ABSTRACT

As has been pointed out in previous works (Katsikides 1997), an effort has to be made to understand societal transitions and methodological means, or, as Talcott Parsons advocated, using sociology to study the relationship of an individual’s experience to society and history, the starting point for the sociology of technology must be through science. A key point, which was made by Hochgerner et al., (1994), refers to the ‘formative principles’ which will create both a source and a framework. Formative principles as theoretical concept cannot offer a normative, fixed and true picture of societal developments, as this concept was developed and is strongest in industrial countries where the principles of hierarchies, objectivism, and growth are at the heart of the theoretical frameworks (and subsequent empirical analysis). However these signs do not pretend to show the direction that development will take, nor do they describe normative expectations in reference to the historic dynamics of civilisation. Rather, they represent a practical implementation and, in large social systems, a specifically related further development of the micro-sociological term figuration. Included in this term are transformation models in which individual’s act according to the situation, ‘not only using their intellect, but also with their complete body and their every action in their relationship to each other (Elias 1978:42). Furthermore, Hochgerner et al., have explained why hierarchies, objectivism and growth are termed as formative. Claiming that they are intrinsically valid because they each comprise both material and idealistic elements and organizing social facts (laws, customs and traditions, roles, expectations, etc.) such that the societal development they support is in fact secured by their existence. The security of this continued existence allows for remodeling and changes (throughout the society and even concerning its formative principles). For industrial societies which recognize ‘growth’ as a constitutive necessity, constant change could even guarantee preservation. Such a societal development can only be maintained continuously if it is able to remodel itself by adopting to constant change in a controlled way. This regulating mechanism which controls human 74behavior according to the specific needs of a certain given societal development, is termed a formative principle. It organizes existence and change in social behavior over several historical eras without itself being restricted to the respective form of that time. On the other hand, objectivism deals with human behavior when this is standardized, or ‘functioning’. Finally, the study of what has come to be termed as the sociology of technology does in fact incorporate elements of sociological methods, since they can illustrate social behavior in a regulated societal system where technology and formal foundations create the context and the perspective. In the above mentioned work (Katsikides 1997) the aim was to show that there is a variety of theoretical issues which can be directed to mainstream sociology of technology. One common understanding which derives from the research in the field reveals that most sociological studies on technology use the comparative method, and the remaining apply to the field of technology assessment. We have argued that technology reflects the synergy of power and societal processes, and these must be analyzed under the foci of sociology of science or even of the emerging sociology of information. While sociology of information should address a variety of theoretical perspectives that can be directed towards the social phenomenon of information, they alone do not give sufficient insight into the nature of information either as an object of disciplinary discourse or as an object of nature (Balnaves 1993:108). The emerging approach is that an entirely new concept is required and that there is a vital need for improved analysis with respect to the assessment of technological issues. It can be argued that theoretical considerations have to be linked with practical methodology in order to evaluate technological and societal approaches, because different sets of complexities exist between the cultural and the operational aspects of the functional role of technology. However the issue here is more complex, and the argument can be summarized as follows. The first problem relates to methodology, where it is clear that a global approach, whether theoretical or empirical, reaches its limits very quickly. The second problem is a more general issue that refers to all the social sciences: a common direction to resolve common social phenomena is lacking. Thirdly, it can be argued that a new approach is needed, which would focus on a detailed evaluation and provide a synthesis of all the intervening variables involved in the technological discussion. One example of such an approach is the ARS model (Katsikides 1994). Finally, technological developments, like other social, economic, and technical approaches, are not socially neutral, and in the end they deal with different traditions (European, US, Scandinavian, Japanese, etc.). As such they accumulate social processes and reflect them, or, as Thomas Kuhn (1970) put it ‘a failure to assimilate fully new conditions and technology will strain the existing structures’ of society’.