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What is the analytical gain? 23 Oct, 2009

Posted by Maarten Derksen in Uncategorized.
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In a field already replete with jargon, neologisms and other attempts at conceptual innovation, one has to have a good reason to introduce yet another new concept. Bas and Paul’s question – what is the analytical gain of ‘social technology’ in comparison with existing concepts – is to the point. I think the gain is twofold: compared to traditional social scientific concepts like institution or ritual, it highlights the instrumental aspect, asks ‘how it is done’, and to what effect. This, to me, was always the most fascinating aspect of Foucauldian work, but technology studies can offer fresh ways of looking at institutions etcetera as technological accomplishments. Second, compared to technology studies and STS in general, ‘social technology’ draws attention to what Bas and Paul call ‘the distinctiveness of human actors in a technoscientific world’. Not only does new technology allow new kinds of human – non-human collectivity (a point well made by Latourians), it also allows and provokes resistance and new ways to be distinctively human. My favorite example is behavioral engineering, which though based on the idea that human behavior is completely determined by environmental ‘contingencies’, ended up as a new way to be in control of yourself, a new way to be free.

In short, ‘social technology’ points to the technological in sociality and to the social in technology. How best to analyse social technologies, is an open question. We do not have a theory. What I would be very wary of, however, is the impulse to demarcate the set of ‘social technologies’ in advance. ‘Social technology’ is an analytical tool, not a thing.

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