Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E.: "The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts"

Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E. (2003). The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts. In R. Scharff & V. Dusek (Eds.), Philosophy of technology (pp. 221-232). Malden,  MA: Blackwell Publishing. Orig. pub,. 1987.

Echoes Brunge: notes that in "science studies" separation of science from technology (221). Claim the two must be brought together for study. Not the same thing, but study of sci and study of tech could benefit from each other. Argue for social constructivist view used in soc of sci provides useful starting point.

Defines three main sections: outlining of arg/ lit review; two specific approaches-- empirical program of relativism and social constructivist approach; 3rd part brings approaches together and provides empirical examples. Concludes by summary and suggestions for further directions.

Overview/Lit Review

Sociology of Science:

recent emergence of sociology of scientific knowledge. Argues this takes us to content of sci ideas, theories, and experiments as subjects of analysis, in contrast to earlier work in soc of sci, which analyzed sci as institution. Perhaps the major dev in field is extension of soc of knowledge into "hard sciences" (222). "Strong programme"= in investigating the causes of beliefs, sociologists should be impartial to truth or falsity of beliefs; all beliefs should be explained symmetrically.

"Within such a program all knowledge and knowledge claims are to be treated as being socially constructed; that is, explanations for the genesis, acceptance, and rejection of knowledge claims are sought in the domain of the social world rather than the natural world" (222).

Agreement that scientific knowledge can be and has been socially constructed.

Science-Technology Relationship

attempt to separate tech from science on analytical grounds (doesn't like-- "philosophers....posit overidealized distinctions, such as that science is about the discovery of truth whereas technology is about the application of truth" (222).

investigate empirically the degree to which tech innovation incorporates, or originates from, basic science (innovation researchers) || pure science is indebted to tech developments. Criticizes difficulty in specifying interdependce. "Many researchers today seem willing to agree that technological innovation takes place in a wide range of circumstances and historical epochs and that the import that can be attached to basic science probably varies considerably" (223). View that "science discovers and technology applies" no longer suffices (223). These researches assume that sci and tech are well-defined monoliths, not that they are sociall constructed.

"makes little sense to treat the science-technology relationship in a general unidirectional way" (223).

Technology Studies

innovation studies: often carried out by economists looking for the conditions of success in innovation (223). Includes everything that might influence innovation but the technology itself. Therefore uses linear models to describe process of innovation. even fine studies of development of technology presents problems: descriptive historiography and asymmetric focus of analysis (focus on success, not failure). Assumption only worthy to study success of the artifact. Uses example of development of Bakelite to explain.

However, growing number of themes upon which research focused: systems approach, considerations of effect of labor relation, studies of not-so-successful inventions (224-225).

"Sociology of Technology"--limited attempts. Flaws, though, that it may not consider the social constructs or treatment of successful and failed artifacts equally. (Johnston, Dosi) (225).

Mulkay (1979) notes the relationship between the success/ failure studies and "science discovers, technology applies" adage. M (following Bunge) argues "it is possible for false or partly false theory to be used as the basis for successful practical application"-- success of technology not related to the 'truth' of sci knowledge upon which based. Pinch and Bijker find fault in that truth or falsity irrelevant. Must understand technology as social construct. (225).


Empirical Progeramme of Relativism (EPOR)

main characteristics: focus on empirical study of contemporary scientifc development and the study, in particular, of scientific controversies (226).

three stages in explanotory aims of EPOR:

  • first stage: interprative flexibility of scientific findings displayed (shows findings subject to more than one interpretation). shifts from natural word to social world.
  • second stage: scientif consensus as to the "truth" emerges; social mechanisms that limit interpretive flexibility and thus allow controversies to be terminatied
  • third stage (not yet carried through): relate such "closure mechanisms" to wider social-cultural milieu.

Social Construction of Technology (SCOT)

"imbalance" between EPOR and SCOT. EPOR part of flourishing tradition, well established. Soc of tech is "embryonic" with no well-established tradition. In SCOT developmental process of a tech artifact described as alternation of variation and selection. Results in 'multildirectional' model, opposed to linear. Success is not the only object of research.

The wider context

third stage of research--technological artifacts come out of social constructions. SCOT model may offer "an operationalization of the relationship between the wider milieu and the actual content of technology" (227),


focus of article is to outline "integrated social constructivist approach to the empirical study of science and technology" (227). Soc study of science and soc study of technology may be helpful to each other. Question of distinguishing science from technology? Start first with "commonsense notions of science and technology  them in an integrated way" (227).