An Introduction to Social Theory and Technology

The word technology has various meanings. For some people, technology is defined by the innovations and improvements that they see in new technological systems. Other people define technology in terms of how easily items are moved from one place to another. Still other individuals may see technology in relation to how readily things can be sold or bought. For many, technology is nothing more than the combination of all these elements.

For researchers who study technological systems, the study of technology is a complex undertaking. For instance, defining and categorizing different technological systems such as communication, entertainment, information, or electronic goods requires a complex interaction of different theories and models. This is why scholars have developed different conceptual models such as schatzberg’s technological domain model, organizational design, technical change, cultural capital, and technological change and cultural heritage theory.

Theory types that scholars use include the process, structure, internal/external, and technological domain. The process model includes those technological systems that facilitate the exchange of information, work, and ideas. Structure describes the ways in which technology influences the creation and organization of a society and culture. Technical change refers to the diversification of existing technologies, for instance the incorporation of computers and other information and communication technologies into the social environment. Cultural capital refers to the values, beliefs, arts, and practices that are influenced by and essential to the existence of technological systems.

According to Schatzberg, a concept that he calls the ‘linguistic model’ offered a key role in theorizing technological change. This linguistic model is also referred to as the paradigm because it allows one to discuss technological systems without having to specify the domain in which they fall (i.e. the schatzberg’s technological domain).

By using this approach, scholars have been able to develop a number of categories that are based on the analysis of the shift in technological systems that occurred during the first two centuries AD. Categories that emerged from the analysis include the value-added systems, the technical apparatus, the technical art, the political economy, and the political culture. These were later joined together to form new concepts such as technical man, technological man, technical intelligence, economic man, technical culture, economic system, and the technical regime. According to this schatzberg’s idea, different cultures, values, and political systems existed side by side but were bound together by a common cultural logic. In order for these concepts to be separated, each culture had to be analyzed individually.

Technology in the twenty-first century has become so diverse that it is difficult to apply scientific theory to all areas and to understand the changes that took place in society and the economy over the past two and a half centuries. It was not until the middle part of the twentieth century that scholars began studying technology to a more standard extent. Thus, during the early part of the century, there were only a few approaches to technology that were organized, although they continued to change as theories were refined. Two of the most important approaches to technology that developed in this period were the sociology of technology and the history of technology.

Sociology of technology concerns itself with technological issues concerning production, distribution, and consumption. The work of German philosopher Martin Luther and his colleagues is the basis for the discipline known as schutzhund, which studies the uses and benefits of technology. One of the major themes of schutzhund studies is Luther’s conviction that God is interested in human freedom and the flourishing of human potential as expressed in the arts and science. Various disciplines including politics, religion, mathematics, and science were also included within the field of schutzhund.

In contrast to Schatzberg’s views, American thinker John Locke disagreed with the valuation of technological knowledge as something essential to progress. He maintained that it was man’s design for having large bodies of land conducive to the cultivation of useful plants, animals, and the arts, whereas towns should not be designed as places where people simply stop at the same things. Because humans are different from one another and because different environments will enable people to pursue distinctive forms of social life, Locke concluded that culture and technology were unrelated. Locke’s distrust of the importance of technology in advancing society was reflected in his aversion to the term technology, which he considered to be a device used by technologists to get more power and wealth.