Overview: Some tools for social analysis of technology

1) Culture concept:

·Definition: learned and shared behavior

·Classic categories: Kinship, Economics, Education, Politics, Religion, Age

·Scales: nation-region-community; boundaries by age, gender, disability, profession, etc.

2) Semiotic vs Materialist Analysis

·Pierce: a sign is regularity in the communication system linking signifier (a token such as the sound “cat”), and signified (meaning or concept). Saussure: "A sign is not a link between a thing and a name, but between a concept and a sound pattern"

·Marx: material relations (base) determine the social system (superstructure)

3) Common Disciplines in STS


·Functionalism (eg Malinowski; needs hierarchy and equilibrium)

·Structuralism (eg Levi-Strauss; mediation of opposites)

·Psychological anthro (eg M. Mead; cognition/kinship/sex systems)

·Poststructuralism (eg Geertz, Behar—thick description, reflexivity)


·Power relations (eg Weber, Durkheim--Institutions, economics, etc.) 

·Symbolic interactionism (G. Mead; meaning between individuals)

·Action research (eg psychologist Kurt Lewin)


·Archival research; “portraits,” class dynamics, genealogy of ideas.

Cultural Studies

·Literary methodologies, discourse analysis, semiotics

Philosophy, Economics, Political Science

·(Often more a “closed shop” than the others above).

New approaches

·reflexive use of science and technology (eg mathematics, simulation, second order cybernetics, alternative technologies, participatory design).