Entangled ontologies: a sociophilosophical analysis of technological artefacts, subjects, and bodies
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Social studies of technology and particularly the sociology of technology have long explored the reticulations between technology and social life. More specifically, the sociology of technology has contributed numerous studies addressing the relationship between technological artefacts and the social order. Following this tradition, feminist studies of technology have developed robust analyses of technology and subjectivity, with particular attention given to questions of gender identity. Additionally, recent work in technology studies has engaged with the problem of embodiment, both in terms of technological practice and with regard to the body as a consequential phenomenon in sociological enquiry. This thesis aims to further develop the sociological study of technological artefacts, subjects, and bodies through sociophilosophical analysis. By bringing to bear sociological methodology and theory upon fundamental questions in the philosophy of technology, this research elucidates and resolves problems relevant to both the philosophy and sociology of technology. Specifically, this thesis interrogates the manners and modalities in which technological artefacts, subjects, and bodies are rendered intelligible in social life. In doing so, it develops a symmetrical sociological analysis of these three phenomena and posits a robust solution to the question concerning ontology within the philosophy of technology. Here, I posit a conceptualization of technological artefacts, subjects, and bodies as artificial kinds entities underdetermined by materiality and ontologically dependent upon self referential social practice. I argue that in using Kusch’s concept of artificial kinds, we gain a useful perspective with which to discern the relationships between the ontological constitution of artefacts, the development of subject positions, and the social ‘situatedness’ of bodies and embodied practice. I also develop the concept of entangled ontologies, an analytic lens that highlights the dependence and interrelation that characterize the ontological constitution of artefacts, subjects, and bodies in social life. My analysis re-frames critical questions of technological ontology and illustrates the importance of fundamental philosophical problems to the sociological study of technology. In doing so, I am extending and amending the Performative Theory of Social Institutions - the social theory of the Strong Programme in the sociology of scientific knowledge. My theoretical project is supported by robust empirical work, which focuses on technological experience and motorcycling in Latin America. I carried out 36 in-depth qualitative interviews with a varied sample of motorcyclists in Costa Rica, and supplemented these with ethnographic observation. This empirical work contributed substantially to the development of my theoretical argument, and constitutes a considerable portion of the argument contained within this thesis. The three primary chapters - concerned with artefacts, subjects, and bodies, respectively - make substantial use of my empirical work throughout their analytic arguments, and each chapter contains an empirical component consisting of consolidated case material. The first - on artefacts - addresses heteronormativity in the constitution of artefact ontologies. The second - on subjects - discusses the role of age and ageing in the articulation of motorcycling subject positions. Last, the empirical material on bodies addresses the role of machinic and corporeal practices in the classification and ontological constitution of bodies. All three of these components represent original contributions to technology studies. Notably, sexuality and ageing arguably remain invisible phenomena to sociologists of technology. The empirical and analytic work contained within this thesis contributes substantially to a variety of fields. As I discuss in detail in my concluding chapter, my use of symmetrical sociophilosophical analysis presents feminist technology studies with new avenues for research, as well as new analytic tools with which to address questions of paramount importance. My use of Kusch’s artificial kinds allows for a reconsideration of constructivism in technology studies, and provides a resolution to the Woolgar, Grint, & Kling debate of the early 1990s. Finally, this research presents the philosophy of technology with a new approach to the question of technological ontology, and contributes meaningfully to contemporary efforts to develop a synergetic sociological-philosophical analysis of technology.