Extending the Social Shaping of Technology Approach: Ideology and Appropriation

Mackay, Hughie and Gillespie, Gareth (1992). Extending the Social Shaping of Technology Approach: Ideology and Appropriation. Social Studies of Science, 22(4) pp. 685–716.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/030631292022004006


This paper explores ways in which the `social shaping of technology' (SST) approach to the technology-society relationship might be extended, by drawing on ideas which have been developed in media and cultural studies. We introduce the various approaches to the social shaping of technology by discussing, in particular, the work of Raymond Williams and Langdon Winner. We argue that the SST approach is limited on three counts. First, it fails to take account of ideology in the social shaping of technology. We argue that ideology is central to functional and symbolic encording, and suggest that designers are a key group in these processes. Second, we identify marketing as a process which is central to the shaping of technology: it plays an important part in both constructing the demand for technologies, and in informing their development. Third, we suggest that the SST approach fails to take account of the appropriation of technologies by users. Technologies offer varying possibilities for such appropriation, but these are not limitless: some technologies are more `open' than others in the range of possible uses to which they may be put. But appropriation is not just about the use of a technology: it is also about the meaning the technology has for its user. These ideas are discussed in relation to recent work on various domestic technologies.

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