Essay of Technosociology: A Gasogene in Costa Rica

Abstract : How can we understand the way technologies interact with people, from the design process to utilisation, escaping the two contrasted positions of "sociologism" (every-thing is, at end, determined by social forces) or "technologism" (the form of technical devices is the major constraint affecting their diffusion and use)?
One solution for going through this difficulty is to place ourselves in a case where this question is a problematic one for the actors themselves. In this article, we propose to study the case of a gasogene which has been settled in a costarican village in order to provide electricity to the inhabitants: the functionning of this installation has been so unsatisfactory that all actors involved in the project were progressively led to a process of interpretation, trying to find the causes of the recurrent failures for putting an end to the continuous malfunctionning by suppressing them.
In this paper, we propose to start from the point that most human activities, and particularly the conception of technologies, are organized around the search for causes: why do people or machines react the way they do when faced with a certain trial or test? And this process of extended implication can have various results: accusations or implications that can lead, when they are stabilized, to an official history where the responsibilities are clearly attributed to some actors (human or non-human), a law action that represents another and different attempt to determine definitely the responsabilities and the causes, or a thing (the French word "chose" has the same etymological origin as "cause" or "accusation") that constitutes, by its technical form itself, a certain interpretation of what should be considered as causes or effects, in the inside of the technics as well as in the relation of the object to the outside (users, producers, repairers and so on). So we shall demonstrate that it is not possible, from the beginning of a technical project, to draw a clear separation between social and technical factors, as the determination of what is social and what is technical is engaged in the innovation process - following the people involved in the costarican project, we shall progressively discover with them, both the technical device, the social environment and the relationships between these two terms: the stabilization of this distinction can be considered as a major result of the technological process and it is why the study of technology is not at the margins of general sociology, but one of the central topics where we can currently observe a great variety of transformations affecting the world in which we live.
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Submitted on : Sunday, June 25, 2006 - 3:40:43 PM
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Madeleine Akrich. Essay of Technosociology: A Gasogene in Costa Rica. Lemonnier, P. Technological choices. Transformation in material cultures since the Neolithic, Routledge, pp.289-337, 1993. ⟨halshs-00081732⟩

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