Response paper to “Visions of STS, Counterpoints in Science, Technology, and Society Studies, edited by Stephen H. Cutclifffe and Carl Mitcham, 2000, SUNY press”

written by Sadi Evren SEKER

1. Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Prof. Dr. Hacer Ansal for her endless supports to STS education in Istanbul.

2. Abbrevations: STS- Science Technology and Society

ST – Science and Technology

SSK – The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge

SCOT – Social Construction of Technology

AAAS – American Association for the Advancement of Science

GMO – Genetically Modified Organism

In any part of this paper, “paper n”, means the nth paper in table 1.

3. Abstract: Aim of this paper is outlining the STS perspective of view and studies. Since STS is a new and hot topic, I think this book is published to orient the STS newcomers. During this paper I will try to introduce the arguments of each writer in this book and also try to analyse the strengths, weaknesses, argueing methodologies and supporting methodologies.

4. Overview of the book: This book is an assembly of several papers. All of the papers are closely related to STS studies. In a general overview I can seperate those papers into two categories:

  1. Papers about the idea of STS, a different perspective and philosphy.

  2. Papers about the STS education system

In the first category we can easily say that, all of the writers have analysed the relationship between technology,science and the society. Again all of the writers have mentioned the historical perspective of this relationship. On the other hand each writer has his/her own strengths about other perspectives, such as the economic, politic or philosophical perspectives. We can see that enlightened observation and the emprical methods have a major role in supporting these arguments.

In the second category, which there are fewer papers, main idea is the revolution in education systems, gathered by STS studies.

I have followed a botton-up methodology while criticsizing these papers and tried to figure out each of the papers seperately. Below table summrizes the arguments raised by writers:




1. Where Technological Determinism Went

Langdon Winner

Society effects technology. There is a technological determinism which also contains linearity.

2. Understanding Technological Culture through a Constructivist View of Science, Technology, and Society

Wiebe E. Bijker

“Technological culture” can be democratized, Policy effects ST, Analysis of constructivism

3. Three Perspectives in STS in the Policy Context

Lars Fuglang

Comparision of 1.ST shapes society, 2.society shapes ST, 3.interaction between society and ST

4. Making Disciplines Disappear in STS

Susan E. Cozzens

There is no Core of STS but interdiciplinary(postdiciplinary) cores, which may be defined in an interdiciplinary Network. Jobs of STS are policy analysis, teaching and researh. Thickest connection of STS is with policy.

5. An STS Perspective on Technological Work

Rudi Volti

Paper discusses the technological advance which is effected by and effecting to society, such as unemployment.

6. Science-Technology and Education A Focus on Learning and How Persons Know

Robert E. Yager

Effect of STS on education .Constructivist perspective in education.

7. STS from a Policy Perspective

Albert H. Teich

Effects of STS on policy and society on science policies.

Overall view

All above papers has a shared vision about ST, which society has an interaction with ST in either way. Some papers show this reality by a shared perspective from the history of technology while others discusses the external effects such as the economic, politic and philosophical aspects. There are also self critics about STS in some papers. History, future and missions of STS are other secondary discussion areas at most of the papers.

Table 1. Arguments in the book

After highlighting the main ideas on these papers, I want to discuss how writers supports these thesis, what are the methodologies to strengthen their ideas or weaken the contrary ideas. Also I have tried to find out some missing points and weaknesses of the papers. I have tried to summarize these in the below section:

5. Analysis:

5.1. Paper 1:

First of all there is a transparent definition of technological determinism. It is somehow defined by other terms like linearity, momentum, autonomous dynamics or tectonic forces, but beyond those definitions it is not a strictly bordered paradigm. The main support of author is the history. He uses lots of examples from history but less from todays world like Moore's Law from compter world.

Another major idea argued is the social shaping and social construction subjects. Which defines technology as a socially constructed or shaped concept. On this idea there are enough number of examples like alternative technologies.

A weak point of this paper may be the insufficient explanation of vocabulary, anybody from outside of STS world can have difficulties to understand some terms.

As a conclusion I can say that, this paper is a good starting point to understand technological determinism and society. There are quiete small amount of examples but they have represented in the most powerful way. Another strength of this paper comes from the realities, I think, it, what makes this paper powerful, is the truth of what it argues.

5.2. Paper 2:

I think one of the most important papers represented on this book is this one. There are enough number of new concepts to open a new perspective in the mind of any reader. Social constructivism for example, which is a big and detailed subject, is explained with simple and everyday examples, like bicycles. Paper starts with a new concept, “Technological Culture (modern culture)”, which is defined as a culture under effect of scientific and technological inventions and innovations.

Just after arguing, the argument “Technological Culture” is supported by political aspects, and again a new concept is created here as the democratization of technology.

Bijker tries to tell how to democratize technology in a constructivist approach. He uses counter approach, technological determinism, to figure out his constructivist view. He also tries to tell constructivist view by underlining the history of constructivism, from SSK to SCOT, which strengthens convincing power over reader. There are quite enough number of examples in each stage of paper, from nuclear reactors to gravitational radiation, flip-flop thinking to stabilization of an artifact.

He also defines and criticize roots of STS, he defines and brings front the main perspectives of STS such as SCOT, actor network or systems approach.

In the most general view I can say that he is defining technological culture and he tries to find a salvation for this technological culture, by democratization of it. While this study, he also touches the most important issues by a great mastery.

5.3. Paper 3:

Author merely defines three different perspective of society and ST interaction. 1. ST shapes society, 2. society shapes ST, 3. there is an interactive relation between. He than compares these theories. His most support is from the history of technological achievements. There are other few examples from the economy and psicology of politics.

I think some of the work on this paper is repeating the first and second articles or vice versa (even some examples, like bike from Bijker). Only difference on this paper is somehow a detailed view to these ideas with new examples, such as contrcted research or alienating effect. He also discusses, SCOT and actor network theory under the interactive relation between STS rather than society shapes ST as SSK.

While defining Phases of Technology I have noticed somehow a linear approach, very similar to systems approach. He uses unemployment and deindustrialization to show the economic facts over STS. He also has very close idea to “Democratization of Technological Culture” without using this name.

5.4. Paper 4:

In this paper, author asks the questions “what is the core of STS studies?”, “Should we consider STS as a new dicipline?”, “Which diciplines effects STS and STS is connected to them”, and several issues about STS people.

She defines a new term, postdiciplinary approach, which means a new approach beyond interdiciplinary approaches. And she defines STS as neither a dicipline or an interdiciplinary study, nor a postdiciplinary study.

She declares the diciplines interacting with STS as economics, sociology, history, litreture and philosophy, while categorizing the STS people as policy analyist, teacher or researcher. She says that the thickes relation of STS is with policy. And fortunetly she declares the transfer from academic life to politic life as easier process than reverse. My pessimistic analyse on this point of view is the only support she builds this thesis is her experiences.

Some of her arguments has no support in the paper. For example she argues that “most people who study science and technology still do so within a single dicipline” which has no support or proof or refrence in this paper.

Some missing parts on this paper are addressed in the notes section by asking several questions. But as a conclusion I can say that this paper is a self study from STS people to STS world. She also defines some STS study methodologies and expectations about future and the missions of STS, which makes this paper somehow different than others.

5.5. Paper 5:

This paper mainly argues about the consequences of technological advance. Again similar to other papers, this paper also discusses about the relation between society and ST. Somehow technological determinism, social effects of ST have repeated in this paper with a different perspective.

For example author draws a feed back loop for society and ST relation. While connecting this loop, he also uses some historical events beside some calculations and statistics. Paper has been strengthened by income inequalities (quintiles) and unemployment from social perspective and communication technology, econmoy of technology and computer world examples from ST perspective.

By deskillization, unemployment, incom inequalities and economical examples, I think this paper fits to module 5 of STS studies in Istanbul Technical University. There are comparisions of aggriculture societies and industrilization, appropriate technology, transfer of technology (e.g. Assembly line), which are strongly connected to the econmic face of STS studies.

Another issue that I count as appropriate technology is a product of contextual approach I think. He defines, capital intensive and labour intensive technologies and technologies guieded by human choices under this perspective, without naming as appropriate technology.

Similar to the other authors, Rudi Volti is declaring the relation between ST and society, but with a different economic perspective. This paper handles the theoric studies on other papers by good modeled examples.

5.6. Paper 6:

This paper can be considered under the STS education system. Most known constructivist approach has applied to education system, with less known results. At a glance, main purpose of this paper is guiding STS students to a more qualified education system. But in fact I think, it yields a major revolution in todays education system.

He has two categorization systems, by generation and by position. While categorizing by position he says, an STS person may be a scholar or a teacher. Most of the time teachers are active learners, and open minded to new ideas. While categorizing by generation, he claims that new generation students are from many different diciplines with new visions, which orients STS further horizons.

He has compared the constructivist learning with regular learning, and found the major difference as the communication in STS. There a group learning is declared over well oriented discussions and problems with more than one solutions.

I think, this paper shows how different areas can STS be applied. By a free mind whole the world can be considered as a STS application area. Education system is one of these areas, which is discussed with striking examples and comparisions.

One weak point about this paper can be the relationship of STS and other diciplines may be carried here. I know it makes a huge volume to make such a work, but a detailed discussion about the politics, economiy, philosophy or history of education system. Instead a loosely connected history of STS has been discussed in the paper, with about 2000 years period.

5.7. Paper 7:

This paper discusses the political effects over ST by a different view. The main claim here is presented by AAAS politics, which is a strongly connected institution to ST studies. They can control the funds, which has a major role in ST, from the economic view. In fact this paper shows the power relation I think. After reading this much papers somehow I shaped the relation as, politics has all the power, they shape both soceity and ST by using economy. Sometimes ST is a tool to shape society and sometimes vice versa.

A new approach about this paper is hope for STS studies which can be used to reconfigre the power relations. Similar to other papers, he points the growth trend of STS, and tries to define the missions of STS by a policy view.

I think one major role of this paper is drawing the political figure from its most important roots. Although STS is effected from political decisions, STS needs policy to solve most of its problems. GPRA is an example to this subject, it is designed to build better ST studies, but it has been easyly dominated by federal agencies.

I think while defining “big science” and political effect there may be more global examples, rather than american dependent examples, such as GMOs.

6. Conclusion

I think the major role of this book is beyond orienting STS students. It can be used to build a social awareness. Although it has lots of examples whole around the world, I think each culture should edit this book for their own cultures to make it powerful. For example most of the examples are from western culture and can be less effective for rest of the world.

Some terms and philosophies are not clearly defined in the book, if I were not a STS student I think most of the terms would be meaningless for me, perhaps a dictionary of terms(with detailed explanations) may be added to the book.

I think philosophy face of the STS studies is missing. There would be some papers criticizing by philosophical tools.

On the other hand, book has enough orientation to create curiosity about social and scientific and technological events. After reading this book, reader gains a new perspective to each of diciplines, artifacts, and social events.