Theory and Practice in the Study of Technological Systems

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Virginia Tech

This dissertation is intended to further technology studies by analyzing some of its important methodological tools and using those tools in combination to study complex technological systems in an historical context. The first chapter of the dissertation examines in detail four influential models by which complex technological systems have been analyzed: Hughes's system model, Bijker's social construction model, Latour, Callon, and Law's actor-network model, and Ruth Schwartz Cowan's consumption junction model. For each model, I summarize the seminal works, analyze the uses of the model in the literature, and offer some refinements to the models based on that analysis. Chapter 2 presents three case studies applying these models two different technological systems. First, the early development of the American automobile industry, 1895 to 1940, is studied using Hughes's concepts of technological momentum and reverse salients. Second, the automobile's impact on American society is explored over the same time period relying on Ruth Schwartz Cowan's consumer-oriented perspective and Wiebe Bijker's concept of technological frames. The third case study examines the technological means by which, over a long period of time, American cities were rendered impervious to huge conflagrations—commonplace until the end of the 19th century. For the analysis of this system, I use actor-network theory, Wiebe Bijker's technological frames, and Hughes's reverse salients.

Consumption Junction, City, Automobile, Reverse Salient, Technological System, Technology Studies, Power, Momentum, Fire