April 2003 Archives

Social constructionism vs. technological determinism

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The discourse regarding the development and utilization of technology in general and information related technology in particular has for the most part swung between the technological determinism and social constructionism viewpoints.

Each of these viewpoints when taken separately and independently from each other present radical perspective, diminishing the other's theoretical and practical explication from their own. While these two different perspectives have answered many issues (answerable by their perspectives) regarding the development, innovation and use of information related technologies, a great amount of issues have remained unanswered due to the perceived complexity when attempted to be explicated independently either by the technological determinism or the social constructionism viewpoints. Or, when an attempt is made to explain an issue or a research problem either by the technological determinism or by the social constructionism theoretical and methodological frameworks independently, the resulting analysis and conclusions would not be complete. Why so?

For example, if one is to research the usability of collaboration tools in an organizational settings, the social constructionism for most part takes the view that the information and communication technologies are just tools to be used by the employees to perform their assigned tasks and that these tools do not effect the employees or the relevant social structures. On the other side, technical determinist consider the affect that these tools will have on the employees and the surrounding organizational structures resulting from their use.

It is almost obvious that in real life both the social structures affect the development and the design of information technology, and information technology on the other side affect the social structures and how we use them. More then often in our workplace we complain that we can't perform a particular task due to technological constrains emerging from the utilization of the technology we are supposed to use to get our work done. In response, if we can't modify the tools, we modify our processes and task so they are workable within the functionality provided by these tools.

As neither one can provide a complete answer to such issues as the usability and utilization of collaboration tools, a common ground between social constructionism and technological determinism needs to be appropriated.

Perhaps the actor-network theory and its methodological framework provides a plausible alternative?

By Mentor Cana, PhD
more info at LinkedIn
email: mcana {[at]} kmentor {[dot]} com

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