Exponents of SCOT (Social Construction of Technology) argue that all relations should be taken into account when analysing technological objects. Wiebe Bijker (1995; Bijker and Pinch,1984; Bijker, Hughes and Pinch, 1990) developed this theory, which is part of the ‘constructivist studies of technology’.
Bijker uses the metaphor of the ‘seamless web’ of science, technology, and society, to understand the integrated STS problematic. Contrary to the technological determinists, who see technological innovation as a linear process of succession, assuming teleology in the process of development, SCOT (as well as ANT) opposes the linear process of innovation; they see technological development as “something curved, veering from the straight line, artful but fake, beautiful but contrived" (Latour, 1999, p.175).
The second pivot of SCOT is the argument for a ‘symmetrical analysis of technology’, attention is paid both to the successes and the failures in the development of an artefact (Bijker, 1995; Bijker and Pinch, 1984). In the seamless web consisting of so-called “sociotechnical ensembles” (Bijker, 1995, p.269) the development of an artefact should be seen in its context, in which different ‘relevant social groups’ assign their own meaning to the same objects, a process which Bijker (1995) describes as ‘interpretative flexibility’. The dominant social group determines the success or failure to the design of (technical) objects and the final ‘closure’of this process. The concept of ‘closure’ describes the process of decreasing interpretative flexibility, resulting in stabilization (Bijker, 1995, p.270). In sum, the process of development of a technological object is socially constructed, which is the outcome of the process of closure and stabilization. Going back to the origin of artefacts, can show that these artefacts might have been different, maybe worked better and in the end may have been userfriendlier (Bijker and Law, 1992).
Thus, the social construction of an artefact has a dual character, including the (almost) irreversible process of closure on the one hand and the non-linear process of development in which the same artifact comprises many meanings (interpretative flexibility) due to different relevant social groups and therefore has a “fluid and ever changing character “(Bijker, 1995, p.52). The (almost) irreversibile closure of an object results in a black box, which is often not opened up since the intrinsic properties seem to explain the success of the object. SCOT, and all the constructivist scholars, want to open up this blackbox from the point of view that technological objects and people are intertwined. Opening up the black box sheds light on the implicit assumptions and the mechanism that is caused by closure, which can include and exclude certain social groups.
Bijker, W.E. (1995). Of Bicycles, Bakelites and Bulbs: toward a theory of sociotechnical change. Cambridge, MA [etc]: MIT Press.
Bijker, W.E., and Law, J. (1992). Shaping Technology/Building Society: studies in sociotechnical change. Cambridge, MA [etc]: MIT Press.
Bijker, W.E., Hughes, T.P. and T.J. Pinch (1990). The social construction of technological systems: new directions in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge MA [etc]: MIT Press
Bijker, W.E. and T.J. Pinch (1984). The social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might Benefit Each Other. In: Social Studies of Science, 14, 399-441
Latour, B. (1999). Pandora's hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA [etc]: Harvard University Press