Monitoring Social Life and Interactions: A Sociological Perspective of Technologies

Monitoring Social Life and Interactions: A Sociological Perspective of Technologies

Francesca Odella (University of Trento, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3682-8.ch011
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The chapter describes the sociological perspective of monitoring technologies and debates its method for analysing social implications of scientific and technical developments. It is articulated in five sections dedicated to social and privacy aspects involved in social analysis of technologies. Particular attention is devoted to social network analysis, an emergent area of sociological research that focuses on the relational implications of technologies in organizations, small groups, and other contexts of social participation. The text integrates examples of technology implementation from healthcare automated assistance to mobile communication devices, video-surveillance, RFID, and smart-meter technology. Case studies, illustrated in separate textboxes, describe the advancements in this field of enquiry and highlight the main elements of the structure of interactions in virtual and technology-mediated communications. Finally, ethical implications of behaviour monitoring technologies are discussed together with recent perspectives of sociological research.
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The Sociological Perspective Of Technology

Technology is usually defined as artifacts, processes and machines and the knowledge—based on technical or engineering knowledge—used to design and operate them. Technology from the sociological perspective is always a relational object because its creation, use and diffusion is based on social processes of relating things, signs and meaning, humans and institutions. The first social studies (Bijker, Hugues and Pinch, 1987) concentrated on scientific knowledge and historical cases of technical innovation (electricity, nuclear power, pasteurization). Recently the area of research moved to the study of complex interactions between societal interests and design of various technologies from cars, bicycles and missiles to medical devices and plastic materials (Bijker and Law, 1992).

A technology scholar, Werner Rammert (2008), identifies among the rules that should guide social studies of technologies, the necessity to deconstruct technical developments into local projects, where different visions of technical practice (ex. the employ of personal computers, television sets, specific devices) are mixed with heterogeneous elements. According to this perspective the meaning of a piece of technology is socially constructed and negotiated inside specific groups or communities of users: social interpretation of technology may thus involve several years to complete, as well as modify the original intents of inventors and technology professionals (Latour, 1992). Furthermore, the fact that technologies are embedded in places and social contexts make them sensitive to interest groups and collective actors, influencing the development of complex socio-technical structure (see for example the cases of electric automobiles, missiles and satellite communications).

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