IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - March 2022 - 46

Feature
Criticism of SCOT
After Pinch and Bijker proposed SCOT, several
criticisms have been published about it, for example,
the famous criticism of Winner [25] and Nick
Clayton's [6] historiographical criticism. However,
in this article, the most important criticism is that of
John Law's, which has been proposed in the article
" Technology and Heterogeneous Engineering: The
Case of Portuguese Expansion. " This article was
published along with the aforementioned Pinch
and Bijker article in The Social Construction of Technological
Systems, the main book on SCOT. In this
article, Law criticizes SCOT because it considers in
a reductionist way the interests of relevant social
groups-which determine the expected functions
of each group-to be the main factor in the development
of all technologies. According to Law, the
interests of social groups is just one of the effective
factors which influences the technology development
alongside other factors. These factors, which
may play a greater or lesser effective role in different
technological products, can also be economic, technical,
natural, or political [15]. Law's criticism about
SCOT sets the ground for an alternative approach
called heterogeneous engineering.
Heterogeneous engineering: An
alternative for SCOT
In the article " Technology and Heterogeneous
Engineering: The Case of Portuguese Expansion, "
Law [15] speaks about two alternative views about
the relationship between society and technology.
The criticism of SCOT that he offers is based on the
" systems " approach, which he attributes to Thomas
Hughes. Hughes [13] argues that various factors
like economic, scientific, and political factors as
well as the interests of social groups can affect the
development of a technology in a " flexible " network.
Here, flexibility means that in various technological
products and different situations, each
of these factors can play a greater or lesser significant
role in the development of these products.
Thus conceived, there is no necessity for one single
factor, like the interests of social groups, to always
have the most important role in the development of
a given technology, as understood from the SCOT
approach [15].
What has just been outlined is the main idea of
the heterogeneous engineering approach. According
to Law, all factors affecting the development
46
of technology, including interests of relevant
social groups, the economy, politics, science, and
nature,4 are like engineers who have their own
share and their different respective influences on
the construction of a technology and can be categorized
as entities, processes, bodies, objects,
institutions, and rules [15]. Science might be the
most important factor in the development of one
technology, while the interests of social groups
can have the greatest role in the development of
another one.
Although Law's approach is much closer
to Hughes's approach than it is to SCOT, it also
criticizes the systems approach as Law believes
in " ANT. " This theory focuses on nonhuman elements
such as technical artifacts in human common
actions, demonstrating the significance of
these nonhuman elements. Callon [4] tries to propose
a sociological description about the role of
various nonhuman factors such as politics in the
development of a specific electric car in France.
He describes the concept of the actor network:
" The actor network is reducible neither to an actor
alone nor to a network " [4]. According to ANT,
multiple factors have to be taken into account as
engineers, which besides the human builders, may
attend the process of technology development;
heterogeneously, of course. Therefore, among
heterogeneous engineers (HEs), human engineers
do not have any levels of priority over other nonhuman
engineers [15]. This is Law's main criticism
about the systems approach that considers
an exaggerated role for the system builder, which
is often assumed to be human.
The difference between the systems approach
and the heterogeneous engineering approach is
depicted in symbolic form as follows.5
New model for the relationship
between technology and society
Recent developments of technology-particularly
in information and communication technologies-have
revolutionized the approach of the
4The difference between scientific and natural factors in the heterogeneous
engineering approach is important. First, Law is a sociologist who is influenced by
STS. In STS, scientific theory does not just merely explain something's nature. Rather,
it is the outcome of a social mechanism. Therefore, such a theory is intermingled
with many social factors [3]. Second, when Law speaks about natural factors in his
case study about Portuguese expansion by artifacts such as ships, he also points to
environmental factors such as natural forces [15].
5Needless to say, these two symbolic figures are here merely to provide a
better demonstration of the difference between these two approaches, and the
heterogeneity of the factors have not been shown.
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