Social Construction of Technology SCOT Term Paper

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Social Construction of Technology


…almost everything is negotiable: what is certain and what is not: who is a scientist and who is a technologist; what is technological and what is social; and who can participate in the controversy. (Pinch & Bijker, 1984)

The Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) is a theory within several areas including philosophy of technology, sociology of science, and science & technology studies. The theory was developed in the 1980s by Bijker and Pinch. The theory takes the position of social constructivism with respect to technology, and factors such as its meaning, its function, and its design. SCOT is additionally a theory taught to students in the hard and applied sciences, such as engineering and information technology. SCOT is sometimes referred to as technological constructivism, which is a direct response to technological determinism, a significant aspect of the issue of technology to consider in conjunction with SCOT. The theory is relatively young, as are many of the fields in which this subject falls. The theory has seen an increased amount of attention in the 21st century as the world experiences an intense increase of the use, accessibility, and proliferation of digital technology.

The social construction of technology (SCOT) grew out of the combination of three distinct bodies of work: the science -- technology -- society (STS) movement, the sociology of scientific knowledge and the history of technology. The first started in the 1970s, mainly in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Its goal was to enrich the curricula of both universities and secondary schools by studying issues such as scientists' social responsibilities, the risks of nuclear energy, the proliferation of nuclear arms, and environmental pollution. The movement was quite successful, especially in science and engineering faculties…(Bijker, 2009,-Page 89)

SCOT is a theory that is not yet fifty years old, yet if global culture continues steadily upon this trajectory of increased use and production of integrated digital/communication/information technology, this is a theory that will continue to grow in relevance and prominence with time. Furthermore, as the quotation states and indirectly suggests, some of countries that are the earliest and strongest advocates of SCOT are countries that have substantial wealth, cultural influence, and welcome progressive thinking or innovation. With exponential increase in the forms of technology, the markets for technology, and the number of technological devices, the potential for SCOT to be applicable to an array of industries and produces augments substantially. There are a few fundamental aspects to the theory including interpretative flexibility, relevant social groups, design flexibility, and closure. The paper will elaborate upon the theory, its components, its criticism, and counterargument or oppositional perspective. The paper serves to critique the theory of SCOT through analysis.

SCOT applies to a specific perspective or orientation regarding the nature and consequences of technology. SCOT sees the most powerful and effective forms of technology having significant power, influence, and meaning in the social reality or social context within which the technology is produced and used. Theorists who refer to and use SCOT to explain the social affects of technological phenomena ask a series of questions about the technology and the social context. They perform a rigorous analysis and backtracking in order to understand how and what the technology means in the present.

SCOT holds that those who seek to understand the reasons for acceptance or rejection of a technology should look to the social world. It is not enough, according to SCOT, to explain a technology's success by saying that it is "the best" -- researchers must look at how the criteria of being "the best" is defined and what groups and stakeholders participate in defining it. In particular, they must ask who defines the technical criteria by which success is measured, why technical criteria are defined in this way, and who is included or excluded. SCOT is not only a theory, but also a methodology: it formalizes the steps and principles to follow when one wants to analyze the causes of technological failures or successes. (Communicationista, 2012)

The social world, the social context, and the social reality are the keys when choosing to implement or apply SCOT to a particular technology. SCOT seeks to understand the technology outside of its technological or mechanical specifications. There are theorists and experts across a variety of fields, including those directly related to the development, production, and use of technology who contend that technology is inherently neutral and inherently artificial. The technology takes a shape or a moral stands with its use when humans direct the ways in which the technology is produced, consumed, distributed, and other factors. Farlano substantiates this statement as she writes:

Social construction, a common perspective within science and technology studies since the late 1970's, has three important assumptions: science and technology are social, active and not inherently natural. (Farlano, 2012)

Science and technology are social artifacts that function as part of the institution of culture and to larger extents, ideology and hegemony. Science and technology, from the technological constructivist perspective, are not passive beings and constitute beings in the first place.

Farlano and other technological constructivists argue that with the application of SCOT, they argue that science and technology are alive. Those who believe technology is neutral would fall more along the technological constructivist side of the debate, as opposed to the viewpoint of technological determinism. Pinch and Bijker, the originators of SCOT, argue their reasoning as to why their theory took the shape that it does and how that shape relates to their understanding of the life of technology in the social world:

Research concerned to measure the exact interdependence of science and technology seem to have asked the wrong question because they have assumed science and technology to be well-defined monolithic structures. In short, they have not grasped that science and technology are themselves socially produced in a variety of social circumstances. It does seem, however that there is now a move towards a more sociological conception of the science-technology relationship…In other words, science and technology are both socially constructed cultures and bring to bear whatever cultural resources are appropriate for the purposes at hand. In this view the boundary between science and technology is, in particular instances, a matter for social negotiation, and represents no underlying distinction: it then makes little sense to treat the science-technology relationship in a general unidirectional way…the social construction of the science-technology relationship is clearly a matter deserving further empirical investigation. (Pinch & Bijker, 1984,-Page 403 -- 404)

As Pinch and Bijker understand science and technology, there are an interpretatively flexible as the theory of SCOT, yet the academic and professional precedence is to regard them as lacking a dynamic connection as well as retaining a stern rigidity. Pinch and Bijker advocate for the liberation of traditional perspectives about the relationship between science and technology, as well as liberation from traditional viewpoints about how we are to understand and derive meaning from this relationship. Some may argue and did argue that these theorists were asking a great too much from the academic and scientific communities. Yet they were not deterred and persisted, just as their theory of SCOT has. Furthermore, should these authors choose to revisit this theory again with respect to the advances made in technology and permutations in culture with 21st century technology, there would still be a great deal about which to think, to write, and to argue. So much of the most popular forms of technology currently are socially-based or socially contingent. There is now, and not at the time when they first wrote the theory, a kind of technology exclusively branded social technology, which is closely related to and sometimes overlaps with social media. This kind of technology has a presence and a domination in the social context of many cultures in no other way experienced in quite a span of human history. With forms of technology such as Google Analytics and Big Data, we are now further breaking down boundaries between science and technology as well as science and art, aesthetics (philosophy) and science, and more. SCOT foreshadowed the destruction of such boundaries and will prove useful as the world attempts to keep up with the accelerated generations/iterations of technology that affect the world in great and small ways. Embedded within the states of SCOT methodology is the capacity to reconceptualize itself the way it reconceptualizes the relationship between science and technology.

The first stage of the SCOT research methodology is to reconstruct the alternative interpretations of the technology, analyze the problems and conflicts these interpretations give rise to, and connect them to the design features of the technological artifacts. The relations between groups, problems, and designs can be visualized in diagrams. (Communicationista, 2012)

The theory continues to demonstrate that it is meticulously designed and substantially effective in the past, in the present, and likely in the future. The author comes to this critique of the theory of SCOT through analysis of its parts, organization, methodology, function, and capacity…

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