries such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, fibres and new materials, and information technology, rely on innovation in order to remain competitive." (157)
Websterís survey of the current state of science in industry and government
suggests a few preliminary conclusions: first, we ought not to "black box"
science because it allows for easier transfer or assessment but rather
recognize that technology is socially constructed so that our basis for
policy judgements is sounder. Next, the public ought to be engaged, and
"the popularisation of science should not be based on some conventional
image of what people 'need to know' about 'it,' but more attuned to the
everyday life and interests of the lay person." (155). Moreover, the public
must understand not only what is new in science, but what is new in the
way it is being administered, because administration is what the average
person deals with.
Webster concludes with five key areas for sociological researchers to explore. He poses these questions for his colleagues:
1. How do the current labor power structures and cultures compare with older labor and manufacturing power structures?Webster ends with a bit of political pamphleteering, offering the story of the Museum of Reflexive Science being attacked by the Science is Right (SIR) group. Organized by the evil leader "Reppop," SIR shuts down Interpretation Windows: now only certainties will be enforced. Only constructivists and sociologists can save the day? Itís a relief to realize that even Webster would laugh.
2. What is the organization and culture of the R&D laboratory? There are many reference groups (marketing, accounting, product managers, CEOs, scientists) who must interact. How do products and facts get "negotiated into reality"?
3. How will feminist thinking be incorporated into the literature of sociology?
4. How will economic and technological innovation studies be included in the literature of sociology?
5. How can sociology enlighten political policy more effectively?