Nye ch. 4
"but human nature..." "social
              construct" (whap)
Nye is going to introduce us to several theories used by historians of technology:
What is theory for historians?

Social Construction is one way of understanding which technologies come into use:
What does it mean to say that technologies are socially constructed?
What is the opposite of social construction, the theory that some people reject in favor of social construction?

Consider the bicycle:
man riding a high wheeled bicycle

 1896 Ladies Bicycle
racing recumbent

By what standards do you judge which technology is best?  For racing that should be which bicycle is fastest
So why don't we see recumbents in the Tour de France?
They are against the rules, rules set for traditional and social reasons
bicycle racing instead looks like horse racing

Which technology is better depends on who is doing the judging
those different views of technology compete/are negotiated--which wins out has more to do with which group of advocates has the most influence or buying power

Technological momentum:slide: technological momentum and path

Contextualists vs. internalists (two theories)

Stanley steamer steam automobile
Example: which will be successful, steam or gasoline automobiles?

As an example of social construction, consider the question: Should electric power systems be owned by government or private industry?  It depends on what we understand to be the social function of electric power systems (what is our measure of success).
promotional button for rural electrification
Should the internet infrastructure be subsidized by the federal government or run as a business (in which case email will probably no longer be free)?

Role of government
  • would it be better to leave the direction of technology much more completely to private industry and the free market?
  • what about things that benefit the public good but aren't profitable? eg. developing treatments for rare diseases
  • should the government help overcome technological momentum
  • private industry makes decisions based on short term profit, what if our longterm good requires other decisions

This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
HIST 1220
last updated 11/8/19