Breathing life into the wooden model: a participant observation study of technical change
Elder, Anne E.
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This thesis reports the results of fifteen m onths ofparticipant observation study of a major technological research and development project. The project, in the area of advanced factory automation, was part of the British government's Alvey Programme.The findings bear upon two main bodies of theorectical literature. The first is Marxist literature on technology, the state and the labour process. Participant observation study of this project reveals technological change to be a much more chaotic process than this literature assumes. The process, for example, is not guided by clear capitalist interests. The other body ofliterature is the 'actor-network' approach of Callon, Latour andLaw. In common with them, it is found that technological change is not merely a technical process - it is 'heterogeneous engineering' of both 'technical' and the 'social' simultaneously.However, the actor network theorists overstate the possibilities for this 'heterogeneous engineering'. It is neither as thoroughgoing or as successful as these writers might be read as asserting.A further conclusion is that the significance of gender for participant observation studies of science and technology has been underestim ated. In particular, the gender of the researcher appears to have an important bearing on the research process.