Technology and Society: Building Our Sociotechnical Future (review)
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Technology and Society: Building Our Sociotechnical Future. Edited by Deborah G. Johnson and Jameson M. Wetmore. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008. Pp. xv+623. $80/$42.

Technology and Society makes use of STS perspectives to argue that we as citizens, engineers, or policymakers can and should steer technological change in the direction of the values and the social order that we wish for. The book is centered on the entwinement of technology and values, it is targeted at a Western undergraduate audience, and its thirty-four chapters are organized in five parts.

Part 1, " Visions of a Technological Future," features fictional and technopolitical anticipatory texts. There the juxtaposition of pieces by, among others, E. M. Forster about a dishumanizing techno-bureaucracy, Francis Fukuyama about the planetary consequences of prolonged Western lifetimes, and Bill Joy urging the scientific community to ponder stopping nanoscientific research set the tone of the book very efficiently.

In a second part, "The Relation between Technology and Society," the [End Page 778] tensions between technological determinism and social constructivism are addressed with classical STS approaches in an accessible but nuanced way which acknowledges both technology's impact on social structures and actors' influence on technological change. The third part, "Technology and Values," asks which values are built into technological systems. This section features case studies addressing examples of how sociotechnical systems can reinforce or challenge existing social orders and systems of value; how they tend to reproduce race and gender inequalities; or how they may be designed in intentionally exclusionary ways.

The fourth part, "The Complex Nature of Sociotechnical Systems," presents heterogeneous case studies of the practices of sociotechnical work and emphasizes the messiness and the specific situatedness of all sociotechnical projects and negotiations. This part also makes visible our own position as STS scholars, and Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch remind us that some judgments in the interpretation of scientific controversies are not ours to make.

The last part, "Twenty-First Century Challenges," reconnects to the first part of the book by focusing on issues that concern both a near and a distant future: equity, globalization, nanotechnology, surveillance, participatory science, and human enhancement are among the themes addressed here. Although this part emphasizes that we as citizens have a choice and an urgent duty to intervene in national and global sociotechnical choices, Torin Monahan's piece on surveillance is the only one to produce a clear critical agenda.

Technology and Society is worth reading for its attempt to re-center STS discussions toward the crucial question of the future. The texts enable the reader to engage with critical and sometimes dystopian analyses without falling into naive technological determinism or anti-technological despair. Fruitful dialogues emerge among the chapters as they address one area of sociotechnical change from several different analytical and empirical viewpoints. The book does leave a few surprising blind spots, however, first in terms of areas of sociotechnical practice and change. Most existing medical technologies and ICTs are absent from this book, as well as an address to the pervasiveness of old technologies in the technological present and future (see David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old [2007]). Second, the book produces a mostly Western male canon of authors, in spite of the editors' visible intention to feature an alternative selection of STS literature. Third, the book does not deal with theoretical approaches on values, hence power and ethics.

Of course, what is won instead is textual space to deal more in depth with the complexity of the selected areas of sociotechnical change. Technology and Society is a more accessible book than The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies edited by Edward Hackett et al. (2007) and is more original [End Page 779] in its blend of scholarly and non-scholarly genres. It might also seem less critical in its selection of approaches and technological fields. For more theory on the same theme readers might want to turn to Craig Hanks, ed., Technology and Values: Essential Readings (2010). Still, Technology and Society is a highly readable book, mostly useful at the undergraduate level for its applied focus on future and values. The different textual genres serve well the ambition...


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