Managing Technology: Social Science Perspectives

Liora Salter

David Wolfe

Majid Tehranian's Technologies of Power makes a critical distinction between: (a) technological analysis that serves the decision-making demands of the technocratic elite, and (b) technological analysis that assists in developing political decentralization, participatory democracy, and self-reliant development. Managing Technology and Technologies of Power are two books which, when examined together, illustrate the importance of that distinction. The difference between the two books lies in the authors' perspectives on who should manage technology and who should benefit from technological analysis.

Managing Technology takes the position that the Canadian technocratic sphere of social scientists and policy makers, together with the scientific community and the business community, must take a greater interest in conducting interdisciplinary research "to better understand the management of technology in order to better manage technology" (p. 10). Technologies of Power, on the other hand, delves deeply into the relationships between structures of power and the interests that are served by various social, economic, and political uses of technology. Technologies of Power calls for the de-professionalization of socio-technical decision making in favour of promoting participatory and democratic processes for technology management in order to challenge forces of technocratic domination. In contrast, Managing Technology calls for greater resources to be placed in the hands of social scientists in order that they can generate more effective public policy and thus help to manage technology paternalistically on behalf of society. As a result, Managing Technology fits easily into current institutional and political discourses while Technologies of Power challenges the central assumptions of those discourses.

Managing Technology's format is intimately tied to the prescriptions of the institutions which sanctioned its development. The Social Science Federation of Canada received funding through SSHRC to examine the so-called "field of the management of technology." Producing Managing Technology was seen as a way of promoting social science research in general while also examining "the relationship between the shape of the field and the nature of the support for research in this area" (p. 10). Not surprisingly, the collection of essays, which includes eight "state-of-the-art" papers and two introductory chapters, conveys the distinct flavour of a sales-tool directed at the major funding bodies which currently support or might support the type of research conducted by the book's authors.

Managing Technology's sales-tool flavour is enhanced by the conclusions of several of the articles in the collection, conclusions which frequently make specific research funding requests and recommendations for co-ordinating such funding according to notions of "national and strategic" (p. 16) policy directions. Despite the best intentions of the authors, one cannot help but notice that the most important target audience for the book consists of decision-makers within research funding bodies who might be persuaded to assist in the development and professionalization of the "field" of the management of technology. The editors of the book would have been wise to recognize the tensions that exist between institutional self-interest and valid research conclusions, tensions which, as Koebberling's chapter in the book warns, might adversely influence research.

Despite the pervasive sales-tool flavour, Managing Technology offers a relatively good, although incomplete, introduction to what is certainly a diverse and problematic area of research. The opening chapter of Managing Technology provides some background on the editors' efforts to delineate the "field" and this is followed by Liora Salter's chapter which provides an overview of her conception of the four paradigms within the management of technology (theoretical, business, labour process, social science) and which makes a pitch for conceiving of this research area as a distinct field in order to help to orient institutional and funding resources. These chapters are followed by Camille Limoges's paper which consists of a concise overview of research in Quebec. David Wolfe continues with two very good contributions, the first of which is a discussion of the current state of research on the management of innovation. He critically stresses the importance of the relationships between management organizational structures and work structures in technology development and adoption. Wolfe's second paper focuses largely on the corpus of Canadian research dealing with technology, innovation, and worker participation within the organization of the labour process. On the matter of making political choices in relation to such research, however, he delicately declines to show his hand. William Leiss & Richard Smith follow with a paper which ostensibly argues the value of sustained research on national R & D policy. Meric Gertler's paper analyzes the importance of geography's contribution to understanding the relationship between technology and spatial organization both in the workplace and within and between communities. Liora Salter & Richard Hawkins then discuss the poor state of research on the impact of standards on technological development. The final chapter, by William Leiss, is a concise and valuable outline of the growing research area of risk assessment.

One of the more topical papers is Uschi Koebberling's contribution which outlines the growth of the fields of technology assessment and the related areas of environmental assessment and social impact assessment. Hers is the only paper in the book which concretely addresses questions of public participation in the management of technology and makes note of the existence of participatory approaches and community development techniques. Given the current wave of public interest in more democratic and representative forms of technology management, particularly in the realms of the environment and aboriginal entitlement, it seems odd that the book should neglect generally the rise of public, non-institutional forces. The editors do not address the ascendancy of participatory research approaches, and other related approaches which grant public participants the status and privilege of the researcher and which encourage collaboration between grass-roots interest groups and institutional researchers.

In contrast to that book, Tehranian's Technologies of Power is concerned primarily with the democratization of the interface between technology and society. He speaks of community ownership and management, de-professionalization, citizen empowerment, decentralization, and technologies of democratic possibility. Utilizing a hybrid theoretical perspective that he labels "technostructuralist," and focusing on communication technologies in particular, he systematically outlines a case for the global and local utilization of new communication technologies in order to free up the democratic potentials of interactivity, universality, and networking capability inherent in these technologies. At the same time, he makes use of what he terms a "dual-effects hypothesis" to illustrate the parallel negative potentials of both new and old communication technologies (one-way communication, privileged access, and closed communication circuits due to institutional and technological entry barriers). He concludes that releasing a technology's democratic potential involves ongoing struggle and the adoption of strategies of empowerment.

Tehranian's case is strengthened and made more engaging by the inclusion of a variety of contemporary case studies such as the deregulation of AT&T, Indonesia's adoption of satellites, and rural radio programs in Peru. In illustrating democratic empowerment strategies he critically and thoroughly examines the history and context of both the Green movement in West Germany and the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka.

Technologies of Power is, most importantly, a good and stimulating read. It would make an excellent discussion text for advanced communication courses because its theoretical positions are well integrated with rich empirical case studies. Tehranian's pervasive use of tables and diagrams adds to the overall accessibility of the text. Above all, it is a book which challenges students of technology and society, as well as students of communication, to engage in actions which may lead to the realization of democratic potentials within technologies. Managing Technology, in contrast, generally offers technocratic analyses of technocratic problems for technocratic colleagues.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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