Method Matters in the Social Study of Technology: Investigating the Biographies of Artifacts and Practices

  • Sampsa Hyysalo Aalto University
  • Neil Pollock
  • Robin Alun Williams

Abstract

Science and Technology Studies understandings of technological change are at odds with its own dominant research designs and methodological guidelines. A key insight from the social shaping of technology research, for instance, has been that new technologies are formed in multiple interlinked settings, by many different groups of actors over long periods of time. Nonetheless, common research designs have not kept pace with these conceptual advances, continuing instead to resort to either intensive localised ethnographic engagements or extensive historical studies, both of which can generate only partial and limited accounts of the processes they suggest are at playThere has, however, been increasing interest in extending current methodological and analytical approaches through longitudinal and multi-site research templates, which include the emerging ‘biographies of artifacts and practices’ (BOAP) framework. Since its onset in the 1990s, there are now numerous exemplifications of the BOAP approach. This paper outlines its basic rationale and principles, and its significant variations, and discusses its contribution to STS understandings of innovation, especially user-led innovation. We finish by arguing that if STS is to continue to provide insight around innovation this will require a reconceptualisation of research design, to move from simple ‘snap shot’ studies to the linking together of ‘a string of investigations’.

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