Science and Technology: Who Gets a Say?

Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 144)


In recent years historians of technology have increasingly agreed on one major question about the relationship of science and technology. Technology’s intellectual character cannot be reduced to “the application of science,” as if science created real knowledge and technology then applied it to solve problems. Technological cognition, its own unique form of knowledge, takes shape in a tension between generalizable knowledge (called “theory” these days and “know-how” in an earlier era) and the technical practitioner’s capacity for pragmatic judgments. These one-of-a-kind decisions are based on intimate knowledge of the immediate situation (often called “skill” or simply “experience”).1


Ford Motor Company Labor Reform Peasant Worker Fervent Support Negotiation Space 
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  1. 1.
    For the full argument see my Technology’s Storytellers: Reweaving the Human Fabric (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1985), Chapter 3.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Edwin Layton’s “Mirror Image Twins: The Communities of Science and Technology in 19th Century America”, Technology and Culture 12(4) (October, 1971), pp. 562–580 still stands as one of the most insightful articulations of the difference between scientific and technological communities. Thus: In the physical sciences the highest prestige went to the most abstract and general — that is to the mathematical theorists from Newton to Einstein. Instrumentation and applications generally ranked lowest. In the technological community the successful designer or builder ranked highest, and the ‘mere’ theorist the lowest, p. 577. See also Walter G. Vincenti, What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1990).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    David S. Landes, The Unbound Prometheus (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969). Landes characatures all cognition that does not take a means-to-ends form as “superstition and magic”, p. 21. See the following pages for further examples of Landes’ disjunction between rationality and all other modes of consciousness which are defined as defective by Landes’ dismissive, and occasionally derisive, tone. The most articulate critique of this definition of rationality that I have yet encountered is by Renato Rosaldo, Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989). Thus, for example, “The point is to break objectivism’s monopoly on truth claims, not to throw out the baby with the bath water.... When the workings of culture are reduced to those of a control mechanism, such phenomena as passions, spontaneous fun, and improvised activities tend to drop out of sight.”(p. 102) or “In my view, optionality, variability, and unpredictability produce positive qualities of social being rather than negative zones of analytically empty randomness.” (p. 112) but see also the full extent of his argument throughout Part One.Google Scholar
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    See, for some recent discussions of contextualism, Robert C. Post and Steven H. Cutcliffe (eds.), In Context: History and the History of Technology, Essays in Honor of Melvin Kranzberg (Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 1989), pp. 150–171.Google Scholar
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    Scholars representing a broad range of interpretative perspectives have come to agree on the importance of contextual factors for interpreting science. See, for example, Arnold Thackray, ‘History of Science’, in Paul Durbin (ed.), A Guide to the Culture of Science, Technology, Medicine (New York: Free Press, 1979); Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985); Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society (Milton Keynes, Bucks.: Open University Press, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1987); and Steven Toulmin, Cosmopolis (New York: MacMillan, 1990).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The concept of professionalism, that empowers the licensed practitioner while delegitimizing outsiders is a central achievement in 19th century Western society. See, for example, Burton J. Bledstein, The Culture of Professionalism: The Middle Class and the Development of Higher Education in America, esp. Ch. 3.Google Scholar
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    My thinking here originates with the study of technological style in the United States. Thus my application of these insights to European technological practice and to scientific practice generally represents something of a reach.Google Scholar
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    Jeremy Bentham, ‘Panopticon; or, The Inspection House’, in The Works of Jeremy Bentham (published under the superintendence of his executor, John Bowring), Vol. 4 (New York: Russell and Russell, 1962 (reprint of the 1838–1843 edition)), p. 39.Google Scholar
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    I am indebted, for this turn of phrase, to Shoshana Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (New York: Basic Books, 1988), p. 320.Google Scholar
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    Bentham articulated four defining principles: (1) Cells “divided from one another ... secluded from all communication with each other, by partitions”; (2) “Each cell has in the outward circumference a window, large enough, not only to light the cell, but, through the cell, to afford light enough to the correspondent part of the [inspector’s] lodge. The inner circumference of the cell is formed by an iron grating, so light as not to screen any part of the cell from the inspector’s view”; (3) “To prevent thorough light, whereby ... the prisoners would see from the cells whether or no any person was in the lodge, that apartment is divided into quarters, by partitions”; (4) “Small lamps, in the outside of each window of the lodge, backed by a reflector, to throw the light into the corresponding cells, would extend to the night the security of the day.” ‘Panopticon’ p. 40Google Scholar
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    Works of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 10, p. 226. Cited in Carolyn C. Cooper, ‘The Portsmouth System of Manufacture’, Technology and Culture 25(2) (April, 1984), p. 193.Google Scholar
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    Bentham, Panopticon’, p. 40 (author’s emphasis).Google Scholar
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    Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trs. Alan Sheridan (New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1979), pp. 201–202.Google Scholar
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    Jean Hampton discusses reconciliation joined to capital punishment. See her ‘The Retributive Idea’, in Jeffrie G. Murphy and Jean Hampton, Forgiveness and Mercy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 19. Emphases mineGoogle Scholar
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    ‘Therapy, Not Punishment’, Harpers Magazine (August 1959), pp. 63–64 (emphases mine). Menninger is quoted, together with Bertrand Russell, B. F. Skinner, and Benjamin Karpman to much the same effect, in Herbert Morris, ‘Persons and Punishment’, The Monist 52 (October, 1968), pp. 480–481. Morris’ essay has acquired the status of a classic critique of the therapeutic replacement of punishment. He roots his argument in the inherent dehumanization of the person when guilt is replaced by treatment. “In this [therapeutic] world we are now to imagine when an individual harms another his conduct is to be regarded as a symptom of some pathological condition in the way a running nose is a symptom of a cold.” p. 480.Google Scholar
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    Harley Shaiken, Automation and Work in the ComputerAge (New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1983). Shoshanah Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine, passim. Google Scholar
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    See George F. Madaus, ‘Curriculum Evaluation and Assessment’, in P. Jackson (ed.), Handbook of Research on Curriculum (New York: Macmillan, forthcoming). See also Zuboff (especially Chs. 6–7, 9–10) for discussion of the use of computerized algorithms in decision-making roles as precisely the same process of distancing the evaluated from the point at which the evaluative judgment is rendered.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Erving Goffman, Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (Garden City, NY, 1961). John F. Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth Century America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1990). See Ch. 1 for his estimate that an average of three new etiquette books annually before the Civil War rose to an average of five or six per year from 1870 through World War I. See Chs. 4 and 5 on body control advice.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    See Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 91.Google Scholar
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    See Levine, Highbrow-Lowbrow, passim and Kasson, Rudeness and Civility, Ch. 7. Levine notes that the gradual disciplining of audience interaction was accompanied by the creation of separate establishments for upper class and lower class patrons.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    On the early history of the wire news services see Daniel J. Czitrom, Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan (Chapel Hill, 1982), especially Ch. 1; Richard Schwarzlose, ‘Harbor News Association: The Formal Origins of the AP’, Journalism Quarterly 45 (Summer, 1968), pp. 253–260; Robert Luther Thompson, Wiring a Continent; The History of the Telegraph Industry in the United States, 1832–1866 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947) and Richard B. DuBoff, ‘Business Demand and the Development of the Telegraph in the United States, 1844–1860’, Business History Review 54 (Winter, 1980), pp. 459–479 and 1983: ‘The Telegraph and the Structure of Markets in the United States, 1845–1890’, Research in Economic History 8, pp. 253–277.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    The Molly trial was probably the first “national media” event in U.S. labor history. Joseph Rayback describes the immediate and long-term effects of the trial as follows. “The evidence against them, supplied by James McParlan, a Pinkerton [detective], and corroborated by men who were granted immunity for their own crimes, was tortuous and contradictory, but the net effect was damning. All twenty-four were convicted; ten were executed. The trial temporarily destroyed the last vestiges of labor unionism in the anthracite area. More important, it gave the public the impression that miners in general were inclined to riot, sabotage, arson, pillage, assault, robbery, and murder; and that miners were by nature criminal in character and were to be condemned and disciplined by the more respectable element in society. The impression became the foundation for the antilabor attitude held by a large portion of the nation to the present day.” A History of American Labor (New York: MacMillan, Free Press, 1966) p. 133.Google Scholar
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    In his recent critical assessment of Richard Rorty, Christopher Norris uses U.S. media coverage of the Irac war to exemplify some of the philosophical and pragmatic problems that reside in electronically mediated public discourse. (‘The “End of Ideology” Revisited: The Gulf War, Postmodernism and Realpolitic’ , Philosophy and Social Criticism 17(1) (November), pp. 1–40.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 19201940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), pp. 68–69 and passim. See also Daniel Pope, The Making of Modern Advertising (New York: Basic Books, 1983); Leiss, Kline and Jhally, Social Communication in Advertising, and T.J. Jackson Lears, ‘From Salvation to Self-Realization: Advertising and the Therapeutic Roots of the Consumer Culture, 1880— 1930’, in Richard Wightman Fox and T.J. Jackson Lears (eds.), The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880–1980 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), pp. 1–38. I am also deeply indebted to many conversations with Pamela Walker Lurito for my understanding of changing advertising trends.Google Scholar
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    Debates about the effectiveness of advertisements in programming consumer motivation are commonplace in recent studies. Michael Schudson, Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society (New York: Basic Books, 1984) argues the case against it. Leiss, Kline, and Jhally Social Communication in Advertising, Chs. 2, 3, discuss the pros and cons of both sides, citing Schudson, Stuart Ewen, Christopher Lasch, and others; their own position tends to favor Schudson’s.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    (Robert O. Derrick, architect hired to design the Henry Ford Museum, Oral Reminiscences) p. 50 [emphases mine]. Geoffrey C. Upward, A Home for Our Heritage: The Building and Growth of Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, 1929–1979 (Dearborn: The Henry Ford Museum Press, 1979), p. 50.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Otto Moog, German Engineer, in Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis, p. 291, author’s translation of Otto Moog, Drüben steht Amerika: Gedanken nach einer Ingenieurreise durch die Vereinigten Staten (Braunschweig: G. Westermann, 1927), p. 72. Hughes cites another German engineer, Franz Westermann, saying “the most powerful and memorable experience of my life came from the visit to the Ford plants ... ” (p. 292).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    See Stephen Meyer, The Five Dollar Day (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), especially Chs. 5–8.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    On the stockholder buyout see Alan Nevins and Frank Ernest Hill, Ford: Expansion and Challenge: 1915–1933 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), pp. 105–111. Nevins interprets the three resignations as follows: “Ford ... looked aback with distaste on the period of Couzen’s activity in company affairs, when he had been unable to move freely. The Dodge suit had of course intensified his desire for absolute authority. He was therefore irritated by the presence of anyone in the company who might not work with him in complete harmony.” (ibid., p. 145).Google Scholar
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    See Geoffrey C. Upward (museum editor), A Home for Our Heritage: The Building and Growth of Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, 1929–1979 (Dearborn, MI: The Henry Ford Museum Press, 1979) p. 76. In 1919, Ford sued the Chicago Tribune for libel, was grilled on the stand with lines of questions demonstrating his flimsy educational background, and was awarded six cents in damages. Robert Lacey, Ford: The Men and the Machine (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1986), pp. 197–202.Google Scholar
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    Greenfield Village was officially opened on October 21, 1929 when the aging Edison, flanked by Ford and President Hoover re-enacted the invention by turning on a replica light bulb. The “Festival of Light” was transmitted over a national radio network, one of the first “live” media events in history. The only published account that treats the event in any detail is Upward, Home for Our Heritage, Ch. 3.Google Scholar
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    Lacey, for example: “ ... there was only one beautiful room in the entire building: the powerhouse. This was a spare, clean chamber which Henry had designed himself . ... and he created a very Ritz of power stations, all marble and gleaming brass dials and pipes. Around the floor were set out little generators, raised on plinths like so many modern sculptures ...” pp. 149–50. See also, Collier and Horowitz, p. 71. See also Nevins, pp. 20–21. The clean, uncluttered, “Ford” style that Charles Sheeler would make famous with his late twenties photographs and paintings may represent the continuation of, and not a completely fresh artistic reflection on, the Ford style. See Mary Jane Jacob, ‘The Rouge in 1927: Photographs and Paintings by Charles Sheeler’, in The Rouge: The Image of Industry in the Art of Charles Sheeler and Diego Rivera (funded by the Ford Motor Company Fund and Founders’ Society Detroit Institute of Arts) and, more recently, Karen Lucic, Charles Sheeler and the Cult of the Machine (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
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    Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition, Official Book of the Fair, (Chicago: A Century of Progress, Inc., 1932), p. 11. I am indebted to Lowell Tozer, ‘A Century of Progress, 1833–1933: Technology’s Triumph Over Man’, American Quarterly 4(1) (Spring, 1952), pp. 78–81, for first calling my attention to the Exposition and to Cynthia Read-Miller, curator of photographs and prints in the archives of the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, for copies of the Official Book and photos of the iconography referred to here. For the Lohr quote see, Fair Management: The Story of a Century of Progress Exposition (Chicago: The Cuneo Press, Inc., 1952), p. 96.Google Scholar
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    Popular feelings about technocratic elitism were clearly mixed. Industrial unions flourished in the Thirties as workers organized to contest managerial high-handedness. On the other hand, even so shocking an episode as 1937’s battle of the overpass evoked an outpouring of fervent support for Ford’s dictatorial labor style in hundreds of handwritten letters from ordinary citizens around the country. (Archives and Library Department, Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, Dearborn MI, Acc. 292 Box 43.) My cursory inspection suggests that the vast majority of the letters, although not all, strongly favor Ford’s position.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Recently several sociologists of technology have developed the concept of “negotiation spaces” to address much the same point. Thus: “... we have shown how the proponents of the project mobilized the actors in a global network and sought to create a relatively autonomous negotiation space where a local sociotechnical network might be designed and brought into being without constant interference from outside.” John Law and Michael Callon, ‘Engineering and Sociology in a Military Aircraft Project: A Network Analysis of Technological Change’, Social Problems 35(3) (June, 1988), p. 290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Steven Toulmin argues that it is precisely this systematic rejection of the cognitive validity of the local, the oral, the specific, and the timely in favor of the universal, the written, and the timeless, that characterizes what came to be the central orthodoxy of “modernity”. For his argument that aversion to the specific and local stems from Europe’s loss of nerve (and sense of humour) in the face of the Thirty Year’s War with its carnage of competing religious orthodoxies, see Cosmopolis, Ch. 1 and 2. The passage about the local, oral, specific, etc. begins on p. 32. David Harvey’s interpretation of changing capitalist social definitions of space and time and their influence on contemporary society is the most helpful and sophisticated that I have read. See his The Condition of Postmodernity (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1989), especially Part III.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Shoshanah Zuboff records repeated instances where managers react “irrationally” to the democratizing influences of open-access computer data bases despite the evidence that such open access, a process for which she coined the name “informating”, increased efficiency and profitability, managers experienced disorientation and fear when their control over subordinates was threatened. See, In the Age of the Smart Machine, passim Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Peter Sandman has developed a persuasive model explaining the increasing social cost that comes due when non-elites are excluded from such prioritizing debates. See his ‘Hazard versus Outrage in the Public Perception of Risk’, in Vincent T. Covello, David B. McCallum, and Maria T. Pavlova (eds.), Effective Risk Communication (New York: Plenum, 1989), pp. 45–49, on the importance of inclusion of non-elites within such prioritizing debates. See also Parker Palmer, The Company of Strangers: Christians and the Renewal of America’s Public Life (New York: Crossroads, 1985), for a complementary societal analysis.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Detroit MercyUSA

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