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Social Studies of Science and Technology

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Biometric Technology and Society

The use of biometric technology for identification has gone from Orwellian fantasy to everyday reality. This technology, which verifies or recognizes a person’s identity based on physiological, anatomical, or behavioral patterns (including fingerprints, retina, handwriting, and keystrokes) has been deployed for such purposes as combating welfare fraud, screening airplane passengers, and identifying terrorists. The accompanying controversy has pitted those who praise the technology’s accuracy and efficiency against advocates for privacy and civil liberties. In America Identified, Lisa Nelson investigates the complex public responses to biometric technology. She uses societal perceptions of this particular identification technology to explore the values, beliefs, and ideologies that influence public acceptance of technology. Drawing on her own extensive research with focus groups and a national survey, Nelson finds that considerations of privacy, anonymity, trust and confidence in institutions, and the legitimacy of paternalistic government interventions are extremely important to users and potential users of the technology. She examines the long history of government systems of identification and the controversies they have inspired; the effect of the information technology revolution and the events of September 11, 2001; the normative value of privacy (as opposed to its merely legal definition); the place of surveillance technologies in a civil society; trust in government and distrust in the expanded role of government; and the balance between the need for government to act to prevent harm and the possible threat to liberty in government’s actions.

Science, Society, and Ecological Design

Ignorance and surprise belong together: surprises can make people aware of their own ignorance. And yet, perhaps paradoxically, a surprising event in scientific research--one that defies prediction or risk assessment--is often a window to new and unexpected knowledge. In this book, Matthias Gross examines the relationship between ignorance and surprise, proposing a conceptual framework for handling the unexpected and offering case studies of ecological design that demonstrate the advantages of allowing for surprises and including ignorance in the design and negotiation processes. Gross draws on classical and contemporary sociological accounts of ignorance and surprise in science and ecology and integrates these with the idea of experiment in society. He develops a notion of how unexpected occurrences can be incorporated into a model of scientific and technological development that includes the experimental handling of surprises. Gross discusses different projects in ecological design, including Chicago’s restoration of the shoreline of Lake Michigan and Germany’s revitalization of brownfields near Leipzig. These cases show how ignorance and surprise can successfully play out in ecological design projects, and how the acknowledgment of the unknown can become a part of decision making. The appropriation of surprises can lead to robust design strategies. Ecological design, Gross argues, is neither a linear process of master planning nor a process of trial and error but a carefully coordinated process of dealing with unexpected turns by means of experimental practice.

A Global Perspective

Wireless networks are the fastest growing communications technology in history. Are mobile phones expressions of identity, fashionable gadgets, tools for life--or all of the above? Mobile Communication and Society looks at how the possibility of multimodal communication from anywhere to anywhere at any time affects everyday life at home, at work, and at school, and raises broader concerns about politics and culture both global and local.Drawing on data gathered from around the world, the authors explore who has access to wireless technology, and why, and analyze the patterns of social differentiation seen in unequal access. They explore the social effects of wireless communication--what it means for family life, for example, when everyone is constantly in touch, or for the idea of an office when workers can work anywhere. Is the technological ability to multitask further compressing time in our already hurried existence?The authors consider the rise of a mobile youth culture based on peer-to-peer networks, with its own language of texting, and its own values. They examine the phenomenon of flash mobs, and the possible political implications. And they look at the relationship between communication and development and the possibility that developing countries could "leapfrog" directly to wireless and satellite technology. This sweeping book--moving easily in its analysis from the United States to China, from Europe to Latin America and Africa--answers the key questions about our transformation into a mobile network society.

The Role of Scientific Advice in Democracies

Today, scientific advice is asked for (and given) on questions ranging from stem-cell research to genetically modified food. And yet it often seems that the more urgently scientific advice is solicited, the more vigorously scientific authority is questioned by policy makers, stakeholders, and citizens. This book examines a paradox: how scientific advice can be influential in society even when the status of science and scientists seems to be at a low ebb. The authors do this by means of an ethnographic study of the creation of scientific authority at one of the key sites for the interaction of science, policy, and society: the scientific advisory committee. The Paradox of Scientific Authority offers a detailed analysis of the inner workings of the influential Health Council of the Netherlands (the equivalent of the National Academy of Science in the United States), examining its societal role as well as its internal functioning, and using the findings to build a theory of scientific advising. The question of scientific authority has political as well as scholarly relevance. Democratic political institutions, largely developed in the nineteenth century, lack the institutional means to address the twenty-first century’s pervasively scientific and technological culture; and science and technology studies (STS) grapples with the central question of how to understand the authority of science while recognizing its socially constructed nature.

Over the past twenty years, the technologies of simulation and visualization have changed our ways of looking at the world. In Simulation and Its Discontents, Sherry Turkle examines the now dominant medium of our working lives and finds that simulation has become its own sensibility. We hear it in Turkle’s description of architecture students who no longer design with a pencil, of science and engineering students who admit that computer models seem more “real” than experiments in physical laboratories. Echoing architect Louis Kahn’s famous question, “What does a brick want?”, Turkle asks, “What does simulation want?” Simulations want, even demand, immersion, and the benefits are clear. Architects create buildings unimaginable before virtual design; scientists determine the structure of molecules by manipulating them in virtual space; physicians practice anatomy on digitized humans. But immersed in simulation, we are vulnerable. There are losses as well as gains. Older scientists describe a younger generation as “drunk with code.” Young scientists, engineers, and designers, full citizens of the virtual, scramble to capture their mentors’ tacit knowledge of buildings and bodies. From both sides of a generational divide, there is anxiety that in simulation, something important is slipping away. Turkle’s examination of simulation over the past twenty years is followed by four in-depth investigations of contemporary simulation culture: space exploration, oceanography, architecture, and biology.

A Parable of Development Aid

In 1996, the sub-Saharan African country of Ruritania launched a massive waterworks improvement project, funded by the Normesian Development Bank, headquartered in Urbania, Normland, and with the guidance of Shilling & Partner, a consulting firm in Mercatoria, Normland. Far-Fetched Facts tells the story of this project, as narrated by anthropologists Edward B. Drotlevski and Samuel A. Martonosi. Their account of the Ruritanian waterworks project views the problems of development from a new perspective, focusing on technologies of inscription in the interactions of development bank, international experts, and local managers. This development project is fictionalized, of course, although based closely on author Richard Rottenburg’s experiences working on and observing different development projects in the 1990s. Rottenburg uses the case of the Ruritanian waterworks project to examine issues of standardization, database building, documentation, calculation, and territory mapping. The techniques and technologies of the representational practices of documentation are crucial, Rottenburg argues, both to day-to-day management of the project and to the demonstration of the project’s legitimacy. Five decades of development aid (or “development cooperation,” as it is now sometimes known) have yielded disappointing results. Rottenburg looks in particular at the role of the development consultant (often called upon to act as mediator between the other actors) and at the interstitial spaces where developmental cooperation actually occurs. He argues that both critics and practitioners of development often misconstrue the grounds of cooperation--which, he claims, are moral, legal, and political rather than techno-scientific or epistemological.

An Ethnography of Design and Innovation
Edited by Dominique Vinck

Everyday Engineering was written to help future engineers understand what they are going to be doing in their everyday working lives, so that they can do their work more effectively and with a broader social vision. It will also give sociologists deeper insights into the sociotechnical world of engineering. The book consists of ethnographic studies in which the authors, all trained in both engineering and sociology, go into the field as participant-observers. The sites and types of engineering explored include mechanical design in manufacturing industries, instrument design, software debugging, environmental management within companies, and the implementation of a system for separating household waste.The book is organized in three parts. The first part introduces the complexity of technical practices. The second part enters the social and cultural worlds of designers to grasp their practices and motivations. The third part examines the role of writing practices and graphical representation. The epilogue uses the case studies to raise a series of questions about how objects can be taken into account in sociological analyses of human organizations.

Economic Sociology Meets Science and Technology Studies

Although social scientists generally agree that technology plays a key role in the economy, economics and technology have yet to be brought together into a coherent framework that is both analytically interesting and empirically oriented. This book draws on the tools of science and technology studies and economic sociology to reconceptualize the intersection of economy and technology, suggesting materiality--the idea that social existence involves not only actors and social relations but also objects--as the theoretical point of convergence. The contributors take up general concerns, such as individual agency in a network economy and the materiality of the household in economic history, as well as specific financial technologies such as the stock ticker, the trading room, and the telephone. Forms of infrastructure--accounting, global configurations of trading and information technologies, and patent law--are examined. Case studies of the impact of the Internet and information technology on consumption (e-commerce), the reputation economy (the rise of online reviews of products), and organizational settings (outsourcing of an IT system) round off this collection of essays.

Contributors: Elizabeth Popp Berman, Daniel Beunza, Michel Callon, Karin Knorr Cetina, Shay David, Thomas F. Gieryn, Barbara Grimpe, David Hatherly, David Leung, Christian Licoppe, Donald MacKenzie, Philip Mirowski, Fabian Muniesa, Edward Nik-Khah, Trevor Pinch, Alex Preda, Nicholas J. Rowland, David Stark, Richard Swedberg

How Financial Models Shape Markets

In An Engine, Not a Camera, Donald MacKenzie argues that the emergence of modern economic theories of finance affected financial markets in fundamental ways. These new, Nobel Prize-winning theories, based on elegant mathematical models of markets, were not simply external analyses but intrinsic parts of economic processes. Paraphrasing Milton Friedman, MacKenzie says that economic models are an engine of inquiry rather than a camera to reproduce empirical facts. More than that, the emergence of an authoritative theory of financial markets altered those markets fundamentally. For example, in 1970, there was almost no trading in financial derivatives such as "futures." By June of 2004, derivatives contracts totaling $273 trillion were outstanding worldwide. MacKenzie suggests that this growth could never have happened without the development of theories that gave derivatives legitimacy and explained their complexities. MacKenzie examines the role played by finance theory in the two most serious crises to hit the world's financial markets in recent years: the stock market crash of 1987 and the market turmoil that engulfed the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management in 1998. He also looks at finance theory that is somewhat beyond the mainstream—chaos theorist Benoit Mandelbrot's model of "wild" randomness. MacKenzie's pioneering work in the social studies of finance will interest anyone who wants to understand how America’s financial markets have grown into their current form.

Obduracy in Urban Sociotechnical Change

City planning initiatives and redesign of urban structures often become mired in debate and delay. Despite the fact that cities are considered to be dynamic and flexible spaces—never finished but always under construction—it is very difficult to change existing urban structures; they become fixed, obdurate, securely anchored in their own histories as well as in the histories of their surroundings.

In Unbuilding Cities, Anique Hommels looks at the tension between the malleability of urban space and its obduracy, focusing on sites and structures that have been subjected to "unbuilding"—redesign or reconfiguration. She brings the concepts of science and technology studies (STS) to bear on the study of cities. Viewing the city as a large sociotechnological artifact, she demonstrates the usefulness of STS tools that were developed to analyze other technological artifacts and explores in detail the role of obduracy in sociotechnical change. Her analysis distinguishes three concepts of obduracy: interactionist, in which actors with diverging views are constrained by fixed ways of thinking and interacting; relational, in which change is difficult because of technology's embeddedness in sociotechnical networks; and enduring, in which persistent traditions influence the development of technology over time.

Hommels examines the tensions between obduracy and change in three urban redesign projects in the Netherlands: a renovated city center that fell into drabness and disrepair; a highway system that runs through a densely populated urban area; and a high-rise housing project, designed according to modernist precepts and built for middle-class families, that became a haven for unemployment and crime. Unbuilding Cities contributes to a productive fusion of STS and urban studies.

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