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Theories and the Case Study

Discuss about the Sociology of Technology and Work.

The intriguing facets about the studies regarding the processes and pathways through which new technological artifacts emerge are based on finding the conditions under which users play the decisive role and participate in the foremost creation of the technical and innovative products followed by their subsequent diffusion and take-up (Jørgensen, Jørgensen and Clausen 2009). The different types of issues and concerns have been addressed in the past by the authors that in which way user innovations may arise, the reason of inducing individuals for participating in the “innovation communities”, as well as, the role played by the “lead users.” These all issues have generated and lead to the broad range of necessary and vital insights into the process of innovation, as well as, the management of several technological changes and modifications by the firms (Shields 2012). Hence, in this essay, the  two theories, i.e, the domestication theory and the social construction of the technology will be used to determine the use and development of the technological artifact. By utilizing the example of an electric toothbrush, this essay would examine the differences between these theories, as well as, will determine how these theories lead to the domestication or success of the electric toothbrushes in day-to-day life.

Domestication theory can be described as an approach used in the studies of the science and technology and media, which is based on the processes through which innovations, more specifically new technologies are appropriated or 'tamed' by its users. The foremost step in the domestication of the technology is the integration of the technology into the everyday life followed by its adaptation to daily practices. Domesticate can be defined as to keep or bring under one’s control, to accustom in daily life, or to adapt something to an environment (Haddon 2011). The domestication theory as placed towards the social shaping of innovation and technology, focuses on the different processes by which the new technological devices changes its status from being seen as useless or non-effective to being acceptable and determines how these processes contribute towards the domestication of the technology artefacts and they become the important part of the family (Berker 2006). Hence, the domestication theory of technology and innovation is an all-encompassing concept, which plays a role of a umbrella term comprising within it different theories related to the acceptance of the technology, using these technology artefacts in our daily life and activities, as well as, theories describing how the adoption of the technology changes the interactions with the social world and ourselves. Because there is the integration of the technological artifacts into the daily lives doesn’t indicate that they are seen as benign or wonderful (Lim 2008). 

Appropriation

There can be varying relationships with the technological artifacts and feelings and ideas toward them depending on their usage, perception regarding them, and the way these artifacts are portrayed and shown in the media (Berker 2006). Hence, the domestication theory was developed for describing and analyzing the processes of acceptance, use, and rejection of the technological artifacts and innovations (Haddon 2011). This theory was developed initially to aid the understanding of the use and adoption of the novel media technologies by the different households but now is expanded as a tool for understanding both the technologies and innovations that enter into the consuming unit, which can then be analyzed culturally, sociologically and economically. There are four phases, which describe the domestication’s concept, these are, appropriation, objectification, incorporation, and conversion (Smits 2006).


The Social construction of technology (SCOT) is another theory in the field of Science and Technology, which focuses on the fact that technology or innovation does not determine the action of the human, but instead human action are responsible for shaping the technology. Hence, according to this theory, the technologies are regarded to be social constructions, which are given shape by the several groups of people (Humphreys 2005). This further emphasizes on the fact that people are the one who influences the development of the technology artifact through the meanings and ideas they attribute towards the technological artifact. According to the social construction of technology theory, the development of the technological artifact globally is based on the three stages, which are interaction existing amongst the social groups and the technological development, discrepancies in the problems and its solutions, and the choice for the solutions (Hunsinger 2005). However, the solution, in this case, does not require to be of fixed or permanent nature, but the solutions that are obtained indicates the temporary forms or phases of stabilization. Different groups of various people contribute different meanings and ideas towards the technologies, which, in turn, lead the technological artifacts to different perceptions and experiences of problems (Woodhouse 2005). The people, hence, influences the construction of various technologies and innovation by seeking a different kind of solutions and resolutions for their problems. A number of social groups can be differentiated around each new technological artifact. Individuals who are involved with the technological artifact holds a certain picture of it and assign a definite meaning to it (Klein and Kleinman 2002).

Through the ways of defining their problems related to the artifact, possibly involving their solutions, the distinct social groups influence the development of the technology and innovation. An important parameter in SCOT model, is the flexibility of the meaning,  i.e., different social groups of people contribute different meanings and problems to the same  technical artifact. This belief is important for understanding the development of the technological artifacts (Ramos and Berry 2005). The application of the social construction of technology theory leads to the different views and perspectives on the development of the technological artifacts. According to the Social construction of theory model, there are three aspects related to the process determining the development of the technological artifacts, which includes the assignment and description of the meaning, the indication of problems, and the solution for solving these problems (Klein and Kleinman 2002). 

Objectification

Where domestication theory is based on the adoption of the new technological artifacts and how these are appropriated by the individuals (Smits 2006), the social construction of technology focuses on the development of the technological artifacts that whether the technology will be a success or failure (Klein and Kleinman 2002). The comparison and differences between these two theories will be explained by using the example of an electric toothbrush, which is a new technological artifact adopted by various groups of people. Further, it will be analyzed that how the technological artifact, electric toothbrush, in this case, was incorporated in the domestic domains by different groups of people involved in the study through utilization of the four different phases related to the domestication process. Moreover, how these group of people assigned different meanings to the electric toothbrush, the different problems they analyzed, and what all were the solutions that were incorporated by them will be analyzed. Based on the case study of the household interviews conducted by Simon et al. the two theories will be compared and contrasted (Carter, Green and Thorogood 2013).


Appropriation in simple terms can be described as an occurrence when the artifact is purchased by the users and they take it to their home. However, in the study of the use of the electric toothbrush, it has been observed that two tensions were required to be solved for the toothbrush to be appropriated. These two tensions were based on the relative superficiality or necessity  of the artifact, and the engagement of the technical information versus the experience associated with the use of an artifact. While some of the individuals thought the electric toothbrush to be a necessity item while others considered it as an unnecessary device. To some, it was just related to superficiality and they used just for the name of the gadget to demonstrate that the individual had each and every gadget around. Moreover, it was observed that the people experienced difficulties regarding the purchase of the appropriate toothbrush and the technicalities associated with its use. These all parameters affected the domestication of the electric toothbrush. As far as social construct theory is concerned, we can see that different people attributed different meanings to the electric toothbrush. For some, it was a necessary item, while to others it was just an unnecessary device. These different attitudes and meanings assigned to different groups of people will, in turn, affect the success or development of the electric toothbrush and its use (Carter, Green and Thorogood 2013).

Incorporation

Objectification of the electric toothbrush is also observed as a demonstration of the practical, as well as, functional aspects of the electric toothbrush in comparison to its aesthetic values. Balancing of the positioning of the artifact in the domestic environment was reflected, which showed that one main issue was associated with the absence of the electrical outlets and rechargeable electric toothbrushes. Thus, unavailability of the electrical outlets constrained the use of the electric toothbrushes. However, the solution to this problem by the respondents was placing their electric toothbrushes in the kitchen. But, to some placement of the electric toothbrush in the kitchen was not a comfortable idea as the kitchen was a common place where everyone has easy access. Hence, the people feel uncomfortable placing their electric toothbrush and utilizing it in front of their friend and family members. Here we can see that different people have different perspectives related to the problem, which in turn, will analyze the development of the use of the electric brushes (Carter, Green and Thorogood 2013).


The incorporation is the everyday utilization of the artifact , thus becoming the part of the routine. There were various problems that restricted the individuals for the complete incorporation of the electric brushes in their daily routine. For example, the sharing of the base unit though the heads were separate due to unavailability of the electrical outlets restricted purchasing of another electric toothbrush to their house. In another case, the sharing of the base unit caused conflict for one of the family member due to messy dental habits of another member. Moreover, people restricts taking their electric toothbrushes along with them during traveling due to its heavy weight. Hence, as these factors restrict the domestication of the electric toothbrush, it also affects the use and development of the technological artifacts, which is the result of the different perspectives and ideas of a different group of people about the electric toothbrush (Carter, Green and Thorogood 2013).

Conversion, which is the other phase of the domestication can be described as the process where the users inside household may define the association between the technological artifact and the broad environment, as well as, social world. As it was observed in the case study, some respondents were not happy using their electric toothbrushes openly, to some the electric toothbrushes are required to be hidden. For these users, the symbolic relation of the electric toothbrush to the outer world was difficult.  While for others, the electric toothbrush was an explicit display symbolizing good and proper dental hygiene and had become an indicator of the values of the household for external visitors. Moreover, if the social construction of technology is concerned, it has been observed that due to the need of batteries to be replaced after some time and failure to incorporate the electric brush into their shopping routines have made some users to stop using them. Thus, affecting the development or success of the electric toothbrushes in the daily routine along with the incomplete domestication of them (Carter, Green and Thorogood 2013).

Conclusion

 It is very much evident that both the theories related to domestication and social construction of technology are important parameters in the social shaping, as well as, development of the new technological artifacts. As it can be seen from the above-mentioned case of the use of electric toothbrush by the users, various factors determine the domestication of the artifact in the household, which in turn can affect the development of the technological artifact. As understanding the fact that different individuals attribute a different meaning to the similar artifact and have a different set of problems and solutions related to it for determining the technological development. This belief is also very important in the domestication of the technological artifacts. No doubt, that domestication theory is focused on the utilization of the technological artifacts by the users and social construction of technology is focused on the development of the technological artifacts, both the theories share the same concept for determining the domestication and the technological development. 

References

Berker, Thomas. 2006. Domestication Of Media And Technology. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Carter, Simon, Judith Green, and Nicki Thorogood. 2013. "The Domestication Of An Everyday Health Technology: A Case Study Of Electric Toothbrushes". Soc Theory Health 11 (4): 344-367.

Haddon, Leslie. 2011. "Domestication Analysis, Objects Of Study, And The Centrality Of Technologies In Everyday Life". Canadian Journal Of Communication Corporation 36: 311-323.

Humphreys, Lee. 2005. "Reframing Social Groups, Closure, And Stabilization In The Social Construction Of Technology". Social Epistemology 19 (2-3): 231-253.

Hunsinger, Jeremy. 2005. "Broadening Possibilities By Expanding The Theoretical Richness Of The Social Construction Of Technology". Social Epistemology 19 (2-3): 255-259.

Jørgensen, Michael Søgaard, Ulrik Jørgensen, and Christian Clausen. 2009. "The Social Shaping Approach To Technology Foresight". Futures 41 (2): 80-86.

Klein, H. K. and D. L. Kleinman. 2002. "The Social Construction Of Technology: Structural Considerations". Science, Technology & Human Values 27 (1): 28-52.

Lim, S. S. 2008. "Technology Domestication In The Asian Homestead: Comparing The Experiences Of Middle Class Families In China And South Korea". East Asian Science, Technology And Society 2 (2): 189-209.

Ramos, Isabel and Daniel M Berry. 2005. Social Construction Of Information Technology Supporting Work. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Pub.

Shields, Mark A. 2012. "Technology And Social Theory (Review)". Technology And Culture 53 (4): 918-920.

Smits, Martijntje. 2006. "Taming Monsters: The Cultural Domestication Of New Technology".Technology In Society 28 (4): 489-504.

Woodhouse, E.J. 2005. "(Re)Constructing Technological Society By Taking Social Construction Even More Seriously 1". Social Epistemology 19 (2-3): 199-223.

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