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The sociology of science and the sociology of technology are small but growing topics within the wider field of sociology but are key parts of the emerging interdisciplinary field of science and technology studies (Biagioli 1999; Jasanoff et al. 1995). In this review I first focus on the sociology of science and then briefly examine the sociology of technology.
The Sociology of Science
The sociology of science (Collins 1983; Lynch 1993; Mulkay 1980; Shapin 1995; Zuckerman 1988) was founded by Robert K. Merton—an achievement recognized by his award of the National Medal of Science in 1994. Merton argued in his doctoral dissertation, published as the monograph Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England (Merton  1970), that the rise of modern science could be explained in terms of religion and a number of other factors associated with England’s growing mercantile economy, such as the military and technology. Known subsequently as the Merton thesis, this attempt to explain the emergence of science by “external” factors rather than by the internal growth of scientific ideas has provoked and continues to provoke much debate (Cohen 1990; Hall 1963; Shapin 1988). For many scientists, and some scholars in history and philosophy of science, it is anathema to explain the development of science in terms of social factors. Indeed, this points to one of the difficulties that the field of sociology of science has faced. For many sociologists, especially those who cast their own work as being putatively scientific, it is profoundly destabilizing to encounter an area such as the sociology of science that offers sociological explanations of science. Merton ( 1973) was all too aware of the reflexive conundrums raised by the sociology of knowledge, but they continue to haunt the field (Ashmore 1989; Woolgar 1988).
In charting the territory for the new field of sociology of science, Merton outlined a program that focused on the institutional means, and in particular the reward system, whereby science produces “certified knowledge.” He was particularly concerned with how science functions in a democratic society and saw a direct link between the disastrous scientific agendas of totalitarian regimes and their rejection of democracy. Merton argued that a set of norms or institutional imperatives give science its special character. These norms along with the associated reward and sanctioning systems ensure the production of certified knowledge. Merton ( 1973) famously termed the specific set of social norms for science as CUDOS: communism (in the sense of communal sharing of discoveries and information—later renamed communalism), universalism (assessment of claims not based on class, gender, race, religion, and so on), disinterestedness (scientists have no special interests beyond serving their own community), and organized skepticism (claims are initially greeted with skepticism). These social norms operate in tandem with a set of technical procedural norms that scientists follow, such as the need for empirical verification, logical consistency, and replication of experiments.
Merton formulated a research program for studying science as an institution. Questions such as the following could be answered: “What are the exact norms of science and how, and under what circumstances, do deviations from the norms occur (Zuckerman 1988)?” “How does the reward system work and how fair is it (Hagstrom 1965)?” and “How is science stratified (Cole and Cole 1973; Zuckerman 1988)?” New tools of bibliometrical analysis (Price 1961) were used to investigate the growth and demise of disciplines, subdisciplines, specialties, and the like.
By the 1970s, this research program had largely run its course (although see Cole 1992). Scholars became increasingly dissatisfied with the analytical salience and evidentiary basis of norms. Barnes and Dolby (1970) and Mulkay (1976) argued that the norms of science were better treated as flexible ideologies or sets of justifications—justifications that scientists could appeal to in certain situations. Mulkay (1976) further questioned whether the reward system in science actually leads to the institutionalization of the Mertonian norms. Rewards in science seem to depend on the use-value of a piece of scientific knowledge for other scientists, and thus is independent of whether or not the norms have been followed.
A landmark study was carried out by Ian Mitroff (1974). By conducting rounds of interviews with the Apollo moon scientists each time a new piece of moon rock was brought back to Earth, Mitroff was able to establish that, among this community at least, scientists relished not following Merton’s norms. Indeed, being emotionally committed to a scientific idea and pursuing it vigorously, sometimes in the face of the evidence, were seen as being the hallmarks of good science. Mitroff’s study was cast as verification of an earlier Mertonian idea—that a weakly institutionalized body of “counternorms,” such as partisanship, particularism, and the like, existed alongside the scientific norms and that this complicated the picture (Mitroff 1974). But it appeared to many as if the writing was on the wall and that a new approach was needed.
That new approach emerged largely in the United Kingdom. Particularly influential was an article by Richard Whitley (1972) on “Black Boxism” within the sociology of science. Whitley argued that the Mertonian approach treated the content of science as a “black box.” The careers of scientists and their institutions could be given sociological explanations, but this left the content of science untouched. In other words, how scientific knowledge itself, for instance claims about neutrinos or DNA, might be influenced by social processes was not investigated. It was from approaches and methods better equipped to understand the actual life-world of the scientist—what they did in the labs and what they argued over in their research—that a new sociology of science would emerge. This approach became known as SSK (sociology of scientific knowledge).
The Emergence of SSK
The sociology of scientific knowledge can be traced back to long-standing issues in the sociology of knowledge raised by Karl Mannheim (1936) and Max Scheler ( 1960). Mannheim’s work was particularly influential on Barry Barnes (1974) and David Bloor ( 1991) and their formulation of the Strong Programme (see below). While Mannheim had stopped short of including the natural sciences within his sociology of knowledge, Barnes and Bloor argued that even the so-called hard sciences such as physics, biology, and mathematics should be explained sociologically. This opened up a new empirical space for SSK.
SSK is often associated with Thomas Kuhn’s ( 1970) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which compared scientific revolutions with political revolutions and gave room for social factors in the explanation of scientific change. Kuhn’s work provoked much philosophical interest, including the famous Popper-Kuhn debate (Lakatos and Musgrave 1974). As stated in the foregoing, the Mertonian norms subsumed a particular version of scientific method and epistemology, and part of the challenge to the Mertonian approach has come from the breakdown of this “received view” (Mulkay 1979) within the philosophy of science (Hacking 1983; Hesse 1980; Sismondo 2003). In other words, the increased attention within philosophy of science to such issues as the theory-ladenness of observations, the Duhem-Quine thesis, and problems of theory choice coupled with the demise of the correspondence theory of truth further questioned the notion that scientists followed a set of methodological or epistemological procedures that guaranteed objective knowledge. If a set of such procedures existed, at the very least philosophers of science could not, and still cannot, agree as to what those procedures are.
The actual relationship between Kuhn and SSK is, however, by no means straightforward. Kuhn’s book has been given a variety of readings—not least by Kuhn himself. One reading is quite compatible with Mertonian sociology of science (Pinch  1997). Many scholars in Britain read Kuhn through the lenses of phenomenology (Berger and Luckman 1967; Garfinkel 1967; Schutz 1973) and the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein (Winch 1958) and thus took Kuhn’s approach as commensurate with their own (Barnes 1982; Collins and Pinch 1982).
The Strong Programme
The Strong Programme is often referred to as the Edinburgh Strong Programme or simply the Edinburgh School. Its founders, David Bloor (trained originally as a philosopher) and Barry Barnes (a sociologist) worked in the context of a new discipline, science studies, established at the University of Edinburgh in 1966. The Edinburgh School also included David Edge, a former radio astronomer and the founding editor of the leading journal of science studies, Social Studies of Science; Donald MacKenzie, a historical sociologist who has carried out influential studies on the growth of statistics (MacKenzie 1981a), ballistic missiles (MacKenzie 1990), mathematical and computer proofs (MacKenzie 2001), and most recently the world of finance (MacKenzie 2003); and Steven Shapin, a historian of science, whose early study of Victorian Edinburgh debates over phrenology became a classic of the Strong Programme (Shapin 1979) and who went on to write with historian of science Simon Schaffer one of the most important books in the sociology and history of science of the 1980s, Leviathan and the AirPump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (Shapin and Schaffer 1985). This landmark study showed how the details of the production of facts in the early Royal Society could be tied to the politics of Restoration England. Shapin (1994), in a further study, has shown how the very conditions whereby trust and assent are given in science depend on rules of gentlemanly conduct. Science becomes yet another arena where issues of trust and credibility are central. Although most of the Strong Programme studies have been historical, one notable exception has been the studies of contemporaneous physics by Andrew Pickering (1984).
One of the founding principles of the Strong Programme is symmetry (Bloor  1991). This calls for the same sorts of sociological explanation to be offered for what are taken to be true and what are taken to be false beliefs. In other words, sociological explanation should not be reserved for failed beliefs, such as the forgotten radiation of N-rays, thereby assuming that “true” beliefs such as X-rays require no sociological account. This would assume a form of sociological epidemiology whereby we import the social only when things go wrong in science. The commitment to symmetrical explanation follows for Bloor as part of what he calls naturalistic inquiry. By this he means that sociologists encounter all sorts of things in the world, whether gay marriage, nuclear weapons, or science and they should not declare that certain objects, such as successful scientific theories, are out-of-bounds to sociological explanation.
Many scientists themselves find symmetry to be counterintuitive. This is because within science the invocation of social factors has become synonymous with error (Gilbert and Mulkay 1984). That is to say scientists themselves turn to the social dimension only when they encounter error. Belief in the phenomenon of cold fusion is seen for them as stemming from irrational social forces such as the pursuit of patent rights by its original proponents (Stanley Pons and Martin Fleishmann) that thereby distorted good scientific practice (Simon 2002). A sociological account based on symmetrical style explanations would not serve up a special social explanation for this one episode.
The Strong Programme’s commitment to naturalistic inquiry means that in general it has sought causal explanations, often arguing that specific social and cognitive interests guide scientific inquiry. Bloor presented his program as an extension of science itself—for him it was a way by which science could scientifically know itself. Much of the debate over the Strong Programme has been occasioned by philosophers who reject what they take to be the relativism implied by the symmetry principle (Brown 1989; Laudan 1981). One of the strengths of the Strong Programme has been the new empirical studies of science it has generated. Rich in either contemporaneous or historical detail, these “thick descriptions” of science have garnered attention among scholars who might not be wedded to the same programmatic goals (Barnes, Bloor, and Henry 1996).
The Empirical Programme of Relativism
Another early influential SSK research program was the Empirical Programme of Relativism (EPOR), as formulated by Harry Collins (1981b) at the Science Studies Centre, Bath University. The title relativism was provocative, again for philosophers, but Collins (1981b) has made it clear that the form of relativism is a methodological one. Collins recommended that sociologists follow contemporaneous controversies at the research frontiers of science, thereby forcing the analyst to take a relativistic stance toward the disputed claims because no one yet knew the scientific “truth” as the outcome of the controversy was not yet settled. This program, like Bloor’s, involved a set of methodological strictures that Collins recommended that researchers follow. Stage One involves the demonstration of the interpretative flexibility of scientific facts and theories. For instance, during a scientific controversy, particular experimental findings may be interpreted very differently by different scientists. Since most controversies do not last forever and the interpretative flexibility over scientific findings will vanish, a second stage of EPOR involves identifying the closure mechanisms, which lead to disputes being settled. A third stage involves identifying how wider social processes shape the process of closure. Collins’s research program would be completed if it could be shown how findings at the laboratory bench were shaped by wider social processes.
The Bath School, as it became known, was highly influential but always small. One legacy of its work is to be found in the popular Golem series of books, which stemmed from Collins’s collaboration with Trevor Pinch (Collins and Pinch 1993, 1998, 2005). Collins’s ( 1992) study of the controversy over physicist Joseph Weber’s claims to detect gravity waves and Pinch’s (1986) study of the search for solar neutrinos are typical of the Bath School style. The book by Shapin and Schaffer (1985), referred to in the foregoing, can be read as an EPOR-type study covering all three stages. By examining the dispute between Robert Boyle and Thomas Hobbes, Shapin and Schaffer were able to demonstrate the interpretative flexibility of results obtained with Boyle’s air pump and then show how closure formed around Boyle’s interpretation and how the process as a whole was shaped by the politics of restoration England.
Collins (2004) has recently returned to the topic of gravity waves. He documents how this field has developed from the controversies around the small detectors of the early 1970s through to today’s giant gravitational wave interferometers, which require big-science-type organizational infrastructures and funding. Throughout the years, as he has carried out this study, Collins has maintained a very close relationship with his respondents, attending their conferences and participating as much as possible in the main events in the field. This kind of hands-on study, which is a form of continuous participant observation, requires the sociologist to acquire considerable technical mastery of the esoteric field under study. Because the guiding remit of SSK is engagement with knowledge and practices, the sociologist requires a set of skills very different from that found in the early Mertonian-dominated phase of the field. There is no doubt that such studies are technically daunting because a sociologist must acquire enough knowledge to interact meaningfully with the respondents. This means learning some science.
Another important strand of SSK has come from the anthropological-inspired studies of the detailed practices of laboratory life. During the late 1970s, a number of researchers adopted such methods and immersed themselves in laboratories to study the activities of their “tribes” of scientists. Most famous was the presence of a young French scholar, Bruno Latour, at the Salk Institute in San Diego. Latour, trained as a philosopher and with a smattering of anthropology, wrote up his findings with the British-trained sociologist of science Steve Woolgar. Their book, Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts (Latour and Woolgar 1979), became a classic of the new field. By observing the detailed practices of the scientists and the circulations of texts and materials, Latour and Woolgar developed what they called a constructivist account of how scientific facts were made (and sometimes unmade) in this famous immunology laboratory. The theme of the “making” or “manufacture” of knowledge was also pursued by the German-trained sociologist Karin Knorr-Cetina (1981), in her ethnography of a Californian food science laboratory. Knorr-Cetina put to great effect her detailed access to laboratory notebooks and lab practices (her informant husband worked at the lab) as she followed how scientific findings were transformed into the written medium. At the same time, Sharon Traweek (1988), who was trained as an anthropologist, was embarking on her study of the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC). Traweek’s ethnography (also depends on husband informants) was not published until nearly a decade later and was remarkable because of its comparative nature—she compared SLAC with a Japanese lab—and because she focused on the detailed ecology of knowledge production, including the gendering of the male physicists she studied. The fourth of these ethnographically inspired studies was also being pursued in California during the same period. Working in a molecular biology laboratory at UC Irvine, Michael Lynch (1985), a student of Harold Garfinkel, paid particular close attention to the shoptalk he encountered. Fine-grained transcriptions of talk in the ethnomethodological tradition provided the raw materials for studying how scientists separated fact and artifact in the practice of preparing electron micrographs. This ethnomethodological approach was also applied to the topic of scientific discovery (Brannigan 1981; Garfinkel, Lynch, and Livingston 1981; Woolgar 1976).
These pioneering laboratory studies established the genre and revealed the power of ethnographic methods. By just hanging out with scientists and watching and participating in scientific work and recording fine-grained details of lab practices, numerous scholars have been able to develop new insights into science as a social activity. Much of this work has been carried out under the constructivist nomenclature. The usual meaning of construction in this field is that of humans artfully constructing their world—a world in the making rather than the discovery of an already built world. This world of science is built or constructed actively by scientists in their local day-to-day activities from the linguistic, material, and social resources available. Although this form of constructivism is descended from Berger and Luckmann’s (1967) “social constructivist” perspective, it has evolved its own meaning (Hacking 1999; Sismondo 1993). Latour and Woolgar’s (1986) second edition of Laboratory Life deliberately eschewed the term social construction of scientific facts, replacing social construction with construction. For Latour and Woolgar, social construction signaled giving priority to an underlying social explanation, and, as we shall see, this is something that Latour in particular has rejected.
The three streams of work described in the foregoing, Strong Programme, EPOR, and lab studies, capture much of the most influential early work, but as with any attempt to classify a fast-evolving field, it misses a whole range of countercutting influences, approaches, and bodies of individual scholarship. Part of the problem here is the very success of SSK. Its influence has been felt particularly in the nearby fields of history and philosophy of science, where several notable scholars and their students have carried out studies that touch on, use, and affect SSK. Within anthropology too, the field has garnered much attention, and now the anthropology of science is well-established as a subdiscipline.
Worthy of special mention are influential sociological approaches that do not neatly fall into the categorization described. The “social worlds” approach, originally developed by Anselm Strauss and his students and tied back to the Chicago interactionist interest in the sociology of work, has generated a rich vein of studies in the area of science (and technology). Susan Leigh Star has developed the well-known idea of a “boundary object,” which is a shared document or artifact that travels between different social worlds and is given different interpretations (Star and Greisemer 1989). Star and Bowker (1999) have drawn attention to how scientific infrastructure is built through such activities as routine classification. Joan Fujimura (1996), with her notion of how assemblages of tools and methods are bundled together, has also shown the power of focusing on routine work practices and the materials and tools that support them (Clarke and Fujimura 1992). Another strand has come from Thomas Gieryn, a former student of Robert Merton, who became an early advocate of SSK. Gieryn (1983) developed the important idea of “boundary work” to show the sorts of rhetorical work that scientists employ to draw boundaries between different domains. He went on to use the powerful metaphor of cultural cartography to establish how the cultural boundaries of science are drawn and redrawn (Gieryn 1999). There have also been attempts by social theorists such as Fuchs (1992) to integrate the mainly micro focus of SSK with the concerns of more mainstream sociology.
The extension of the field into medicine has also been a notable success, with the work of Evelleen Richards (1991) on vitamin C and alternative cures for cancer, Stefan Hirschauer (1991) on surgery, Nelly Oudshoorn (1994) on hormones, Stephen Epstein (1996) on AIDS activism, Marc Berg (1997) on medical informatics, Stefan Timmermans (1999) on CPR, Adele Clark (1998) on women’s health and reproduction, Annemarie Mol (2002) on atherosclerosis, Joseph Dumit (2004) on brain scanning, Peter Keating and Alberto Cambrosio (2004) on medical platforms, and Charis Thompson (2005) on in vitro fertilization. Indeed, the work on medicine with its analytical lens often focused on mundane practices built around the care of the body, has brought the field much more toward a focus on ontology than the earlier interest in SSK on epistemology.
One important cross-cutting influence has been feminist work on science. Although early SSK has rightly been criticized for having a “blind spot” (Delamont 1987) about gender, work on feminist epistemology by Sandra Harding (1986) and Helen Longino (1990) and the influential studies of Donna Haraway (1989, 1991, 1997), Evelyn Fox Keller (1983), and Londa Schiebinger (1989) have had an impact. Certainly, in that SSK examines how social factors play a role in science, it would seem obvious that gender, race, and class can and should be included in the analysis. The feminist work, with its variety of epistemological standpoints, has not always been easy to integrate with SSK (Richards and Schuster 1989), but gender is no longer a blind spot. Work on medicine and issues around biology and reproduction in particular is today unthinkable without paying consideration to issues of gender. Indeed, when it comes to the sociology of technology (see following), one finds that feminists’concerns with, for instance, users have become a focal point of the field.
Research Methods and Research Sites in SSK
The focus on the very content of science—the study of scientific knowledge and practices—has been best pursued with qualitative methods such as ethnography, participant observation, in-depth interviewing (semistructured and unstructured), textual analysis, semiotics, conversation analysis, and video research. The standard sociological tool of survey research has been used little.
Just as the field has evolved new methods, it has also radically reconceptualized the sorts of social locations studied. The older sociological concepts for identifying social groups in science such as “invisible colleges,” “schools,” “disciplines,” and “co-citation networks” tend to emphasize pure social relations at the expense of material and cognitive ties (Pinch  1997). Kuhn’s term paradigm, although providing a welcome means of welding together practices, theories, and communities, has proved hard to operationalize. Researchers have tended to emphasize particular strategic research sites where they may gain access to what they take to be the key processes and practices of knowledge construction.
Lab studies, with their focus on mundane activity, the practices built around inscription devices for rendering the material world into a graphical form, and the transformations that texts and statements undergo, are one such site. They have enabled researchers to develop a rich understanding of particular aspects such as the role of instrumentation (Latour and Woolgar 1979; Lynch 1990) and visualization (Lynch and Woolgar 1990) and routine craft practices (Collins 1974; Jordan and Lynch 1992). Lab studies are constantly being renewed. New facets studied include the role of dirt (Mody 2001), and new theoretical approaches are emerging, such as the study of how race and gender are inscribed in labs (Helmreich 1998) and a recent turn to performativity (Doing 2004). Knorr-Cetina (1999) has completed the first comparative lab ethnography across disciplines, comparing labs in physics with those in molecular biology.
Another important research site has been the scientific controversy—contestation in general means that what is taken for granted becomes explicit. This type of controversy analysis carried out largely within the confines of science differs from the earlier focus of Nelkin (1979) and others on controversies around the social impact of science and technology (Pinch 2002). Collins (1981a) termed the scientists who contribute to a scientific controversy the core set. The process of consensus formation among the core set is a way of following how interpretative flexibility changes to closure in science (Collins 1981b; Pinch 1986; Simon 2002). The work on experimental controversy has garnered important notions like the “experimenter’s regress” (Collins  1992) and has recently been extended to controversies among theoreticians (Kennefick 2000). One offshoot of this work is renewed attention to the details of experimental practices and technological testing as the minutiae get reexamined during the course of experimental disputes (Gooding, Pinch, and Schaffer 1989; MacKenzie 1989; Pinch 1993; Sims 1999). The study of fringe science controversies has also been important in the formation of SSK (Wallis 1979).
A third research site has been to examine how scientific knowledge intersects with other institutions such as the law, regulatory regimes, and politics. Brian Wynne (1988), Sheila Jasanoff (1990), David Mercer (Edmond and Mercer 2000), and Michael Lynch (Lynch and Bogen 1996) have carried out case studies informed by SSK that seek to examine the dynamics of authority and contestation over technical knowledge in different regulatory and legal forums. How particular technical practices such as DNA typing (Lynch and McNally 2003) and fingerprinting (Cole 2001) are stabilized and destabilized in legal contexts has been examined. How science and technology intersect with political formations is a vast area of inquiry. Again, it is SSK’s particular strength to focus on how particular bodies of technical practice or technical forums get constructed in a political context that informs the analysis (Gottweis 1998; Hilgartner 2000). The more theoretically ambitious work seeks to explain how technical entities and political entities are coconstructed or coproduced (Jasanoff 2004).
A fourth research site takes the extension of technical knowledge to lay people as its theme. This work touches on the “public understanding of science” (Collins and Pinch 1993; Hilgartner 1990; Lewenstein 1995; Irwin and Wynne 1996). It also examines how and under what circumstances lay groups can acquire and contest technical expertise (Collins and Pinch 2005; Epstein 1996; Rabeharisoa and Callon 1998; Wynne 1989) and how social movements can employ this technical expertise (Parthasarathy 2005).
Another recent research site that has taken on some salience is the examination of particular techniques or lab systems that become standard throughout the sciences. Historian Robert Kohler (1994) has studied the fruit fly, Drosophila, showing how this organism became indispensable for the science of genetics. Similar work has been carried out on the laboratory mouse by Karen Rader (2004). Anthropologist Paul Rabinow (1996) has studied how the technique of PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which enables geneticists to identify and copy gene sequences, came into being and has transformed the biotech industry. Also of great interest has been the spaces between institutions, fields, and disciplines where interaction occurs but where different epistemologies, approaches, and regimes of instrumentation operate. Standardization in such sites is always an ongoing process of negotiation, what Peter Galison (1997) has termed trading zones.
What these studies show is how matters to do with the social (and the political) are entwined everywhere both within the day-to-day practices of science and in other contexts where scientific and technical expertise may prevail. By pointing to the similarities in such activities as doing a routine piece of electron micrography, getting an experiment to run, trading data, preparing a laboratory mouse, or preparing a legal brief on a technical matter, the constructivist sociology of science offers a profound challenge to our picture of science as being in essence an activity where the rules and practices are highly formalized and explicit. What emerges is an image of a messy contingent heterogeneous activity much like that found among other expert communities.
Many of the early studies in the sociology of scientific knowledge took physics (e.g., Collins 1974,  1992; Pickering 1984; Pinch 1986) or mathematics (Bloor 1976; MacKenzie 1981a) as their focus. It was thought important to address the “hard case” argument—that the social explanation was most compelling when directed at the more prestigious “hard sciences.” Researchers, however, soon moved on to include many diverse sciences within their purview, such as biology (Latour 1988; Latour and Woolgar 1979; Lynch 1985), geology (Rudwick 1985), meteorology (Friedman 1989), food science (Knorr-Cetina 1981), fringe sciences (Collins and Pinch 1982; Wallis 1979), and eventually the social sciences, including economics and most recently financial markets (Ashmore, Mulkay, and Pinch 1989; Callon 1998; Knorr-Cetina and Preda 2004;
MacKenzie 2003). Interestingly, at the start of the new millennium, with the rise of the new genetics, and biology arguably replacing physics as the most prestigious science, many more studies are now directed at aspects of biology.
It is the extent of the entwining of the social with the material and how analytically to deal with nonhumans that has provoked some of the sharpest debates within the field. In an important series of papers and books, the French scholars Michel Callon (1986) and Bruno Latour (1987), along with the British sociologist of science John Law (1987), have combined elements of SSK with semiotics to develop a novel and extremely influential theory of how science and technology develop, known as the actor network theory (ANT) (Callon, Law, and Rip 1986; Latour 2005). This approach, which they call a “sociology of association,” entreaties scholars to “follow the actors” and conceives of science made from extensive assemblages of humans and nonhumans. One early move made in this work was to extend Bloor’s principle of symmetry to encompass humans and nonhumans. In a well-known paper (Callon 1986) on the failure of a new system for harvesting scallops in St Brieuc Bay, Brittany, it appears that the nonhuman actors, the scallops, figure in as prominent a way as the human actors, the fisherman. This leveling of the playing field of “actants” has generated enormous debate (Bloor 1999; Callon and Latour 1992; Collins and Yearley 1992; Latour 1999), partly because the methods evolved in SSK have largely been fine-tuned to studying humans—it is not clear what it even means to follow around, say, an electron. Furthermore, to treat nonhumans and humans within the same analytical vocabulary means jettisoning much standard sociology—for instance, it is difficult to talk about the socialization of an electron. The goal of ANT is, however, to do precisely this—to go beyond conventional sociology.
One thing at stake here is the status of social explanation. For many scholars, the goal of SSK is to offer ultimately a social explanation of the development of scientific knowledge or practices (Pickering 1992). The feasibility of this goal, however, has come under repeated attack and is the topic of long-running skirmishes throughout the history of SSK. Early on, a debate broke out over interest explanations as advocated by Barnes (1977) within the Strong Programme. Woolgar (1981) countered that such explanations begged the question because imputation of interests was something that scientists themselves routinely did (Barnes 1981; MacKenzie 1981b). The program of discourse analysis of science originally advocated by Mulkay, Potter, and Yearley (1983) challenged traditional SSK by accusing it of basing social explanations of interest and motivation on the selective use of discourse provided by the actors under study (Shapin 1984). Ethnomethodologists in turn questioned the warrant of social explanations to claim any special privilege—for ethnomethodologists they were merely one of many folk means of accounting for things (Lynch 1993).
This debate came to a head with Latour’s (1993) interpretation of Shapin and Schaffer’s aforementioned study. Latour argued that rather than seventeenth-century politics and society having influenced facts about air pumps, as Shapin and Schaffer maintained, both facts and society were coproduced. In other words, new facts about the world and a new society come into existence together, and so it begs the question to use society as the explanans for science, the explanandum.
The challenge to sociology posed by the sociology of science is that everywhere nature and the social are entwined. In general, social control in science is not a simple straightforward matter. If it were, then the high priests of science could simply fix-up their picture of the world and keep themselves in power in perpetuity. Heterogeneity is very much in evidence. Fine and subtle webs of commitments and investments are entangled with resources such as expertise, funding, and instrumentation. Everything is “mangled” (Pickering 1995), hybridity and impurity are everywhere (Latour 1993), and this is a challenge to the realm of pure social things with which sociologists usually work. If the formidable social network approaches developed within conventional sociology are to be applied to the sociology of science, they somehow need to include these material nonhuman elements.
The Sociology of Technology
The area where materiality and the nonhuman pose the most acute challenge is the sociology of technology. Within sociology, the systematic analysis of technology has been slow to develop. There was an important earlier tradition of work associated with William Ogburn (1950) and the notion of “cultural lag”—the idea that different societies take time to adapt different technologies. Of course, major social theorists, such as Karl Marx, have pointed to the importance of technology, but within the Marxist approach, machines have often been granted a deterministic role (MacKenzie 1996). Thus, all too often within the deskilling debate initiated by Harry Braverman (1975), it is assumed that machines have fixed capabilities and are not treated in terms of the social context of use (but see Noble 1984). There are also important social theorists who claim that certain features of technology or types of technology demand new sorts of social arrangements, whether Ulrich Beck’s (1992) risk society or Manuel Castells’s (2000) network society. But what is missing from this work is an analysis of how technology itself could be analyzed from the perspective of sociology.
The neglect of technology probably stems from it being thought of as merely an issue of the application of science rather than as a thing in its own right, with its own set of social and cultural practices and contexts. In the 1980s, a new sociology of technology, heavily influenced by phenomenology and in particular by SSK, emerged (Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch 1987; Latour 1987; MacKenzie and Wajcman  1999; Pinch and Bijker  1987; Woolgar 1985).
The crucial move in the new sociology of technology is the attempt to uncover and analyze the choices embedded within technologies and technological regimes and show how these choices are tied to wider societal concerns. One obvious means of doing this and “opening the black box of technology” is through the use of history. Historical analysis shows that things have not always been as they are today and thus exposes the potential for showing how things could be and were different. In terms of the analysis of institutions, Foucault’s (1977) work is particularly instructive. His focus was mainly on what he called “technologies of the self,” but his examination of specific disciplining institutions such as prisons drew attention to their material dimensions. The panoptican is well-known, but the separate system of prison care initiated by reformers such as Jeremy Bentham (Ignatieff 1978) included many new technical devices such as the architecture of rooms to avoid prisoners seeing each other; new forms of individualized tread mills; and new kinds of signaling devices for corralling prisoners. Foucault’s broad-brush technique did not examine these technical artifacts in detail, but such “total institutions” clearly depend on material arrangements and technical devices.
It is the investigation of particular technical devices that is so crucial yet hard to do because such devices often fall within the purview of engineering and design. In short, to fully engage with the working of a technology, as with the case of science, the sociologist must acquire a great deal of engineering knowledge and learn about engineering practice.
Already, the parallels between SSK and the new sociology of technology are obvious. Indeed, many of the same scholars who earlier developed SSK (e.g., Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, Steve Woolgar, John Law, Donald MacKenzie, and Trevor Pinch) turned their attention to technology. Much of the early work was aimed at countering a simple technological determinist view of technology (Smith and Marx 1994). One influential approach, known as SCOT (social construction of technology), builds directly on Collins’s EPOR program. Similar work is carried out within what has become known as the social shaping of technology approach (MacKenzie and Wajcman  1999). Pinch and Bijker ( 1987), with their now classic SCOT study of the development of the safety bicycle, argued that the “interpretative flexibility” of the Victorian high-wheeler bicycles that preceded the safety bike could be shown by identifying different social groups who held different meanings of the technology. For one social group—elderly men and women—the high-wheeler had the meaning of “the unsafe bike,” but for another social group, “young men of means and verve,” who like to show off to their lady friends and ride the high-wheeler for sport in parks, the bike took on the meaning of “the macho bike.” By identifying particular closure mechanisms around this technology, they show how one meaning and safety bike were constructed. Bijker (1995a), with his comparative case studies, of electric bulbs, bakelite, and bikes, went on to refine the SCOT approach, introducing the notion of “technological frames” as an idea akin to Kuhn’s term paradigm. A technological frame involves a shared set of meaning and practices across a range of social groups. Kline and Pinch (1996) further elaborated SCOT in a case study of the use of the car in the rural United States. They showed that users came up with new meanings of the car as a stationary power source and explored the gendered relationship built around this use of the technology. There is no doubt that the SCOT approach has been enormously influential, with numerous studies carried out using its basic framework (Bijker 1995b; Pinch 1996), and that it is still evolving (Pinch and Trocco 2002).
Technologies are part of systems as the historian Thomas Hughes (1984) has powerfully argued. The technical, social, political, and economic become integrated within a system as it grows and matures. Standardization becomes an important topic of study as technologies and technological systems become more and more pervasive (Alder 1997; O’Connell 1993; Schaffer 1992).
ANT has also offered an important set of new analytical tools for studying the interconnected network aspect of technology. Latour’s (1987) book Science in Action was replete with examples of technologies such as diesel engines and computers. The vocabulary of ANT defined the object of interest as technoscience—a term meant to capture the intermingling and crossings of modern science with technology whereby a new development in science such as DNA could quickly become part of standardized black-boxed technologies within molecular biology such as PCR. Indeed, when it comes to studying a modern science such as biotechnology, which is pursued both in start-up biotech companies and university laboratories, it is not clear that any distinction between science and technology can be maintained. This heterogeneity is nicely captured by Law’s (1987) observation that in building technologies actors engage in “heterogeneous engineering.”
Latour, as well as carrying out a detailed study of a French subway system (Latour 1996), has imaginatively applied his thinking to a series of mundane artifacts, such as door stoppers and speed bumps (Latour 1993, 1994) and a special apartment key used in Berlin known as the Berlin Key (Latour 2000). The thrust of these examples is to show why nonhumans should be taken seriously (Latour 2005). For example, the speed bump is a more effective way of slowing down cars than traditional traffic warning signs— it appears as if nonhumans (the speed bumps) have been delegated some of the powers that in the world of signs rested on human processes of signification. This delegation between humans and nonhumans and how it has changed is something that traditional social theory, dealing only with a pure social realm, has found hard to accommodate (Latour 1996). Madeline Akrich (1992) has introduced the important idea of a “script.” Akrich argues that technologies have scripted uses built into them—for example, an elevator has a script that users will enter the doors and operate the buttons in a certain way. The complicated choreography between user and elevator is in effect scripted into its design. Users can bite back and respond to these scripts—what Latour (1992) and Akrich refer to as antiprograms—and try and circumvent their scripted use, such as when an elevator rider pushes the emergency stop button to override someone else’s floor selection. As with SCOT, ANT provides a vocabulary for analyzing technology, and numerous case studies have drawn on this approach.
The attention given to the use of technology is something that in the move from the sociology of science to the sociology of technology has become increasingly important (Oudshoorn and Pinch 2003). The users of science are often other scientists, but with technology, particular consumer technologies, users are much more heterogeneous. One important early study on users was Woolgar’s (1991) work on how computer designers “configure” their users. This notion of configuration has recently been widened to include other key players in the marketing and manufacture of technologies (Mackay et al. 2000). The move toward users is where the sociology of technology interacts most with standard work in the sociology of consumption. Approaches toward the “domestication” of technologies and how technologies are culturally appropriated in new contexts of use are highly relevant (Lie and Sorenson 1996; Mansell and Silverstone 1996; Silverstone and Hirsch 1992). As well as users, attention is increasingly turning to intermediaries as scholars increasingly see the need to study production and consumption within one analytical framework (Oldenzeil, de la Bruhez, and de Witt 2005).
Feminist work on technology has always paid close attention to users as with Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s (1983) classic studies of domestic technologies. Thus, for example, Cynthia Cockburn and Susan Ormrod’s (1993) study of the microwave oven pays particular attention to how the microwave is tested, marketed, sold, and used. There is now an impressive corpus of studies carried out by feminists and others of how technologies are used and gendered in a variety of contexts (e.g., Lie and Sorenson 1996; Wajcman 1991). This work is also important because it explores how the gendered identities of users are coconstructed with the technologies. This gendering begins in early childhood and has all sorts of implications for maledominated technology areas such as tinkering, hacking, computing, video games, and military technologies (Oldenzeil 1999). The masculine aspects of engineering were explored early on by Sally Hacker (1989), and understanding the gendering of engineering continues to be an important research focus (Faulkner 2000). The feminist concern with reproductive technologies as part of a more direct political intervention has led to very detailed analyses of particular reproductive technologies (e.g., Clarke 1998; Oudshoorn 1994, 2003). The technologies of in vitro fertilization provide another important entry point for nuanced analyses of how this technology constructs particular conceptions of sexuality, parenthood, and families (Thompson 2005).
Most of the detailed studies in the new sociology of technology have blended sociological with historical methods. A good example is Donald MacKenzie’s (1990) wellknown study of the evolution of ballistic missile guidance systems. MacKenzie interviewed nearly all the actors who developed this technology and carried out some archival research. His analysis goes to the core of the technical working of missile guidance, showing how the testing of missiles could be contested by the manned-bomber lobby within the American military. This work is, however, not without general application beyond this one case. For example, he develops the trough of uncertainty idea—the notion that those actors (typically bench engineers) nearest a technology will have greatest awareness of its uncertainties, while more distal actors who often hold organizational clout will typically see the technology as being more certain, and those even more distal—typically critics outside the organization—will again regard the technology as being shrouded in uncertainty. How different actors construct risk and uncertainty is a key finding of the new sociology of technology.
Again, it is hard to discuss the sociology of technology without referring to neighboring disciplines, which have helped shape the field and where the sociology of technology has also had much impact. Donna Haraway’s ( 1991) manifesto on cyborgs has been enormously influential, generating discussion from science fiction to philosophy (Downey and Dumit 1997), although she is not formally a sociologist. Also, philosopher Langdon Winner’s (1986) well-known essay “Do Artifacts Have Politics” is a staple of the field (Joerges 1999; Woolgar and Cooper 1999). Some of the most influential work has been on aspects of computing technologies (Collins 1993; Forsythe 2001). Lucy Suchman’s (1987) pioneering ethnographic studies of the use of a Xerox copying machine have been taken up in the field of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction. Paul Edwards’s (1996) study of the history of computing, Garry Downey’s (1998) anthropological study of the application of computer-aided design and manufacture, and Sherry Turkle’s (1984) earlier work on children’s use of computers have generated much interest. Likewise, studies of work have been affected by ethnographic studies of technical work carried out by sociologists and anthropologists (Barley and Orr 1997; Lave and Wenger 1991; Orr 1996). The sociology of technology is also developing a healthy cross-fertilization with business schools (e.g., Garud and Karnoe 2001). It is obvious also that as the sociology of technology increasingly studies computer-mediated technologies (Boczkowski 2004), the law will become increasingly relevant, especially around issues concerning intellectual property rights (Lessig 2000). Lastly, the general field of the history of technology has always been a formative influence on the new sociology of technology. The influence cuts both ways, with historians carrying out important historical studies that use and bear on the sociology of technology (e.g., Alder 1997; Constant 1980; Douglas 1987; Hecht 1998; Hughes 1984; Misa 1995; Nye 1990; Thompson 2002).
The strength of the field has been its engagement with the nitty-gritty of design and engineering practice. The sort of purchase that the best of this sort of fine-grained analysis can deliver is exemplified by Diane Vaughan’s (1996) work on the space shuttle. Her rich ethnographically inspired study traces the causes of the Challenger accident to deep within NASA’s organizational culture. Her work received renewed attention after the Columbia accident, and she participated in and helped shape some of the substantive findings of the Presidential Commission. Not all our work will have this kind of influence, of course, but it is a salutary reminder of the power of opening the black box of technology and showing how sociology can go to the very heart of technology.
Prospects for the Future
Science and technology grow ever more important in modern global societies. The emergence of technoscience, the commercialization of universities and new intellectual property regimes, the growing role played by information technology and biotechnology, and the promise of nanotechnology means that it is not hard to find issues of technical knowledge and practices in almost any domain. Some scholars argue that we have entered or are entering a new mode of science with ever closer links between universities and industrial concerns (Nowotny, Scott, and Gibbons 2001). The growing involvement of science with powerful institutions such as the law, the state, the military, multinational corporations, and the media needs sustained and critical analysis. Concern with the environment (Latour 2004; Yearley 1991), whether global warming or genetically modified organisms, the problems presented by indigenous knowledge and ethno-pharmaceuticals, the problems of development, and global health scares in a world where terrorism can take the form of bioterrorism are pressing. The basic insights of science studies now turn up in all sorts of unlikely places from music (Bijsterveld and Pinch 2004) to financial markets (Callon 1998; KnorrCetina and Preda 2004; MacKenzie 2003). With more and more activist groups claiming technical expertise and the dissemination and reconfiguration of technical expertise via the Internet, matters of expertise and politics are firmly on the agenda for the twenty-first century (e.g., Collins and Evans 2002; Jasanoff 2003; Latour and Weibel 2005; Rip 2003; Wynne 1989, 1996, 2003). The question for the future is, How long can mainstream sociology afford to ignore science and technology?
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