Langdon Winner (1993): Upon Opening the Black Box and Finding It Empty: Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Technology
The Social Construction of Technology, or Social Constructivism, is a theory introduced by Wiebe Bijker and Trevor Pinch. The theory proposes that the development of technology is an interactive sociotechnical process within relevant social groups (e.g users, producers). As a methodology, social constructivism analyses artefacts in the context of society and explores the dynamics of technological change. According to Pinch and Bijker (1987), social constructivism is “fundamentally a sociological approach towards technology”. This school of research attempts to understand the mechanisms behind different social groups’ interpretations of technological artefacts.
In his article titled “Upon Opening the Black Box and Finding It Empty: Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Technology”, Langdon Winner (1993) presented a critique of social constructivism; noting that while there are definitely positive facets of social constructivism, there are also significant complications with the methodology. The aspects of social constructivism that he finds valuable include its conceptual rigor, its concern for specifics and its attempts to provide empirical models of technological change that better reveal the actual course of events (Winner, 1993). Despite this, Winner is adamant about the narrow confines of the social constructivist perspective. In his article, Winner (1993, p. 368) explores four specific limitations of social constructivism:
A disregard for social consequences: Social constructivist writing explains how technologies come to be, however it ignores the consequences of technologies and the impact it has on wider contexts.
A favoured conception of social process: Social constructivists only examine social groups that contribute to their model and ignores those who are “irrelevant” even though they are affected by technological processes.
A disregard for the possibilities of broader technological change, such as any cultural, intellectual or economic origins of social choices in regards to technology.
A lack of moral or evaluative stance on alternative interpretations of technology. Due to the rate at which technology advances, this indifference to other interpretations is a vain and unhelpful position.
Three articles that influenced Langdon Winner’s article
Steven Woolgar (1991) - The Turn to Technology in Social Studies of Science
In his article, Winner (1993) addresses an article by Steven Woolgar (1991) in order to present an example of how the social constructivist model “seeks to sidestep questions that require moral and political argument”. Woolgar’s article references Winner at a point, making light of Winner’s claims that expressway bridges were deliberately built low to the ground to prevent the passing of buses. Winner proposes that this was an expression of the architect's desire to separate...