Dahlberg: non-reductionist methodology

Against a background of an explosion of research into ICT, impacts on society and individual etc [a little scathing perhaps… mentions ‘intoxicated’ with the information society] Dahlberg takes a stand against views of ICT which are one-dimensional.

These are 3 categoriesof 1-D approaches:

  1. Uses (instrumental uses of tech)
  2. Technological (focuses on form)
  3. Social (social determinants)

Each of these can become deterministic ie the technology is paramount and determines how people use it

Uses (instrumental uses of tech)

How people use technology. Some versions see users as passive (dystopian) while others see a more active role for users – human actors make multiple interpretations (polysemy), purposefully use media/ICT. Uses and gratifications ie what people get out of using technology. This view sees technology as neutral tool, satisfying needs of agents/ actors. However – a mistake to assume actors are in complete control – social embeddedness – other systems and actors also shape media/ICT

Technological (focuses on form)

  • Techno-determinist – technology predetermines social outcomes eg reduced social cues theory – countered by Dahlberg.
  • Constructive medium, ‘languages’ for creating new realities (utopian)? The medium inscribes meaning cf McLuhan thus not neutral, some level of determinism BUT:
  • Actually diversity of effects – people adapt technology to own uses – STILL causal agent with key role in social change.
  • Socially shaped as well as shaping
  • Subset: positive – techno – utopians – we must adopt all latest tech or be left behind – biological/ natural/ evolutionary metaphors – includes accepting political and economic imperatives eg free market.
  • Subset – negative -cyber-pessimisim – passivity, withdrawal. Agency is with the technology.

Social (social determinants)

  • Outcomes affected by social and economic structures, social construction of tech artifacts. Eg economic organization of comms industry promoting certain cultural forms over others
  • However user agency is neglected in these arguments

Need research which combines three approaches use, technology and social determinism, complex interplay between them

Actually social context, technology, users are mutual shaping. Technologies involve multiple interests, unintended consequences, institutional and technological rigidity and possible alternative uses. Not a ‘thing’ but fluid, indeterminate (but not too much so, otherwise impossible to describe)

Technology as a ‘referred reading’ ie what most of us agree it is all about but still open to various uses

Does admit difficulty of multi-dimensional research.

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