TECHNOLOGY DYNAMICS - AN INTRODUCTION
1. Questioning technology
Why give a course on the dynamics of technology? Why give a course on technology in the first place? Why question technology and, assuming that certain technological developments are sometimes socially, politically, economically or ecologically problematic indeed, which questions are there to be asked? And from which perspective? For example, should one adopt a reflexive or normative stand, an analytical stand, or perhaps an historical one? In the first case, one would question the effects of technology on society; in the second case one would focus on development processes and ask about their impetus, and in the third case one would perhaps be interested in the historical conditions that gave rise to a certain development. However, are not these three dimensions mutually related? For example, for how long would one be satisfied with a normative perspective only? Would one not want to understand technology and, accordingly, shift to an analytical perspective in order to understand, for example, whether and how environmental considerations may be brought to bear on the technologies that society generates? However, attempts to understand technology do not come out of the blue, so would there not be a historical dimension to an analytical perspective as well? Similarly, is there not often a normative orientation implied in the analytical questions asked by researchers or the histories put forward by different scholars?
In this reader, the normative, analytical and historical perspective will alternate. We shall examine technology from a normative or reflexive perspective by following authors in their discussions regarding the impact of technology on the conditions of human life. Furthermore, we shall follow authors in the remedies they propose and, accordingly, examine their arguments concerning, for example, technology and policy. We shall also examine the historical conditions that gave rise to modern `science-related' technology, and, for example, discuss the conditions relevant to understanding differences in the impact of particular technological developments with respect to industrial sectors. And last but not least we shall follow authors in their attempts to understand and unravel technological developments, and examine the analyses they have come up with. In particular, the latter perspective, i.e., the analytical one, will constitute the focus of this reader.
Accordingly, the questions that are central to this reader are those of why and how technology has become a subject of research, i.e., which processes are thought to be significant to understanding technological developments and for what reasons? Which (independent) variables are proposed that should allow us to understand such developments, and, accordingly, why is a technology thought to develop in certain directions? For example, do we have to understand technological developments in terms of economic developments (i.e., `demand-pull'), in terms of possibilities created by developments in science and engineering (i.e., `science-push'), or perhaps even in terms of a certain `internal momentum' within a particular technology itself? And how is technology thought to develop? For example, assuming that `modern' technology does, on the one hand, involve science and engineering in that it is very much knowledged based, and, on the other hand, economic considerations in that it is to a large extent produced in industry, how then are these two elements thought to interact? And what about a technology that has been around for a while; is its further development different from newly emerging technologies, and if so, why and in what manner?
These are the questions that are central to this reader, and at present several answers have been put forward with regard to these questions, especially by economists and sociologists. In this reader, we shall examine these proposals or `conceptualizations of technology'.
Why, however, is the analytical perspective privileged in this reader? The first reason for such a focus is because technology studies represents an inter-disciplinary area of research. In view of the fact that contemporary technological developments involve, for example, science, engineering, economics, and organizational management, technology studies has developed into an area of research in which scholars come from many different disciplines (e.g., economics, history of science and technology, management science, sociology, political science). Accordingly, there is a wealth of studies and data one may look at when interested in the problem of technological development. From the perspective of a course, however, the latter poses the need to make certain choices as to what to include and what not. However, there are as yet no substantial grounds to privilege, for example, a sociological perspective over an economic one or vice versa; at present, technology studies is inter-disciplinary indeed. Accordingly, we have chosen to privilege the analytical perspective; instead of giving full details on, for example, contemporary sociology of technology or economics of technology, we thought it better for students to familiarize themselves with the various approaches to such an extent that one is able to specify, for example, the thrust of an argument, its focus of research, and the type of analysis put forward.
The second reason for privileging the analytical perspective is a didactic one; we think that those who are interested in technology dynamics, may profit more from this course when, instead of being enmeshed in empirical data, they develop the ability to examine an argument in such a manner that it may be used as input to one's own thinking and research. In particular, by focusing on the analytical perspective we hope, first, that students will eventually be able to cope with the multi-disciplinarity of technology studies as an area of research. Secondly, that those who are interested in technology dynamics acquire the skills to transform the issues they are interested in into, for example, a proper research design, i.e., into a research proposal that specifies its unit of analysis, its dependent and independent variables, and the methods and approaches that are to be adopted in order to generate answers to the questions one is interested in. Of course, these aims cannot be accomplished by a mere course in technology dynamics; making the analytical perspective central to this course may however help in bringing such an objective closer.
In view of the foregoing objectives, we have included a number of `classical' texts in this reader because such texts often allow for easier access to the analytical perspective: instead of providing empirical data, such texts frame the argument programmatically, and, in doing so, highlight both the reasons that initiated a certain approach as well as its main assumptions.
However, the price to be paid for focusing on the analytical perspective, and, accordingly, including `classical texts', is that this reader does not always justify the wealth of historical and empirical studies that are part of the area of technology studies today. Neither does it bring the historical or the normative perspective fully into the open. For example, though there are many interesting case studies on the development of, for example, ultracentrifuge (Elzen 1988), nuclear weapon systems (MacKenzie, Spinardi 1988), ballistic missile guidance (MacKenzie 1990), aircrafts and aircraft engines (Vincenti 1990, Constant 1980), semiconductors (Dosi 1984), electricity and the electrification of Western society (Hughes 1983), or on different medical technologies (Blume 1992, Pasveer 1992), none of these will be discussed in this reader. Similarly, little attention will be given to assessing the potential effects of technologies (`technology assessment') or to the problems and possibilities involved in what is known as `constructive technology assessment', i.e., the attempt to have potential effects bear on the construction and design of technologies. (e.g., TNO 1984, Schot 1992).
In order to provide some background on the historical conditions giving rise to modern technology and on the manner in which philosophers, sociologists and other scholars came to reflect on the meaning of these developments for society, we shortly discuss these issues in the next section of this introduction. Subsequently we shall turn to a more systematic discussion of the subject of this course, namely technology. The first issue to be elaborated concerns the problem of definition. How is one to define technology? A brief examination of the various proposals that, over the years, have been put forward, will enable us to introduce the majority of the texts included in this reader, and to provide a framework that allows the reader to situate and interrelate these texts.
2.1 The production of knowledge and commodities - the origins of modern technology
From a historical point of view, scientific and industrial developments have followed paths quite independent of each other. Initially, the new natural philosophy (especially Newtonian mechanics) provided the emancipating middle class with an ideological apparatus opposed to the traditional values of feudalism and the dogmatic principles of the church. Additionally, science had a practical value of great importance, since its practitioners focused on the economic/technical problems confronting mercantile capitalism (e.g., navigation problems) (Basalla 1968).
Industrial capitalism emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century, and attained its full development only in the nineteenth century. In this stage of capitalism the central class conflict between labour and capital reached its height. The deployment of science and technology in this confrontation can be explained by the development of industrial capitalism. A new type of production was achieved in which one was able to raise productivity systematically through the intensification of labour and the introduction of new technologies. New technologies, from the steam engine to the light bulb, were brought into operation, and allowed for the production of bulk goods with the help of an unskilled labour force. Such innovations were profitable because economic mass production provided factories with an advantageous competitive position. The new mode of production was reinforced by the legal regulation of patent law.
The continuous development of capitalist methods of production transformed traditional society at great pace. All sorts of social facilities were required to facilitate this transformation process (e.g., roads, infrastructure, import duties, etc.). To this end, a number of public services were set up. The need to control an increasingly complex production process created a new demand for skilled labour. The latter, furthermore, was equally needed to staff the state machinery. Increasingly, the state was also made responsible for the training of the labour force. Since capital purchases the labour of the working class on the market only when it feels a need to do so -- the purchase is `free' -- the training of the work force cannot be at the expense of capital alone, but has to be organized by the state.
While capital has a general interest in accumulation, each individual capitalist is, because of the competitive imperative, forced to produce as economically as possible. In a situation of free competition an individual enterprise will adopt an innovation only when this is perceived as an opportunity. However, non-proprietary knowledge will not be produced by individual companies. The state has to supply a substantive amount of capital to develop new production technologies.
Economists thus agree that when technological innovation is left to market forces alone, this may result in under-investment in technological development. Even nowadays, when governments show `withdrawing tendencies', opponents of too much economic state interference sometimes make an exception for technology policies (see Roobeek 1988). In general, the role of the state is to cover a certain amount of the costs of research and development at its own expense.
The reorganization of capitalism in the twentieth century led to a concentration and centralization of capital. In a time of highly advanced technological developments the large enterprises (e.g., multinationals) are almost the only ones capable of innovating their production process in a revolutionary way, i.e., by destroying a large amount of the capital already invested. Although innovative ideas or patents sometimes originate from smaller firms or universities, these are often bought up by more substantial groups at some phase of the innovation trajectory. Development expenditures and the costs of introducing new products on the market are high. For example, conversion to automatized mass production requires considerable control over the market in order to allow for the necessary investments in machines. And the latter, in turn, requires highly concentrated capital and oligopolistic market structures.
The systematic incorporation of science and technology that this constellation allowed for, has been labelled the `scientific technological revolution'. As Braverman (1974) formulated it: "The scientific-technical revolution, for this reason, cannot be understood in terms of specific innovations-- as in the case of the Industrial Revolution, which may be adequately characterized by a handful of key inventions-- but must be understood rather in its totality as a mode of production into which science and exhaustive engineering investigations have been integrated as part of ordinary functioning. The key innovation is not to be found in chemistry, electronics, automatic machinery, aeronautics, atomic physics, or any of the products of these science-technologies, but rather in the transformation of science itself into capital."
This integration is to a large degree socially mediated, and the bulk of the costs of scientific development are paid by the state. To this end the state is in charge of organizing science. However, the result cannot be reduced to a mere reflection of economic interests, nor can it be maintained that the results of science and technology determine economic development in the form of technological imperatives. Both developments are related to one another in ways that vary per sector or technology, even though in all cases the state is deeply involved in the organization of this relation.
2.2 Reflection on the entanglement of knowledge and production
In the history of European philosophy, reflection on modern technology emerged almost two centuries later than reflection on modern science. The rise to power of the bourgeoisie since the 15th century has been closely related to an intellectual revolution which found expression in the Reformation and the Enlightenment, as well as in the new Natural Philosophy. In western philosophy, the reflection on science is crucial to the development of ideas from the time of Galilei and Descartes to Kant.
The establishment of bourgeois society is related to the transition from mercantile capitalism to industrial capitalism in the 18th and early 19th century. This transition also made the development of the sciences and of technology an issue for social philosophy: new modes of production are intrinsically dependent on improvements in the means of production, and therefore on the further development of technologies. Although this relation was already acknowledged in the nineteenth century, the intertwining of science and production in technology only emerged as an issue of deliberate social organization around 1880. Manifestations of this include, for example, the emergence of the factory laboratory, and the changing position of technological innovation in the enterprise (Noble 1977). Around the turn of the century, this process was completed at the level of society by means of government legislation concerning patent application (Noble 1977; Van den Belt & Rip 1988).
In the first half of this century, philosophers as well as sociologists and economists began to reflect systematically on the meaning of these developments. Their main concern was to understand the role of technology in social development at the level of society in general: the central themes were `Enlightenment' and `Modernization'. Questions were raised like: has the `motor' of social development moved from the economic subsystem to the scientific-technological subsystem? (Frankfurter Schule and other variants of neo-marxism); what is the impact of innovation on productive modes based on free enterprise? (Schumpeter); and how do technological developments shape the organization of society in the long term? (Ellul, Winner).
2.3 Reflection systematized: science and technology policy
In Western Europe science and technology policy emerged as a separate domain alongside higher education and cultural policy in the 1960s. At that time, especially the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) called for systematic studies on the development of science and technology, and their impact on economic growth. The studies published in this context tended to regard science and technology as a `black box', i.e., both science and technology were taken as variables exogenous to the economic system, while their effects on this system were conceptualized as `residual'. In other words, scientific and technological aspects were taken into account only in as far as the growth of the volume of production or productivity could not be explained by common economic variables. (Freeman 1982)
In addition to examining the role of scientific and technological development in economic growth, attention was paid to social and ecological effects of technological development. Since the early seventies studies concerning the social effects of technological changes increasingly came to be known under the heading of `technology assessment' (TNO 1984).
However, in theorizing about the economic meaning of science and technology, and in studies on the social implications of technological changes, the conceptualization of technological development as a `black box', i.e., an exogenous variable, increasingly came to be regarded as unsatisfactory. In view of the significance of science and technology in the Western world, a more precise understanding of technological development processes appeared desirable, if only to give society the chance to profit from the possibilities of technological development, while avoiding or reducing the undesired side effects. Thus, from the 1970s onwards a considerable number of studies appeared in which no attempt was made to conceptualize technological development as an exogenous explanatory variable in aggregated terms; instead, these studies attempted to analyze the very constitution of technological development, and, accordingly, to open the `black box'. Following these attempts, several models for understanding technological developments thus came to be proposed (see, for example, Dosi 1982; Nelson & Winter 1977; Sahal 1985; Hughes 1983; Callon et al 1986, Pinch & Bijker 1984). In particular, many of these `conceptualizations of technology' followed developments in science studies, where researchers increasingly moved away from interpretations of scientific development as a process steered by an internal logic. Instead, research focused on the social factors of scientific development (Boehme 1977; Bloor 1976; Collins 1983, and many others). Because of the close connection between these new `conceptualizations of technology' and the insights generated by science studies, we propose to label the former `technology dynamics', by analogy with science dynamics. In itself, the recruitment of technology researchers from science studies (e.g., Dosi 1982; Pinch & Bijker 1984; Laudan 1984; MacKenzie & Wajcman 1985) is not surprising: modern technology is `science based', and it is often difficult to draw a (clear) demarcation line between science and technology. However, the analogy should not be overstretched: there are considerable differences between science and technology relating to, for example, their economic and practical aspects (Constant 1984). Similarly, reducing the scope of technology dynamics to the cognitive dimension of technology may imply that too much attention is given to invention at the expense of innovation, diffusion, and implementation.
3. What is technology?
In order to study the factors that influence the content, the direction and the speed of technological development we first need to elaborate on how `technology' is to be defined.
Several authors have pointed out that technology can be defined at different levels (Bijker et al. 1987; Mackenzie & Wajcman 1985). The first definition is one of technology as a product. In this conception, technology is perceived as it is manifested in artifacts: the car, the computer, a software packet, a zip. Secondly, technology can be defined as a (socio-technical) production process: the assembly line, processing machines, blast-furnaces. A third definition focuses on the cognitive aspects of technology: technology as a set of (scientific) knowledge, skills and methods. Finally, technology can be described as a `socio-technical' system involving the application of technological artifacts. Examples include private transport (the car and everything connected with it), and communications technology.
One might say that the first two definitions bear upon technology as `innovation', while the last two definitions focus on technological development as a long-term process. Questions about the determinants of technological change tend to remain too unspecified when this differentiation in levels is blurred. In fact, theoretical controversies on the determinants of technological development can, in our opinion, to a large extent be understood as a consequence of the fact that the various participants (implicitly) define technology in various ways. For example, while one author chooses the development of a product such as the semi-conductor for empirical research (e.g., Sahal 1985), the other opts for a socio-technical system of production and takes electricity as an object of study (e.g., Hughes 1984). Obviously, the conclusions to be drawn from these studies regarding the economic or social determinants of technological development do not necessarily apply at other levels of analysis.
A second differentiation is the distinction among various phases of technological development. Often three different stages are distinguished in the development process of technologies, namely the invention phase, the innovation phase, and the diffusion and implementation phase (see figure 1 below). The `invention phase' denotes the period between the formulation of an idea for a new process or product up to the construction of the first prototype. Subsequently there is the `innovation phase', i.e., a period in which research and development on the one hand, and market research and cooperation with potential users of the innovation on the other hand, have to result in a product that is ready for the market. Finally, in the `diffusion phase' the new product or process disperses through the economy. During diffusion, several smaller innovations may occur that generate improvements and price reductions, for example because diffusion is situated in a context of competition. Furthermore, such a process of improvement also results from problems arising during the implementation and application of an innovation for industrial and domestic ends (`learning-by-using'). Taken together, the total effect of successive innovations may be substantial, and the final product may eventually turn out quite different from the intended innovation.
FIGURE 1 here
Figure 1: Innovation as an Iterative Design Process
When conceptualizing technological developments in terms of the emergence and dispersion of technological systems, other distinctions are at stake. For example, Hughes (1983) discerns several successive stages in the development of large technological systems: the original phase, the developmental phase, the mature phase, and (if necessary) the declining phase. As Hughes has shown in detail, various factors - not only technological and economic ones, but also social, organizational and political ones - play a different role in each of these stages. Accordingly, the development of large technological systems can, to a certain extent, be regarded as an organizational and management problem, involving different requirements for each developmental phases.
At an even higher level of aggregation Freeman et al. (1982), Perez and Freeman (1988) describe technological development as a succession of techno-economic paradigms which are initially directed by an economic dynamic. However, on closer inspection, social and institutional dynamics can be seen to play a role as well, especially in periods when the old paradigm is being replaced by a new one.
4. Conceptualizations of technology
More fundamental than `phenomenological' distinctions among different levels and/or phases of technological development is the distinction among different conceptualizations of technology in various theories. Four theoretical perspectives dominate recent literature: the neoclassical conceptualization, the marxist one, the perspective according to which technology is operationalized in terms of indicators (e.g., patent applications, R&D expenditures), and fourthly, a number of perspectives which can be lumped together under the heading of `system- or network-approaches' (Sahal 1982; Elster 1985; Bijker et al. 1987).
1. In the neoclassical approach technological development is represented in the form of a so-called `production function' (Coombs et al. 1987; Sahal 1982).
In particular, at any moment in time a variety of production techniques is thought to be available, i.e., there exists a variety of possible combinations of capital (goods) and labour, each supplying the same output. These particular combinations are represented by a convex production function indicating a certain output volume. Furthermore, the choice as to which of these combinations will actually be implemented, is thought to depend on relative factor prices, i.e., the price relation between machines and labour. Thus, the more `expensive' labour will be, the more capital-intensive production techniques will be used and vice versa.
In terms of a production-function model, technological development implies improvement of a certain capital/labour combination. Technology, in other words, is conceived as a reservoir of production techniques at the disposal of the entrepreneur who chooses one according to the relative market prices of production factors. Thus, aspects which relate to the content of technology remain out of sight in this approach; instead, changes in productivity represent the focus of analysis. The neoclassical approach is, in other words, a `market-pull' approach, i.e., the market for production factors is taken to define which production technologies will be employed. Furthermore, the approach is limited to process innovations (shifts along a certain production function), while new final products and services remain beyond its reach. However, the general neoclassical framework - in identifying the market as the central coordination mechanism - also implicates a demand-pull model for product innovations.
2. In a certain sense the marxist conception of technology and the neoclassical one mirror each other. Whereas in neoclassical theory technological development is seen as autonomous, and its results are implemented in the economic subsystem according to relative factor prices, the marxist approach pictures a competitive situation in which each entrepreneur is forced to innovate on pain of losing the battle. In this vision technological development is guided by competitive imperatives. Though the marxist approach is an economic one, it cannot not be defined as a `demand-pull' approach since the factors which control technological development are economic in a very broad sense.
The essential point with respect to the nature of technological developments in both the neoclassical and the marxist concept of technology concerns the notion that production technologies are increasingly labour extensive. Whereas neoclassicists regard the level of labour costs as the main cause for increasing mechanization, marxists point to the pressure of competition (independently of the level of labour costs). Both theories thus explain the existence of the trajectory of mechanization which has by now been characteristic of technological development for more than 100 years.
3. While in the two previous conceptualizations technology has been treated as a `black box', the third approach focuses more on the very content, direction, and tempo of technological change. In this view various technology-indicators represent the focus of research. In brief, technological development is represented by means of data on patents, numbers of engineers, R&D expenses, etc. For example, the number of patent applications may serve to indicate the pace of technological development, whereas data on the number of engineers in different industrial sectors may point to the directions of technological development. However, the validity of these indicators is sometimes problematic: it remains an indirect method for operationalizing the content of technology. Such indicators may nevertheless be useful for macro-economic and macro-social research (see the article by Smookler in this reader). Finally it should be noted that discussions regarding the validity of such indicators has led to their refinement, for example by distinguishing among types of innovations (revolutionary technological breakthroughs, radical innovations, and improvement innovations), or by arranging patents/innovations in clusters of related technologies (for instance information technology). Such specification obviously establishes a closer linkage to the content of technology (see Freeman, Clark, Soete 1982; Kleinknecht 1987).
4. During the last decade several studies have been published in which `technology itself' is taken as the main object of research. Sahal's system-approach (1982, 1985) is an example. Sahal's conceptualization of technology as a developing system that is defined by its own design and functional characteristics, is related to other economic analyses which we shall denote as `trajectory-approaches' (Nelson & Winter 1977; Dosi 1982), and to certain sociologically oriented studies which we shall denote as `system- and network-approaches' (Hughes 1983, 1987; Callon 1986, Pinch & Bijker 1984). In particular, these various approaches have in common, first, a focus on understanding technological developments in terms of evolutionary processes, and, secondly, a focus on the `interactive' or `heterogeneous' nature of such processes. Viewed from these perspectives technology is understood as a multi-variate process rather than a uni-variate process (e.g., `demand-pull' or `science-push'), and, additionally, as an evolutionary process in which initial flexibility sometimes gives way to rigidity and irreversibility.
These approaches, which can be grouped under the heading of `evolutionary economics' on the one hand and `system- and network-approaches' on the other, have gained increasing support in the area of technology studies over the past decade. Accordingly, they will form the main point of this reader, and will be extensively looked at in Chapter Two. In view of their centrality in this course, we shall introduce them shortly in section 4.1 and 4.2.
4.1 Evolutionary economics: technological trajectories and technological paradigms
A well-known version of the conceptualization of technological development in terms of a `technological trajectory' is Dosi's article on `technological paradigms and technological trajectories' (1982). Dosi argues against theories that regard technological development solely as a reaction to market developments (i.e., to `demand-pull'). Instead, the author stresses the interaction between science and engineering on the one hand and (socio-) economic developments on the other. Additionally, the author points to the possibility of a technology acquiring an `internal momentum'.
Dosi defines a technological paradigm as "a `model' and a `pattern' of solution of selected technological problems, based on selected principles derived from the natural sciences and on selected material technologies" (Dosi 1982, p.152). Subsequently the social and economic factors that may affect the emergence and development of such a paradigm are described, and specified according to the different phases of the development process. Unfortunately the dynamics of the diffusion process -otherwise than in terms of `final selection by the market'- remain largely unaddressed. As other articles demonstrate, the latter has to be regarded as a shortcoming; experience during the diffusion process is known to generate both improvement innovations (Rosenberg 1982, `learning by doing') and to induce anticipating behaviour among entrepreneurs on the basis of market developments (Schmookler 1962).
Dosi regards `technological problems' as problems concerning the accomplishment of certain `generic technological tasks', e.g., the transportation of people and goods, the production of chemical substances with special characteristics, or the conducting of electric signals. In practice, Dosi concentrates on the development of individual products. Dosi's approach immediately links up with Sahal's (1985) approach, whose article involves an elaboration of conceptualizing technological development in terms of a movement along a `technological avenue', directed by `technological guideposts'. In particular, Dosi focuses on the process aspects of technological trajectories (the paradigm as a heuristic device for designers and the influence of several elements from the selection environment on the trajectory), while Sahal focuses on product aspects. Thus, Sahal seeks to show how technological paradigms, defined in terms of the design of the artifact, develop quasi systematically in terms of `scaling' (the avenue) the characteristics of a product (the guideposts).
Some years prior to Sahal (1981, 1985) and Dosi (1982), Nelson and Winter (1977) also proposed a trajectory approach. Although their terminology is slightly different, their work reveals a strong compatibility with the arguments put forward by Sahal and Dosi. Like Dosi, Nelson and Winter emphasize the structure of the selection environment and its effects on the generation of innovations. Like Sahal (and more than Dosi) they note the importance and the structuring effects of design on technology.
How do the concepts like `trajectory' or `avenue' fit in with the previous discussion concerning various `levels' of technology? Dosi regards a technology as a set of solutions for certain generic tasks, and it is with hindsight that a technology can be said to have followed a particular solution (i.e., a trajectory) to these tasks. Thus, Dosi's technological trajectories and paradigms are related to technological artifacts and are situated at the level of the industry or sector producing the respective products. The trajectories themselves consist of a number of radical and incremental innovations, and the generation of innovations is thought to be guided by the negative and positive heuristics that accompany the trajectory. Furthermore, in view of the multitude of innovations involved, an analysis in terms of technological trajectories is obviously different from one concerning individual innovations.
Technological trajectories are often part of what Hughes calls 'large technical systems'. Both Nelson and Winter and Dosi leave space for trajectories and paradigms at higher levels of aggregation. For example, at the macro-economic and the macro-social level Dosi speaks of `broad and general technological trajectories', whereas Nelson and Winter propose the term `technological regime'. In particular, Dosi's `broad trajectories' are shaped by clusters of innovations which are all thought to be related to basic technologies. Examples include the car, electricity supply, and information technology.
At this level of aggregation technological changes can be related to the long-term dynamics of economic development in that, as Schumpeter was the first to argue, technological revolutions mark the origin of what Kondratieff called `long waves' in economic growth (Schumpeter 1942; Mensch 1978; Kleinknecht 1987). Other authors also point to such macro-dynamics, but propose different concepts: innovation clusters (Mensch 1978; Schmookler 1962), or technological systems (Freeman et al 1982). The following scheme organizes the different concepts.
Scheme of terminologies (after Freeman)
|level||Nelson & Winter; Dosi||Freeman; Freeman & Perez||Sahal|
|Society||generic natural trajectories (Nelson & Winter); metaparadigms (Dosi)||techno-economic paradigm; style (Freeman & Perez)||technological landscape (Sahal)|
|Economy (in general)||trajectories; economies of scale; mechanization||technological system||scaling; preservation of design|
|Industry; sectors||natural trajectories; regimes (N & W); paradigm; trajectory (Dosi)||new technological system||broad avenu; guidepost|
|firm; product; process||radical and incremental innovations; process||radical and incremental innovations||systems innovations; material and structural innovations|
The macro-economic approach to technological development remains largely unaddressed in this reader, and therefore we will shortly look into it here. In brief, the argument is that, first, technological revolutions (the emergence of new generic technological paradigms, of new techno-economic styles) account for wave patterns in economic development. Secondly, that such technological breakthroughs, and a set of related radical and smaller innovations, occur in periods of economic depression.
None of this is unchallenged however. Apart from more general critique on the `long waves' approach, Freeman, Clark and Soete (1982) have argued that innovations do not appear to be clustered in the `downswing' of economic cycles. On the contrary, according to these authors it is the diffusion of new technological systems (such as that of iron, of oil and now of micro-electronics) which is responsible for generating long waves: the technological breakthroughs themselves are often much older and have emerged over a long period, but it is the rhythm of the economic environment that causes their diffusion. Thus, the emergence of a technological breakthrough is in itself not considered interesting: the germs of the inventions and innovations that will carry a new wave are to be found in its predecessor. Instead, what needs to be explained is, first, the diffusion of a new technological factor through the economy, and, secondly, the economic developments that accompany this diffusion. Accordingly, while Freeman et al. initially concentrated on economic factors since an economic crisis was thought to encourage entrepreneurs to introduce new techno-economic possibilities (Schumpeter's `neue Kombinationen'), they later came to pay more attention to the social and institutional changes that are prerequisite to diffusion and further development of a new technological system.
Especially Perez (1983, 1985; see also Perez & Freeman 1988) related long-term technological changes to changes in the organization of society. In particular, the latter is thought to be centred around certain `techno-economic paradigms' rather than around individual technological systems, and each transition from one such paradigm to another is thought to involve a fundamental restructuring of the economy on the basis of the new central technological factor. For example, in the postwar wave this technological factor is thought to be represented by the abundant availability of low-priced energy and energy-intensive materials, in the wave starting after World War I it was the availability of low-priced steel, and in the 19th Century `Victorian' boom it was formed by the availability of inexpensive transport and the steam engine. (Perez, Freeman 1988, 48-49). Furthermore, a new long wave is thought to be carried along of micro-electronics.
Each techno-economic revolution is thought to amount to a fundamental change in technological paradigms, in design heuristics, and in factor costs. As a consequence, drastic changes in the technological basis of a great many products and processes are thought to take place and are expected to lead to an increase of the productivity of all means of production (Ibid.). Furthermore, a techno-economic revolution, and the further technological development within the new paradigm, is thought to require changes in the market structure, in organizational forms, in the qualification structure, etc. These `social innovations' which take place parallel to technological changes have to be `designed' as well. Thus, the notion of `design' is extended to the macro level.
4.2 The sociology of technology: systems, networks and actors
Whereas in the trajectory approach the economic point of view is to a certain extent privileged in understanding technological development, more sociologically and historically oriented studies also exist. Although these studies are often juxtaposed against the more economic approaches, present day sociological and economic approaches show distinct correspondences. For example, both propose to understand technological developments in terms of an gradual and evolutionary process and both stress the multi-variate nature of the `variables' involved in technological developments. However, one of the main differences between sociological and economic approaches resides in the questions that are central to each approach, and, accordingly, in the time-perspective that is adopted in the analysis of development processes: evolutionary economic studies often are particularly interested in why technologies develop in certain directions and, accordingly, adopt the perspective of `hindsight'. Sociological studies of technology, on the other hand, are particulary interested in how technologies developed, and, accordingly, focus on the processes by means of which technologies become constructed. Such differences reflect themselves in the analyses put forward. For example, in the more economic approaches of technological development, the units of analysis are usually individual innovations, trajectories, or global macro techno-economic trajectories. Sociologists of technology, on the other hand, tend to focus on the construction and development of technological systems or networks, entailing a large number of technological trajectories and several social, political and economic processes. Examples include the description of the development of the electricity network around the turn of the century (Hughes 1983, 1987 - this reader) and the description of the (unsuccessful) reorientation of personal motor traffic towards electric cars (Callon 1986 - this reader).
Furthermore, because of their focus on understanding how technologies develop, sociologically inspired studies usually describe such developments in detail, and, instead of seeking to trace `patterns' and `causal explanations' for the phenomena being investigated, they propose descriptive concepts. Callon (1986) is an example of this; by introducing certain general action devices (central actors have to `translate' the `actor-world' and have to create and maintain `actor-networks'), the author attempts to develop a framework by means of which these construction processes may be described. Leaving the terminology aside, the VEL-case may also serve as a study of the management of large innovation projects.
Being an historian of technology, Hughes' analysis remains closer to the empirical findings. From his study on the development of electricity supply the author distils three stages that large technological systems are thought to pass through in the course of their development. In particular, the required form of management, i.e., of coordination, is Hughes' central point of attention; each stage is thought to require a different type of manager in order to keep all the dimensions involved in the development of a technological system connected with each other.
While sociological approaches to technology studies tend to focus on construction processes, and, accordingly, on how technologies develop, economic approaches tend, as noted, to focus on why technologies develop. However, the `trajectory'-models of Dosi, Sahal, and Nelson & Winter discussed above specify which factors have a possible influence on technological development, leaving aside the question of which factors operate at what time and to what degree. These general models can, accordingly, not generate substantive theories. Further research is necessary in order to fill in these models empirically and theoretically, and the later will be the purpose of the other chapters of this reader. For example, Chapter Three will address specification of economic `variables', Chapter Four will turn to evolutionary models, and Chapter Five will examine the relation between science and technology in more detail. After having thus examined some of the different `variables' involved in technological development and its social organization in more detail, the course reader will, at least in part, take a reflexive turn and examine technological development in relation to government participation, intervention, and policy. While the former will be the subject of Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten is particularly concerned with both the social consequences of technological development, and with the problem of remedying such consequences.
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