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Although there are moments when this sort of thing convinces, often the author gets carried away, reaching for poetic aptness of the kind that leaves Christopher Boone in confusion. Not so The Sea of Tranquillity , one of the most beautiful of the several picture books that Haddon has written, and, at 32 pages, as brief as it is tender and impressionistic.
In a Mark Haddon story, there is usually a looking back and a looking up. Very odd. We publish a Literature Newsletter when we have news and features on UK and international literature, plus opportunities for the industry to share.
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For detailed information, please refer to the privacy section of our website or contact your local British Council office. We will keep your information for a period of 7 years from the time of collection. Mark Haddon. Born: Northampton. New technologies become domesticated, a process of transformation that goes from seeing an artifact as radical, exciting, unfamiliar or possibly even dangerous, to seeing it as routine, mundane and an ordinary part of life.
The theory posits that the process of domestication involves four sequential parts or phases: appropriation, objectification, incorporation and conversion Silverstone and Hirsch, Appropriation occurs when an artifact, product, or process is sold to an individual or household that becomes its owner. Objectification is the process of that owner beginning to use the technology, placing it in a particular place or on display.
Incorporation is the technology becoming more integrated into everyday life, routines and practices. Conversion happens when that technology starts to shape relationships with users and people outside of the household, i. Domestication Theory can reveal the complicated cultural dynamics in which users come to own, use, modify and appropriate technology.
Lastly, the theory can examine the catalysts and aspirations leading people to adopt or use a technology in a particular way, but also constraints and pressures that inhibit adoption Haddon, Weaknesses of the approach include a tendency toward reductionism. This takes the limited view that adoption can be reduced to the two dimensions of technical design and user adoption, and it ignores broader, more structural elements of politics or infrastructure.
Furthermore, if the strength of Domestication Theory rests on giving context to the decisions made by users and adopters, then a drawback is that one can always add more context Haddon, creating an ever-moving target. In other words, systems are comprised of related parts and components that become ordered, integrated and coordinated. These components are connected by a network, or some type of structure, that allows each node to be centrally controlled. When these different constellations of components align, systems successfully diffuse. LTS theory suggests that to achieve such operations and control, diffusion is a simultaneously social and technical process in at least two senses Hughes, First, systems require social institutions and technical artifacts to function.
For example, the electric utility system contains social institutions such as regulatory bodies and financing firms. At the same time, it encompasses technical artifacts such as electric generators, transmission substations, and cooling towers. Second, systems possess both physical and immaterial components.
The electric utility system refers not just to material artifacts such as steam turbines and distribution wires but also to immaterial or epistemic elements, such as the knowledge needed to repair a broken generator or to construct a new transmission line. Hughes uses this epistemic element of the electric utility system to explain why such systems vary among geographic regions: the different sociotechnical environments in Britain, Germany, and the U.
The LTS approach helps to reveal that technological artifacts must be understood in their societal context and that the different values expressed by inventors, managers and users shape technological change Giere, This makes it a theory with broad applicability. Richard Hirsh interview with lead author, explains:. Some academics have argued that the approach remains too all-encompassing to be truly beneficial. But I think its great benefit is simply to emphasize that the motivators of technological change extend beyond the technical realm and have origins in the social world.
Too often, technoscience practitioners and scholars do not understand this basic truth. Furthermore, LTS emphasizes momentum or path dependency. In concert, these elements promote business as usual and the outward show of a large degree of momentum. Hughes argues that each module of the system must be designed to interact harmoniously with the characteristics of the others. The theory lastly proposes that LTSs emerge and diffuse though a set of sequential phases: invention, development, innovation, technology transfer, system growth, momentum and style.
Despite its potential to uncover the sociotechnical aspects of diffusion, the LTS approach has not remained immune from criticism. Winner notes that the LTS and related approaches tend to disregard the dynamics evident in technological change beyond those revealed by immediate interests, problems, and solutions of specific groups, especially system builders.
Attributes such as interests and values are assumed to be straightforwardly available to the analyst, who can ignore interpretive work that goes into rendering the motives of social interests. Rutherford and Coutard write that LTS thinking — by its nature — emphasizes large, centralized, often supply-side infrastructure but can neglect aspects such as agency or change, as it sees agents as constrained within national and international structures. Drawn from the sociology of scientific knowledge, SCOT emphasizes that new technologies emerge only in a constitutive nature with individual users and other social factors.
Ordering theories: Typologies and conceptual frameworks for sociotechnical change
Within this framework, four important conceptual elements have been developed: relevant social group, interpretive flexibility, closure and stabilization, and technological frame. A relevant social group includes the actors and organizations that share a relationship with and set of meanings attached to a particular technology Pinch and Bijker, Social groups play a critical role in shaping and defining the problems that arise during the development of an artifact; social groups thus give meaning to technology and define the problems facing that technology Bijker, Connected to the concept of a relevant social group is interpretive flexibility, which suggests that differing interpretations of technological artifacts are available.
Closure and stabilization occur when a consensus emerges that problems arising in the development of technology have been alleviated. These problems need not to have been solved in the common sense of the word; rather, the relevant social groups have perceived those problems as solved Misa, The idea of a technological frame, similar to the concept of paradigm, refers to the system of meanings e. Among the many advantages of SCOT are the ideas that technologies possess heterogeneity or fluidity and that they extend to the cognitive or social domain.
SCOT focuses on how relevant social groups share the same sets of meanings attached to particular technological artifacts. SCOT also centers more on the array of values, methods, goals, tacit knowledge, user practices and testing procedures used by a group of practitioners when developing a particular technology.
A second major plus is that SCOT has general applicability to many different types of technology. As Bijker interview with lead author, puts it:. To me, SCOT remains highly relevant and perhaps the best tool analysts have to understand the diffusion or acceptance of a new technology. The combination of relevant social groups, interpretive flexibility, stabilization, closure and frame are concepts that I believe have great explanatory power and general applicability.
These concepts are technologically agnostic in the sense that they can apply to any artifact or system you can mention, from the pyramids of Egypt to nanotechnology to water filters in South Africa to hand looms in India. This aspect of stabilization contributes to path dependence because users feel forced to accept, rather than to abandon, a system Hommels, A final contribution of SCOT is that it understands diffusion or technical change as a socio-cognitive process with evolutionary characteristics.
The initial variety of meanings attached to an artifact is reduced through inter-group selection processes and build-up of a shared cognitive frame, usually through a process of variation and selection Grin et al. That does not mean that SCOT is free from reproach. Grin et al. First, its focus on agency, practice, social groups, and frames tends towards voluntarism and often-heroic storylines that may obscure other aspects of power or structural embeddedness. Second, SCOT downplays the issues of the impact of a technology on society because of its efforts to open up the black box of upstream development.
The heightened focus on design and immediate use is associated with less attention to issues such as extended adoption or impact over time. Third, while SCOT helps highlight flexibility and even the contingency of local practices, it does not as adequately explain larger patterns or commonalities that occur at more aggregated or system-wide levels.
Bijker and Pinch admit that the question of where human agency ends and where nonhuman agency or technological agency begins is difficult to address. Sociotechnical Imaginaries differ from Discourse Theory because the latter usually focuses on language whereas the former emphasizes action and performance with materialization through technology.
Imaginaries are less explicit and accountable than policy agendas, and unlike narratives, they more directly serve explanatory or justificatory purposes. Imaginaries instead are instrumental and futuristic; they project visions of what is good and worth attaining. In terms of materiality, the theory emphasizes that technologies themselves can act as physical forces that constrain action or enhance an experience. In terms of meaning, technologies can provoke radically different reactions from different stakeholder groups, and in terms of morality, technologies can often have negative impacts on society.
Viewing sociotechnical change in this manner has advantages. It focuses on cultural meanings and the common narratives that vibrant societies often have about who they are, where they have come from, and where they are headed, usually through the interplay of positive and negative imaginations — utopia and dystopia. Another strength is that by exploring how sociotechnical projects travel from imagination and conception to realization, the analysis of imaginaries helps to uncover the process of extension, where particular narratives or ideas gain traction, acquire strength, and cross scales Jasanoff, b.
These advantages come with some admitted disadvantages. As with discourse analysis, the study of imaginaries can become limited to descriptive cultural analysis rather than including the full interplay of actors, social structures, and institutions in the explanation of sociotechnical change. Furthermore, research on imaginaries can look forward or backward; some can erase or reinvent the past, others can look entirely to the future, sometimes the distant future.
This dialectic between past and future is difficult to capture. Another problem is one of scale: where does an imaginary end, and where does it in fact begin to differ spatially or by different stakeholder groups? Although research on imaginaries can help to tease apart the relationship between collective formations and individual identity, the line between the two is not always bright. ANT proposes that the social alliances in which technology are constructed are bound together by the very artifacts they create, which in turn have agency in heterogeneous, sociomaterial networks Latour, ANT examines the facts, machines, people and bureaucracies that must be aligned, molded and disciplined to create technological development and acceptance.
Latour writes that ANT investigates the nature of actions related to technology, the nature of objects and hardware, and the nature of facts and knowledge. Although less structured and less systematically laid out than some of the other theories mentioned in this study, one can infer at least two key themes within the ANT literature relevant to technological diffusion and change: network assemblage and translation. By focusing on the relational aspects among engineers, inventors, analysts, politicians, artifacts, manufacturing techniques, marketing strategies, historical context, economics and social and cultural factors, an assemblage highlights that technology emerges and diffuses through an interstitial milieu of material objects and immaterial epistemologies.
Neither inevitable nor static, technological change is the product of complex relations of alliance and conflict among divergent actors and their interests. As network assemblages gain credibility or solidify, they move through what Callon terms the process of translation: problematization, framing an assemblage as a vital way of addressing some pressing problem or fulfilling a social need; interesessment, the strengthening of the network between actors and other support structures; and finally the enrollment and mobilization of allies that anchors them to the network.
One of the recognized strengths of ANT is that it emphasizes the importance of human-nonhuman symmetry — i. By doing so, the author intended to create a radical reconceptualization of how social scientists conceive the social and the technical. More abstract than systems theory, ANT assumes that sociotechnical networks subsume science, technology, and other categories. ANT is also skeptical about the existence of any stable social structure, and instead it sees a constantly open-ended interaction among a multitude of actors MacKenzie, Additionally, similar to the concept of stabilization in SCOT, ANT recognizes how sociotechnical networks become more obdurate and less reversible over time Hommels, Perhaps the most significant criticism of ANT is that it is too abstract, and it is difficult to tell where a network ends and others begin.
Latour acknowledges that ANT has been accused of two sins: extending politics everywhere, including the inner sanctum of science and technology, and being so indifferent to inequalities and power struggles that it offers no critical leverage. Longstanding concepts in the social sciences — such as social structural categories of class, race, and gender — disappear.
By depicting society as a network of networks, analysis of structural inequality and technology becomes practically invisible Hess et al. By looking closely at the organizational outcomes from technical systems, ANT is less useful for understanding how or why similar technologies can be interpreted or used in different ways Bijker and Law, Contemporary Social Justice Theory intertwines aspects of earlier religious and naturalist conceptions of justice. It possesses at least four logics: distributive justice, procedural justice, cosmopolitan justice and justice as recognition Sovacool, Among what entities are they to be distributed e.
And what is the proper mode of distribution — is it based on need, merit, utility, entitlement, property rights, or something else? By what process do they make such decisions? How impartial or fair are the institutions, instruments, and objectives involved? Procedural theories of justice are all oriented toward process — with the fairness and transparency of decisions, the adequacy of legal protections, and the legitimacy and inclusivity of institutions involved in decision-making.
Cosmopolitan theories of justice acknowledge that all ethnic groups belong to a single community based on a collective morality.
Table 2 provides a summary of these different applications. The benefit of a justice-centered approach to sociotechnical change is relatively direct and simple: It asks us to think about technology and systems as more than simply hardware, and in moral or judgmental terms. Put another way, we need to reframe or re-politicize what technologies are Sovacool et al. Technologies can be mechanisms of resource extraction that transfer wealth from developing countries to developed ones, or systems of segregation that separate negative harms from the positive attributes across different classes of consumers.
Thus, new technologies can transfer what were once customary public resources into private hands, concentrate political power, facilitate human rights abuses, become intertwined in national discourses of revitalization or national security, and validate distinct approaches to economic and social development. Social justice theories also point to the empirical problem of analyzing structural inequality, a problem that is often absent from other approaches to technological systems.
Not all streams of justice scholarship align with each other. Some forms of justice, such as those based on human rights cosmopolitanism or recognition, argue for a hierarchy of principles. By contrast, distributive justice theories tend to be about the utilitarian analysis of costs and benefits, whereas procedural theories say less about distribution and are almost entirely about process Sandel, Moreover, many of these justice themes are anthropocentric; they put the justice needs of humans above say other nonhuman species. Lastly, absolute or deontological forms of justice theory do not respect cultural relativism, treating all humans and therefore culture as the same, holding humanity to an absolute notion of morality, insensitive to local variation or preference.
The theory posits that expectations are a key part of the process of technological innovation rather than a latent or unintended side effect Borup et al. As Harro Van Lente interview with lead author, puts it:. Expectations analysis is not psychological but sociological: expectations provide a force that cannot easily be ignored. Expectations of technology are a common resource and in this sense structure its development, providing legitimation, coordination and guidance Van Lente, , A variety of concepts currently ground this theory.
One is the notion of a rhetorical vision: advocates of a particular technology will often hold shared fantasies about it. These will have specific dramatic elements such as plot lines, stories and characters. As Gordon Walker interview with lead author, adds:.
The sociology of expectation is both a different and important approach — it gets into understanding the power of ideas and discourses, and how they become embedded in actions. Here technologies are seen to move along a path from a trigger to a peak in expectations, then plummeting into a trough of disillusionment before eventually giving rise to a range of somewhat more modest applications, as Table 3 suggests.
The approach has been credited with multiple benefits. At its core, it offers a semiotic and symbolic understanding of sociotechnical change: diffusion is intimately tied to cognitive elements such as values, attitudes and expectations. John Urry interview with lead author, argues that such a focus is instrumental in understanding large classes of human behavior:. By focusing on the unarticulated reasons for why people do things, theories like the sociology of expectation help us better understand the invisible or the innate, things that must be inferred rather than directly observed. You can interview people left and right, but never hear the real reason why they fail to adopt a particular technology such as an electric vehicle or a mobile phone.
The approach also helps to explain why planners and promoters will become enthralled by the possible future benefits of a new technology and are willing to accept present costs to realize them.
Lastly, the theory helps to explain why many rhetorical visions are strategically contradictory: visions are malleable, allowing actors attempting to build support to avoid discussing technical details that may expose the contested nature of their own agenda. Although there are parallel accounts, such as the closely related literature on promissory discourses in the biosciences and the more distant literature on the performativity of economics, the first limitation to the approach is that it has been applied so far only to a particular type of discourse, future-oriented deliberations, and also a particular type of technology: novel, new, and emerging artifacts Borup et al.
This makes the theory fairly narrow in scope and inapplicable to other types of deliberation and to more established, commercially successful technologies. Also, expectation analyses so far describe the expectations but do not assess ways to avoid or minimize the social costs of exaggerated hype Van Lente et al. Brown and Michael highlight the difficulty of generalizing findings from expectations studies because they are so context dependent and unique. As they note, accounts are performative: They serve to enable some technoscientific worlds and to disable others, which means they must always be situated in their own special temporal context.
Moreover, expectation narratives vary according to the type of technology being discussed, the strategies of actors, and broader public perceptions. Sustainable Development is an umbrella term for multiple normative criteria used in the fields of development studies, economics, law, legal studies and jurisprudence that are used to assess the pros and cons of sociotechnical change.
They attempt to evaluate the broader economic, environmental or social impact of technologies as they change and diffuse. Traditionally defined as balancing two societal goals — satisfying the needs of the present and those of future generations — recent work has argued that sustainable development includes also elements of prudence, intergenerational equity, precaution, responsibility and governance. Environmental prudence refers to the duty of states to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources.
It means that states have sovereign rights over their natural resources, that they have a duty not to deplete them too rapidly, and that they do not cause undue damage to the environment of other states beyond their jurisdiction. Precaution is best exemplified in the precautionary principle, predicated on anticipating harm before it occurs and on preventing or minimizing such harm even when the absence of scientific certainty makes it difficult to predict the likelihood and magnitude of the harm Raffensperger and Tickner, ; Ricci et al.
Good governance, similar to Social Justice Theory, centers on democratic and transparent decision-making processes and financial accounting, as well as on effective measures to reduce corruption and respect for due process. Like Social Justice Theory, the value to the Sustainable Development approach is that these different criteria demand that analysts evaluate the actual contribution that different technical systems make as they diffuse or could diffuse. Do they do more harm and good, and do they have a particular set of winner and losers?
More specifically, the following types of questions can be raised whenever one considers the desirability of a particular technology from a sustainable development perspective:. While the importance of such questions may appear obvious to some, many assessments continue to ignore the entire range of possible impacts a given technology or sociotechnical system can have on society.
The drawback to such an approach is that it is, of course, ideal — many technologies will satisfy few, if any, of the criteria, and perhaps none will satisfy all criteria. VBN researchers attempt to describe and account for the various symbolic and reasoned components of consumer choices about the technologies or environmental practices they adopt. The theory situates itself as a strong critique of rational actor theory, arguing that decisions are often not based solely on reasoned action. As Dietz and Dietz and Stern note, many consequential actions are the result of habits and have complex motives that do not always reflect a reasoned weighing of tradeoffs, and the influence of values on decision-making is often constrained by what is practical or satisficing.
Core values rarely change over short time spans, and when they become a factor in sociotechnical change, the importance of all other variables tends to become de-emphasized. The theory proposes that values affect beliefs, which in turn affect personal norms and action in a sequential fashion Dietz, , as Figure 4 summarizes. Among the benefits of the VBN approach is to highlight the influence of descriptive and injunctive personal norms on catalysts for individual action.
The theory can also account for variability in values and norms. Paul C. Stern interview with lead author, remarks that according to the theory:. Consumer behavior is strongly influenced by financial costs, government policies, information gathering constraints, social influences from friends, advertising, etc. Depending on the behavior and its context, VBN variables can have greater or lesser importance. Also, the theory allows for the analysis of a range of values.
Altruistic values are generally the most strongly predictive concerning the adoption of environmentally significant technology with the populations and behaviors studied. Motives can also be altruistic, as benefits to others can be prioritized over self-interest Anable et al. The theory demonstrates how cognitive processes can serve to influence goal-directed behavior, and it emphasizes the salience that habit and routine can both occasionally have in restricting, provoking, and moderating pro-environmental behavior Henry and Dietz, One potential drawback to the theory is that it is a somewhat simplistic and unidimensional approach to describing and interpreting technological change.
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Jackson argues that simplicity makes VBN theory readily applicable to many different contexts, but as a result its predictive power is limited. Furthermore, the theory has much lower explained variance with behaviors that are difficult or expensive. Dietz et al. Lifestyle Theory offers yet another perspective mentioned by respondents.
One of the primary approaches of lifestyle analysis is uniqueness: The processes of identification and lifestyle construction will be special to each individual, with most expressing an affinity or preference. Giddens suggests that in a modern world subject to change and therefore lacking the clarity of traditions, an individual is likely to create a unique identity based on multiple practices and engagements.
For example, individuals in a state of liminality have been found to be statistically more likely to try out a new technology or to consider the adoption or strengthening of environmentally-oriented values Axsen et al.
A final theme is reflexivity: Individuals create their lifestyles in a reflexive process of managing behaviors while negotiating tensions among conflicting values that can also shift across time or context. Some individuals can sustain a state of relative liminality and are thus open to new lifestyles for much of their lives. Other individuals might be relatively static, habitually enacting their present self-concept through their lifestyles. One strength of Lifestyle Theory is that it emphasizes that individuals usually engage in multiple lifestyle actions that reflect and perform different aspects of self, and these actions can motivate users to adopt a technology beyond their present dominant lifestyle or identity.
Lifestyle Theory can complement other behavioral theories and constructs, e. A secondary benefit is that unlike Social Practice Theory, where the unit of analysis is the practice, Lifestyle Theory reorients the discussion back to the individual. However, as Axsen et al. Criticisms of Lifestyle Theory begin by noting its overly reductionist notion of the self. UTAUT was introduced to explain the adoption of new technologies in the workplace, and it appears primarily within management science and information studies, especially looking at the update of computing systems within offices.
In its initial form, UTAUT hypothesizes that four main elements — performance expectancy, effort expectancy, social influence, and facilitating conditions — determine whether a user would adopt a new technology in the workplace Venkatesh et al. UTAUT proposes that perceived usefulness performance expectancy , perceived ease of use effort expectancy , and social influence norms affect technology use via behavioral intention, whereas facilitating conditions directly precede behavior. In addition, individual difference variables such as age, gender, experience and voluntariness can influence the four key UTAUT elements.
The theory has been augmented with an additional three key elements shown in Figure 5 : hedonic motivation a key predictor from consumer behavior research , price value a key predictor from economics and habit a key predictor from sociology Venkatesh et al. UTAUT theorists also removed voluntariness of use as a moderating factor.
Source: Venkatesh et al.
One key benefit to UTAUT is that it is already integrative, synthesizing eight disciplines and concepts. This is not to say the theory is without shortcomings. For one, UTAUT relies on a relatively narrow conception of the user, such as the office worker and subsequently the purchaser or adopter of technology. This analytical focus ignores other types of users such as legitimators, inventors or intermediaries Schot et al.
Also, UTAUT does not readily specify the relative weight and significance of its various constituent elements, nor does it capture qualitative aspects of acceptance difficult to measure outside of formal organizations, such as interpersonal social networks or informal learning Im et al. Moreover, UTAUT focuses on the adoption of the new, but not the retention of the old — creating somewhat of a deep-seated bias and preference for newness and positive stories of change.
Continuing to draw from both the original interview material and suggested literature, this section of the paper assembles and disassembles these fourteen theories into two typologies, and it examines lacunae. Although there is overlap between the two approaches, we think it is valuable to discuss both. Finally, the third section discusses elements that may be missing in the fourteen theories. According to these theories, agency forms the core unit of analysis, the discussion of motives, and primary scale.
Collins , for instance, distinguishes different approaches to agency depending on spatial scales such as individuals, small groups, crowds, organizations and nation-states, as well as temporal scales from seconds and minutes to weeks and months and even years and centuries.
As Figure 6 indicates, agency-centered theories were the most popular in the full sample in Appendix II. Clearly, agency-oriented strategies of analysis can assume that people are atomistic agents whose action can be explained without deep consideration of structure Jackson, Agency-based approaches tend to analyze technology and society independently of social structure or within a constant structure, and they may understand social structure as an outcome of micro-social processes. This focus can create shortcomings and analytical biases, as Jillian Anable interview with lead author, explains:.
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One significant bias within existing theoretical frameworks is how they privilege both the private consumer rather than the system and adoption rather than usage. There is also a bias towards almost immediate or at least very near term time scales; by definition many theories focus on what people are going to do soon, with a temporality and immediacy to it: a purchase they are about to make, a behavior they need to alter.
This creates a series of shortcomings rooted in private consumption rather than other forms or other types of actors, focused on early users rather than say second hand purchasers, and emphasizing adoption rather than continued use. Anable is implying that a broader notion of agency is needed to better illuminate why people use technology. The second set of theories focus on structure, such as the macro-social, urban, infrastructural, or political environment as their preferred focus. They may also conceptualize structure broadly to include analyses of institutional structure such as positions of firms in an industry and relations between technological systems and the natural environment.
Although the concept of structure appeared in many of the theories, not many theories could be classified as heavily reliant on structural analysis. One exception is the concept of the landscape in the Sociotechnical Transitions approach, which enables structural analysis that is missing in some of the micro-social theoretical frameworks. Likewise, the analysis of LTS draws attention to societal conditioning factors such as markets and government policy.
Mouzelis notes that the micro-turn in social theory has led to an almost complete neglect of asking questions about bigger entities, reification, or the structural or functional attributes of larger systems. Peter Wells interview with lead author, affirms this thinking when he states,.
Many of the things we want to study — technologies, beliefs, values, policies — are embedded in wider social structures and frameworks arising out of other features and pressures. Marilyn Brown interview with lead author, notes that structure-centered theories are needed to offset a theoretical obsession with individual agency. She argues:. As a result of infrastructure investments, consumers in some areas are more able to adopt new technology; this is amplified when multiple products are dependent on a single infrastructure.
A good example is credit cards, where you need not only an individual adopter with a card, but retail adopters that will accept them and banks that will process them. In this instance, one needs mutual alignment where consumer adoption is important but so is the broader system.
Theories of consumers need to be matched with theories of systems, institutions, and change. For perhaps these reasons, theories of structure were the second most popular type of theory in the full sample in Appendix II. These theories assume that people are constrained or influenced by external forces frequently beyond their comprehension and control Jackson, One structure-centered theory, Large Technical Systems, was prominent within our sample.
In the interviews, the topic received much commentary, and we summarize a few of the comments here to show how important the two poles are in the minds of the interviewees. For instance, Paul C. A basic theoretical divide for all social sciences relates to agency and structure.
Structure in part determines how human beings behave and interact, but so does agency, which is more manipulatable, mutable, and changing. The key is structure-agency composites, or coproduction. This existential dance is a reconfiguration of elements that is perpetual and dynamic. Most social science inquiry is about structure or agency, or about things that mediate between the two, the recursive relationship between agency, structure, and practice.
Within the realm of diffusion, you have two very different families of concepts. One is the family of adoption models, which focus on purchase decisions by consumers and households. Another family is sociotechnical models, which look at the broader system and aspects such as system builders, co-construction and societal embedding of new technologies.
In summary, the distinction between structure and agency represents a continuum of how people act with the broader social and institutional context. The third pole of the social theory triangle focuses on the analysis of systems of meaning. Although all theories to some degree include some analysis of meaning, the theories clustered toward this pole focus on language, symbolism, narratives, performativity, rhetorical visions, and how technologies can co-construct and negotiate meaning for human subjects.
The fourth type was harder to classify; it refers to theories that attempt to apply their focus across agency, structure, and meaning. These approaches may emphasize social relations and interactions, but they also highlight the webs of social structure and meaning in which actors are suspended and which they change through their action Geels, Rutherford and Coutard comment that relational approaches accentuate co-construction and circulation.
They see technology and society as co-constructed or coproduced, with no single dimension dictating change by itself; and they see the transfer of knowledge and even the dissemination of artifacts as facilitated by a process of circulation among actors and across geographic scales. Geels et al. Many of the interviewees emphasized the value of relational strategies that illustrate social interaction, alignments, and struggles between new and old configurations or that view the world as filled with interacting social groups that have beliefs, interests, strategies and resources.
Tom Dietz interview with lead author, explains it this way:. Let me start with an individual. She or he makes decisions, but their values, their preferences, their beliefs, their mental models are all shaped by socialization the long deep and social context the immediate.
So do their possibilities, the financial, social, natural, human resources they can bring to bear. But where does all this structure come from? In the population thinking view it is an emergent property of individual decisions, and the actions and interactions that take place. Over time agency, especially the agency of the powerful, gets embedded in laws and other rules, in norms, in the structure of organizations and institutions, etc.
I see them as two ways of looking at the same thing: agency shapes structure shapes agency. That is what I mean by evolutionary thinking. Andy Stirling interview with lead author, echoes similar reflections when he argues that:. Relational approaches coming out of Alfred North Whitehead as well as modern scholars like John Law, Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, and Isabel Stingers remind that the patterns being engaged with are more about relations and processes, than neatly-nested categories of things.
This could explain why relational theories accounted for only a small number in the full sample in Appendix II , but some of the most popular approaches were relational and made it into the short list of theories: Sociotechnical Transitions, Social Practice Theory, Social Construction of Technology, and Actor-Network Theory. Finally, we also classify an analytical strategy as either normative or descriptive-explanatory. To do so, they often rely on evaluative criteria set by ethics, moral studies, social justice or political ecology.
Social Justice Theory and Sustainable Development were the two most often mentioned by respondents. These theories can also emphasize different aspects of the theory triangle; for example, social justice theories can draw attention to microsocial processes and agency. Furthermore, some of the theories classified as descriptive-explanatory can draw attention to moral and policy choices, such as the occasional focus of the MLP on providing both analysis of and guidance for sustainability transitions.
To be sure, the placement of theories across these five types is neither static — theories develop — nor mutually exclusive. Many in fact blur the line, falling across different categories. Figure 7 attempts to situate the fourteen shortlisted theories across a typology of theory types, showing that many do not fall neatly or entirely inside a category. We also include a distinction between primarily normative analytical strategies located outside the theory triangle and descriptive-analytical strategies located inside the triangle , with the understanding that even the normative theories can emphasize structure, agency, and meaning to differing degrees.
A typology of theories by agency, structure, meaning, relations and normativity. Our second approach to the classification of theories begins with four ideal types of theory based on underlying goals and assumptions, a typology depicted in Table 4.