Introduction to the Study

Introduction to the Study

Timothy Schoechle (University of Colorado, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-334-0.ch001

Abstract

This book is a study of the process of standardization—the process of establishing the technical standards that define nearly every artifact of the modern world. In the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)1 such standards are documents that specify everything from the prongs on plugs and cables to the software protocols that make the Internet work. Technical standards and standardization play a vital role in trade and commerce, and increasingly in economic and cultural globalization. The aim of this study was to setup a research project to explore the discourse around standardization and to analyze it to provide a better understanding of the underlying issues.
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The Congress shall have the Power…To coin Money, regulate the Value, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.

—U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8

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The Problem

The central focus of this study is on the practice of technical standardization as a form of public discourse and idea production within a technical culture. In particular, the study focuses on the discourse surrounding a recent trend toward the privatization or “enclosure” of standardization activities under various corporations, trade associations, and consortia, and away from the more traditional, and possibly, as often claimed, more “open,” more democratic, and more inclusive voluntary consensus3 committees. The distinction between the traditional formal system4 and the newer consortia is one of legitimacy based on accreditation, on adherence to certain principles and rules of process, and on custom. The public or open nature of the traditional bodies was already somewhat problematic in various respects, given their institutional history, their economic importance, and the variety of interests they have served. Now, it can be argued that parts of the system are being further enclosed. The central issue that emerges in this study from the standards discourse is that of legitimacy—the real or perceived legitimacy of the standards and of the process by which they are derived.

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