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Beyond Heideggerian Criticism toward Technology: The Implications of Dutch Society-Oriented Philosophy of Technology for STS in Taiwan

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Abstract

The field of science and technology studies (STS) holds a position that technology and society are co-constructed, but with a critical attitude toward technology, STS in Taiwan barely asks what positive roles technologies can play in shaping a desirable future. This paper aims to argue that Dutch society-oriented philosophy of technology could help STS to reach its goal toward a better social-technical complex. Rising from the empirical turn in philosophy of technology, this approach goes beyond a Heideggerian view on technology and has its focus on the relations between humans and technologies. It is worth much more STS' attention because it has interacted both academically and institutionally with STS since the 1980s and been getting internationally influential. The technological mediation theory, which is developed at the University of Twente and embodies the spirit of Dutch society-oriented philosophy of technology, serves as an example in this paper to demonstrate how the approach would enrich STS. This theory has its theoretical roots in post-phenomenology and Actor-Network Theory and extensively concerns the moral implication of technology. By taking advantage of the viewpoint of the theory, STS would not only view technology from a more balanced perspective but also overcome the problem due to a preference for descriptive researches. It is hoped that when STS recognizes the intimate interplay of human subjects and technological artifacts, modern technology need not be seen by STS as a threat to humanity and society, and would be enabled to materialize positive values for realizing a better world. This re-understanding and reconstructing of technology would also enhance the feasibility of appropriate technology movements in Taiwan.
Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
Beyond Heideggerian Criticism toward Technology: The
Implications of Dutch Society-Oriented Philosophy of
Technology for STS in Taiwan
Ching Hung*
Abstract
The field of science and technology studies (STS) holds a position that technology
and society are co-constructed, but with a critical attitude toward technology, STS
in Taiwan barely asks what positive roles technologies can play in shaping a desir-
able future. This paper aims to argue that Dutch society-oriented philosophy of
technology could help STS to reach its goal toward a better social-technical com-
plex. Rising from the empirical turn in philosophy of technology, this approach
goes beyond a Heideggerian view on technology and has its focus on the relations
between humans and technologies. It is worth much more STS’ attention because
it has interacted both academically and institutionally with STS since the 1980s
and been getting internationally influential. The technological mediation theory,
which is developed at the University of Twente and embodies the spirit of Dutch
society-oriented philosophy of technology, serves as an example in this paper to
demonstrate how the approach would enrich STS. This theory has its theoretical
roots in post-phenomenology and Actor-Network Theory and extensively con-
cerns the moral implication of technology. By taking advantage of the viewpoint of
the theory, STS would not only view technology from a more balanced perspective
but also overcome the problem due to a preference for descriptive researches. It is
hoped that when STS recognizes the intimate interplay of human subjects and
technological artifacts, modern technology need not be seen by STS as a threat to
humanity and society, and would be enabled to materialize positive values for re-
alizing a better world. This re-understanding and re-constructing of technology
would also enhance the feasibility of appropriate technology movements in Tai-
wan.
本文一方面引介社會導向技術哲學中的荷蘭取徑另一方面則討論此一取徑如何
* Ph.D. student at the Department of Philosophy, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands.
Email: c.hung@utwente.nl
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
有助於科技與社會研究(STS)達成改善科技-社會綜合體的目標。技術哲學在
1980 年代前後的經驗轉向,促使該領域脫離早期對於技術的海德格式批判,轉
而關注現實生活中技術物質與人類社會的複雜關係也孕育日後荷蘭的社會導向
技術哲學該取徑不論是在學術上或機構上與 STS 皆有密切互動因此十分適合
作為 STS 與技術哲學相互協作的可能起點「技術中介論」是為該取徑中的要角
理論基礎源於後現象學與行動者網路理論並且將其觸角延伸至技術物質的道德
分析本文透過該理論示例荷蘭取徑的裨益,說明其視角可以幫助台灣 STS 避免
過於快速設想科技的負面作用,更加審慎且平衡地評估科技發展同時也扣連科
技與價值的相互作用克服 STS 傳統上偏重描述性研究的缺失由於人類主體與
技術物質始終無可避免地相互構成是故科技不必然被視作對於人類與社會的侵
擾,反而成為形塑主體的必要驅動。適當科技應當納入技術「物化」正向價值的
能力,藉修正早年適當科技失敗的因由。對於強調科技與社會相互建構的 STS
來說這意味著在解構之後需要進一步思考如何同步透過人與非人元素重新建構
一個理想的未來。
Keywords
Dutch society-oriented POT, normativity, positive values, STS, technological medi-
ation 荷蘭的社會導向技術哲學、規範性、正向價值、科技與社會研究、技術中
Introduction
Looking deeply into the relationship of technology and society, STS asks forand
has its ambition to builda better social-technical world. For the goal of STS, I
have argued that not only technology itself needs to be reshaped but also do users,
and a well-designed artifact would help (Hung, 2009). The case I studied shows
that when stairs are highlighted and lifts are hidden in the structure of a building,
this combination as a set of technologies would “push” users to take the stairs ra-
ther than the lifts, and in this way it contributes to energy conservation. In other
words, with its materiality, technology can “direct” users’ behavior toward com-
monboth social and naturalgood. However, this idea provokes serious worries
about the power effect caused by technology: technological invasions of human
freedom and losses of human control over technology.
How would STS, in its tradition of seeing technology as an embodiment of
power that induces unfairness, respond to this worry? To me, the worries are not
merely specific to my argument; rather, they are general ones that always emerge
when we discuss the role of technology in our attempt to reshape the world. In
constructing responses to the worries, I found that the works of STS help little, and
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
in contrast, some works in the field of philosophy of technology (hereinafter, POT)
are inspiring. These works led me to Dutch society-oriented POT, a very influential
approach in POT nowadays, and to explore its usefulness for easing the worries
and reaching STS’ goal. This makes the primary purpose of this paper: to introduce
Dutch society-oriented POT, and to argue how and why STS in Taiwan would ben-
efit from it.1
However, turning to POT also made me surprisingly find that there are only a
few philosophical researches on technology in Taiwan, and for Taiwanese re-
searchers who investigate the philosophical aspect of technology, the most familiar
philosopher of technology is probably Martin Heidegger.2 Actually, Heidegger be-
longs to “classical POT,” and after the “empirical turn” around the 1980s, new is-
sues and perspectives have arrived, which could be put under the umbrella term
“contemporary POT.” Although some articles in Taiwan mentionthough not
muchcertain figures in (early) contemporary POT, for example, Andrew Feen-
berg,3 and recently a research has been developed from Don Ihde’s philosophical
theory,4 most contemporary philosophers of technology and their approaches are
unfamiliar or even unknown to researchers in Taiwan. If we would like to under-
stand better the breakthrough of Dutch society-oriented POT and how this ap-
proach is distinct from the others, it is necessary to have a general picture of the
recent development in POT. This leads to the secondary purpose of this paper.
For these two purposes, I divide the paper into three parts, which will proceed
from the secondary purpose to the primary. In the first part, I will give a brief in-
troduction to the recent development of POT by describing the empirical turn dur-
ing the 1970s-1990s and the later rise of the Dutch School, especially the Univer-
sity of Twente, whose importance has been growing since the 1980s. For the
primary purpose, it would be helpful to employ a theory in Dutch POT to demon-
strate the usefulness of the approach for STS. Therefore, in the second part, I will
“zoom-in” on the technological mediation theory, a newly developed philosophical
theory at Twente, to introduce its theoretical roots and primary conceptions. I
choose this theory as a demonstrating role, rather than the others, not only be-
cause it is the starting point of my study in POT, but also because I am currently
doing doctoral research at Twente and thus have more first-hand information
1 The reverse question, of how contemporary Dutch society-oriented POT would benefit from the
works in (Taiwan) STS, will not be addressed.
2 For example, Huang (2001 & 2009), Lai (2012 & 2013), Lee (2006), and Yang (2011). In fact,
there are only a few researchers in Taiwan interested in philosophy of technology (see below) and
most subjects of their researches are information technologies (ITs).
3 See Chang (2011) and (2003).
4 See Tsao (2013).
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
about it. Finally, in the last part, by taking the technological mediation theory as an
example, I will argue that Dutch society-oriented POT can serve as a complement
to STS’s preference for descriptive researches and thus help STS to pursue its goal
in a better way.5
From Classical to Contemporary POT
1. The Rise of Classical POT
Classical POT is a critical reflection on technological optimism, which was wide-
spread before the 20th century. In the 17th and 18th century, an age of Enlighten-
ment, science and its rational way of thinking became prevalent and dominant.
Humans would overcome the restrictions of their natural surroundings once they
understand the laws of nature and then build apparatus or machines according to
their knowledge to control the environment. Philosophers who mentioned tech-
nology in their works, such as René Descartes and Francis Bacon, held this “liber-
ative” view and believed that knowledge as well as technology is power to free hu-
mankind. Although the industrial revolution in the 19th century brought some
miserable situations and provoked Luddites’ movements, as a whole it more or less
increased human welfare. For example, people could obtain necessaries for life
easier and cheaper, and the mortality due to diseases declined very obviously. In
this “progress, technology was considered by sociologists and philosophersand
of course, scientists and engineersas a determinative driving force in human his-
tory. This is the basic version of technological determinism, implying an optimistic
attitude to technology.
The first half of the 20th century saw World War I & II, and during the period,
weapons gradually became a symbol of technology. Besides, the alienation of lobar
caused by mass production and the later invention of “assembly lines”—a target
of satire in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936)also eroded public positive
view on technology. In this atmosphere, some thinkers, such as Martin Heidegger,
Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, and Herbert Marcusea representative figure of
the Frankfurt School, developed their critical reflections on modern science and
technology and led the emergence of classical POT. Their works got a lot of re-
sponses in the mid-20th century and later became theoretical resources for various
movements targeting technology, for instance, Appropriate Technology and New
Age. Classical POT took a critical attitude toward modern technology and claimed
that modern technology, opposite to traditional handcrafted one, makes humans
5 As far as I know, there seem to be a few articles contributing to the implications of POT for STS.
The only one I have found is about how engineering-oriented POT, not society-oriented one, would
help STS education instead of research. See Ankiewicz, Swardt, & Vries (2006).
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
its slaves and there is hardly a way to escape. Modern technology, for classical POT,
is not only harmful to the natural environment, but poses a threat to humankind
as well. This thought is still a sort of technological determinism, but in a pessimis-
tic form.
What should be noted here is that there were also engineers who developed
their views on technology in the early 20th century. For these engineers, such as
Friedrich Dessauer and Eberhard Zachimmer, technology is not merely a derived
result of scientific knowledge but a specific way to deal with artificial things and
has its own role in realizing human creativity (Mitcham, 1994). The focus of this
approach is mainly on engineering itself rather than technology embodied in social
context, and its successor in the late 20th century can be characterized as engineer-
ing-oriented POT. However, although this approach is an important part of POT, it
is not as close to STS as classical POT. The later philosophers who have connections
to STS, such as Feenberg and Ihde, developed their theories in the tradition of clas-
sical POT. So I will not go further in discussing this ancestry of engineering-ori-
ented POT but still leave some space for its successor in latter paragraphs.
2. The Empirical Turn and Its Three Branches
Around the 1980s, STS emerged as an interdisciplinary research field and grew
very fast. Originating from the studies of science through several disciplines—his-
tory (Kuhn, 1970), anthropology (Latour & Woolgar, 1986), and sociology (Bloor,
1991 [1976])STS adopts case-study as a major research method and empha-
sizes the contingency of the development of technology. Different technologies
have different tracks in their own social contexts and cannot be determined by the
logic of technological thinking (Bijker, Hughes, & Pinch, 1987). With a doubt on
technological determinism (Marx & Smith, 1994), case studies on diverse devices
have been carried out to argue the “social construction of technology” (SCOT), for
example, bicycles (Bijker, 1995), missiles (MacKenzie, 1993) and music synthesiz-
ers (Pinch & Trocco, 2009). Inspired by the approach of STS, contemporary POT
has started viewing technology in an alternative way.
When technology is not understood as the product of its own logic but of so-
cial construction, three reflections on classical POT come about. Firstly, against
classical POT’s point of view that technology is unstoppable and nearly autono-
mous, technology in contemporary POT no longer has a deterministic role in hu-
man history and society. Following the first point, the second transformation in
POT is the recession of the negative impression of technology. What technology is
depends on how it is designed, built, and used, so it can be good or bad. Although
technology is still not fully neutral, at least it need not be seen as a “supreme dan-
ger” (in Heidegger’s word) or “betrayal” (in Ellul’s word) to humankind. Finally,
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
technology needs to be studied through various kinds of technologies instead of
“Technology-with-a-capital-T”. Classical POT used to start from exploring the es-
sence of technology as an entirety and thus paid no attention to the differences
between technologies. In contemporary POT, however, researchers are used to
begin their philosophical inquiry of technology from concrete devices, machines,
or systems.
In this trend of contemporary POT, three branches can be distinguished: soci-
ety-oriented POT, engineering-oriented POT, and applied technology ethics (Brey,
2010). Because the latter two are not the primary concerns of the paper, I will in-
troduce them immediately but shortly, and then turn to the first one with more
details.
As mentioned earlier, engineering-oriented POT has its roots in the tradition
of engineering; we could even say that its “founding fathers” are engineers. Follow-
ing the claim that “opening the black box of technology” proposed by STS, the phi-
losophers of this approach also declare an “empirical turn” in philosophy of tech-
nology and make their efforts to describe the working process of engineering and
the formation of technology itself (Meijers & Kroes, 2000). Moreover, for them
technology is not “applied science” because technology sometimes creates new
phenomena for scientific researches and entails a certain form of knowledge,
which deserves an analysis on its own “epistemology” (Goldberg & Poel, 2010). As
a result, engineering-oriented POT tends to look at the inner workings of engineer-
ing rather than social consequences of technology, and to work on descriptive re-
searches rather than evaluative/normative ones. Thus, this approach is also
named “analytical POT.”
The beginning of applied technology ethics could be traced back to the 1970s
(Brey, 2010). On the one hand, along with the growth of engineering as a profes-
sion in a capitalist world, engineers began self-regulation by calling for their pro-
fessional ethics, which is known as “engineering ethics” today in many colleges. It
is concerned with the moral responsibility of being an engineer, and it provides
tools and methods to help engineers deal with ethical dilemmas when conducting
their works. On the other hand, some researchers in applied ethics started paying
attention to ethical issues regarding introduction of new technology to society. By
discussing how a new technology, such as assisted reproductive technology, chal-
lenges our moral norms, they try to make a judgment whether it is morally ac-
ceptable or should be banned. In short, applied technology ethics evaluates engi-
neering (as a profession) and technologies (as products) according to moral
principles in moral philosophy or ethics. This branch in contemporary POT may be
less reflective on the construction of technology than society-oriented one.
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Society-oriented POT, related closely to STS, sometimes is also called “human-
istic.” This approach distinguishes itself from the former two approaches by em-
phasizing the cultural role of technology and focusing mainly on the relationship
between technology and society. Researchers in this approach seldom answer the
question of what technology is by tracing backward the essence of technology, but
by looking forward into what technologies do in the real world. The leading figures
of this approach are presented in American Philosophy of Technology: The Empiri-
cal Turn, edited by Hans Achterhuis (2001), including six philosophers in North
America: Albert Borgmann, Hubert Dreyfus, Andrew Feenberg, Donna Haraway,
Don Ihde, and Langdon Winner. According to the book, all these philosophers
begin their analyses with a focus on concrete modern technologies and barely pre-
suppose a dystopian and deterministic role of those technologies. For example, alt-
hough Feenberg is criticized that the “critical theory of technology” in his early
work (Feenberg, 1991) is merely a standpoint derived directly from Marxism, he
indeed demonstrates in his later work (Feenberg, 1995) alternative technological
modernity by comparing some concrete technologies in other cultures with those
in America. We can catch the spirit of this less abstract approach via the title of the
original Dutch version of the bookVan stoommachine tot cyborg: Denken over
techniek in de nieuwe wereld (literally, From steam engine to cyborg: Thinking about
technology in the new world)(Achterhuis, 1997). In short, concrete technologies in
reality are starting points to do philosophical researches in society-oriented POT.
3. Dutch School(s) and Twente Model
If one follows a list of philosophers of contemporary POT, he or she would notice
that a considerable number of them come from the Netherlands. For example, in
1997 at a biennial meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Technology (SPT),
over half amount of papers are submitted by Dutch scholars (Durbin, 2006: 187).
Additionally, as Ihde mentioned in his genre review article: “Holland has more phi-
losophers of technology, per capita, than any other country” (Ihde, 2010: 28).
The term “Dutch Schools” was labeled formally for the first time in a journal-
book Philosophy of Technology: In Search of Discourse Synthesis (Durbin, 2006) and
originally as plural with the letter “s.” It was plural because at that time the Dutch
POT was developed by scholars at different philosophy departments of Dutch tech-
nical universities, including Delft University of Technology, Eindhoven University
of Technology, Wageningen University, and the University of Twente, and each of
them had its own tendency and objective to make philosophical inquiries into tech-
nology (Tijmes, 1997). But to the extent that they have cooperated intimately and
shared research resources and outputs since a cooperative institution3TU.Cen-
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
tre for Ethics and Technology (3TU.Ethics)was founded in 2007 by Delft, Eind-
hoven, and Twente, they now can be labeled as the Dutch School in singular (Liu,
2012).
To understand more about the position of the Dutch School in the field of POT,
we can have a look at the number of articles published in the journal Techné: Re-
search in Philosophy and Technology, which is established in 1995 as an electronic
journal and sponsored by SPT. Although institutionally speaking Techné is like the
STS journal Science, Technology & Human Values sponsored by the Society for So-
cial Studies of Science (4S), its position and influence in the field of POT is similar
to the journal Social Studies of Science in STS.6
I made a simple quantitative survey on all issues of Techné from 1995 to the
newest one (volume 17, issue 2). To the present, in Techné there are 288 articles
published, including review essays but excluding book reviews, introductory pref-
ace, and one special issue (10:2, 2006) as a journal-book by Paul Durbin. The au-
thors come from different organizations: the authors of 275 articles work at uni-
versity or college, the others of 6 articles at library or private institute, and 7
articles lack information about authors. Table 1 shows all the universities that have
more than 3 articles published in Techné. The number of articles from Dutch
3TU.Ethics (Twente + Delft + Eindhoven) sums 32 and counts for about 11% of the
total. This makes clear the importance of the Dutch School in the contemporary
PO T. This survey also confirms Ihde’s observation: most leading philosophers of
early contemporary POT do their researches alone on a personal basis, not in a
group or team (Ihde, 2010). For example, 10 articles come from Virginia Tech but
9 of them are authored by Joseph Pitt. Similarly, 6 in 7 articles from Simon Fraser
University are (co-)authored by Andrew Feenberg. In contrast, Twente and Delft
have not only a large number of articles but also more authors working on POT,
and this institutionalization or “grouplization” characterizes the Dutch School.
Table 1
Name of Universities
Number of
Articles
Number of
Authors
Authors (with the num-
ber of his/her articles)
University of Twente 16 9
Philip Brey (4)
Peter-Paul Verbeek (3)
Mark Coeckelbergh (2)
Tsjalling Swierstra (2)
Henk Procee
Hans Achterhuis
Wolter Pieters
Mieke Boon
Pieter Tijmes
6 Another philosophical journal concerning technology is Philosophy & Technology, which is very
younginitiated from 2011but getting important in the field of POT.
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
Name of Universities
Number of
Articles
Number of
Authors
Authors (with the num-
ber of his/her articles)
Delft University of Technology 11 7
Peter Kroes (3)
Pieter E. Vermaas (2)
Marc J. de Vries (2)
Anthonie Meijers
Jeroen De Ridder
Lotte Asveld
Egbert Schuurman
Virginia Tech
10
2
Joseph Pitt (9)
Thomas W. Staley
University of Karlsruhe
7
2
Hans Lenk (4)
Vitali Gorokhov (2)
Yannick Julliard
Royal Institute of Technology
7
4
Sven Ove Hansson (5)
John Cantwell
Jonas Clausen
Per Norström
Simon Fraser University
7
3
Andrew Feenberg (6)
Edward Hamilton
Roy Bendor
University of Delaware
6
1
Paul T. Durbin (6)
University of South Carolina
6
3
Davis Baird (4)
Chris Toumey
Christopher Toumey
State University of New York at
Stony Brook
6
6
Don Ihde (6)
University of Toronto 6 7
Brian S. Baigrie
Patricia J. Kazan
Edward Andrew
Graham Longford
Edward Relph
Ronald Beiner
Sungook Hong
Cape Breton University
5
4
Jim Gerrie (3)
Lee-Anne Broadhead
Sean Howard
Sylvia Burrow
Eindhoven University of
Technology
5
4
Marc J. de Vries (2)
Wybo Houkes
Krist Vaesen
Egbert Schuurman
San Jose State University
5
4
Agustin A. Araya (2)
John P. Sullins III
Dvora Ya nov
Gene Moriarty
Georgia Institute of Technology
4
4
Robert Rosenberger (2)
Stanley R. Carpenter
Jim Demmers
Dara O'Neil
McGill University
4
3
Darin Barney (3)
Aaron Gordon
Mario Bunge
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
Name of Universities
Number of
Articles
Number of
Authors
Authors (with the num-
ber of his/her articles)
Purdue University
4
3
Paul B. Thompson (2)
Edmund F. Byrne
Johannes Strobel
Southern Illinois
4
1
Larry A. Hickman (4)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
3
3
Maartje Schermer
Mireille Hildebrandt
Jos de Mul
Free University Amsterdam
3
3
A. C. van d er Val k
Hans Radder
Sytse Strijbos
University of Georgia
3
1
Frederick Ferré (3)
University of Montana
3
3
Albert Borgmann (3)
One may notice that Delft’s and Twente’s number of publications are salient.
In fact, this phenomenon coincides with the distinction of two major approaches
engineering-oriented and society-orientedin contemporary POT. Delft focuses
more on the analyses of engineering itself and the dual naturefunction and
structureof technical artifacts (Kroes, 1998; Kroes & Meijers, 2002), whereas
Twente emphasizes a “human touch” of technology by analyzing human-technol-
ogy relations and the social/cultural role of (emerging) technologies. Although
Twente is the youngest university founded in 1961, it is productive and makes a
considerable contribution to the field of POT in the past 20 years. Actually, Twente
could be seen as the “stronghold” of Dutch POT (Ihde, 2009: 20).
Twente approach can serve as a representative of society-oriented P O T, and
it is worth noticing because of its intimate interaction with STS on both practical
and theoretical level. For example, Twente has its role in establishing not only
3TU.Ethics, but also WTMC—the Graduate Research School of Science, Technology
and Modern Culture, a primary federation of STS research in the Netherlands. Alt-
hough Eindhoven is also the establishing institution across 3TU.Ethics and WTMC,
its performance in POT is not as high as Twente’s, as we can tell in the survey above.
Moreover, the history of Dutch STS is highly relevant to Twente because Twente is
the first Dutch university that institutionalized this interdisciplinary study to a
master’s degree program named “Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society
and also set up “De Boerderij”—Center for Studies on Problem of Science and So-
cietyfor the early development of STS in the Netherlands (Bijker, 1988).
The “style” of philosophical research in Twente is also close to the spirit of
STS. Philip Brey, the former chair of the Department of Philosophy at Twente, made
an early effort to systematically introduce to POT the social constructivism” of
technology in STS, broadly including approaches such as SCOT, the social shaping
of technology, and Actor-Network Theory (ANT)(Brey, 1997). Following the steps
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
of the empirical turn, scholars at Twente develop their philosophical thinking of
technology with investigations on varieties of modern technologies, which has
been characterized as “Twente Model,” combining descriptive and normative anal-
yses and emphasizing the socially relevant role of technology (Br e y, 2008b). By
recognizing the interplay character of technology and society, it pays much atten-
tion to the relations of humans and technologies, and focuses on the implications
of technologies (or engineering science) for ethics, policies, and cultures, for ex-
ample, Brey (2008a), Boon (2009), Aydin (2013), and Dorrestijn & Verbeek (2013).
In short, because Twente approach is getting influential in the field of POT and
shares with STS the same concern on the relationship between technology and so-
ciety, it is a prime candidate for collaboration of STS and POT.
Technological Mediation Theory and Its Moral Implication
In order to show how Dutch society-oriented POT would help STS in Taiwan, I will
take the technological mediation theorya theory developed in this approach
as an example in the next section. So, this section, as a preparation for the primary
argument, devotes to introduce the technological mediation theory, including its
origin in post-phenomenology, how it is affected by ANT, and a normative issue
moralityit contributes to.
1. From Post-phenomenology to Technological Mediation Theory
Post-phenomenology is an approach developed by Don Ihde (1990) and goes be-
yond the traditional phenomenology for grasping better the role of technology in
the lifeworld. In Heideggerian phenomenology, modern technology is a specific
way to reveal the world and it “enframes” how humans understand their world
and what the world is for them. Under this enframing (bestellen) of modern tech-
nology, the world becomes a “storage” for natural resourcesincluding even hu-
mans themselveswaiting to serve humankind; there is no way out, unless every-
one knows the essence of modern technology and turns to another way of knowing
via “art(Heidegger, 1977). This Heideggerian way of thinking apparently is pes-
simistic and leaves no room for future changes. Ho weve r, Ihde found a different
view on technology in Heidegger’s early work (Heidegger, 1996). For Ihde,
“Heidegger’s hammeris a better starting point to clarify and classify the relations
of humans and technologies.
When you are using a hammer to nail a nail into a wall, what you are “experi-
encing” is not the hammer itself, but the reality (the nail and the wall) around you.
When the hammer breaks down, it requires your attention and then becomes an
“object” of your consciousness. In Heidegger’s words, only when a tool is “ready-
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to-hand,not “present-at-hand,” does it facilitate a certain kind of relation between
a user and his or her world. Ihde calls this set of human-technology-world “em-
bodiment relation,” which can be expressed as the schema “(humantechnol-
ogy)—world.” Another example of this relation is when a person sees through his
or her glasses. One can use glasses or a hammer easily and “carelessly” because it
becomes a part of one’s body, just like a blind man’s walking stick “extends” his or
her arm for touching things. However, Ihde argues that it is not the only relation
between humans and technologies, and different kinds of technologies make dif-
ferent connections between humans and their world.
The second relation Ihde distinguished is the “hermeneutic” one. Some tech-
nologies provide us an access to reality with their ability to “represent” the world.
A thermometer, for instance, gives us information about how hot or cold an envi-
ronment is, and we can easily know how it would feel outside without really leav-
ing our houses. In other words, a thermometer “translates” the world in terms of
temperature and reveals a specific aspect of the world. So does a clock (or a watch).
We sense “time,” especially a tiny amount of time, when a clock is tickingwhat
time is seems related to what time it is.The hermeneutic relation can be ex-
pressed as “human—(technologyworld)”. These twoembodiment and herme-
neuticrelations play key roles in the development of technological mediation
theory, as we will see later.
The third and fourth relations are less mentioned in the technological media-
tion theory, so I will introduce them shortly. Sometimes we treat technologies as if
they are (quasi-)others.For example, a vending machine “swallows” the coins we
“feed” into it and a few seconds later it “spits out” the drinks or snacks we want.
Or, some married men say that they do “love” their cars not less than their wives.
We “interact” with these technologies because they possess a kind of independ-
ence or we have some feelings for them. This is what Ihde calls the “alterity rela-
tion,” and in this relation we are directly connected to a technology, not the world
behind it, which can be expressed as “humantechnology(–world).” And the last
is the background relation,which indicates a situation that we do not experience
a technology consciously although it functions very well. An example of this kind
of relation is an air conditioner in working; it provides us a so stable environment
that we are unaware that it is functioning as an autonomous machine. This “ab-
sence” of technologies in our relations to technologies and to the world can be de-
scribed as “human(—technology/world).
What Ihde attempts to indicate with these four types of relations is, appar-
ently, that technologies shape how we know the world and what the world we
know in various ways. That is to say, in contrary to Heideggerian “T”echnology,
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technologies are plural and often open up possibilities of knowing the world, ra-
ther than set limitations or restrictions to us. Peter-Paul Verbeek, the main devel-
oper of the technological mediation theory and now the chair of the Department
of Technology at Twente , agrees with Ihde’s comment on Heidegger and argues
that the approach of Heidegger’s philosophical view on technology is “transcen-
dentalism(Verbeek, 2005). Because of departing from questioning the essence of
technology for approaching technological phenomena, Heidegger tends to reduce
technologies to their condition of possibility, that is, a specific way of reality-re-
vealing. For instance, a hydroelectric power plant on the Rhine is the consequence
of modern river-disclosure, rather than the resource of that closure. In line with
Ihde, Verbeek suggests a “thingly turnin POT in order to step out of the limitation
of transcendentalism approach.
Verbeek (2005) also noticed that ANT provides another type of relation that
technology can build for humans and their world. In post-phenomenology, tech-
nology plays a key role in affecting what humans perceive as reality; in contrast,
technology in ANT affects what humans do to reality. A hotel manager, for instance,
annoyed by customers’ bad behavioralways taking room keys with them and not
returning keys when they leave, found a solution besides slogans and warnings to
the problem: a piece of heavy metal attached to every key (Latour, 1991). Custom-
ers now return the keys to the reception because the “keys with a metal” in their
pockets make them inconvenient and call to their mind what they have seen on the
slogans and heard from the manger’s warning“Please return your room key
when checking out. Thank you for your cooperation!” The fact that the slogans plus
the warnings plus a piece of heavy metal attached to every hotel key turns a “not-
returning-key-customer” to a “returning-key-customer” requires a reconsidera-
tion of whether an action is activated by a human exclusively or by a humannon-
human association.
Technologies, therefore, connect humans to the world via two different ways
and Verbeek (2005) call this “effect” of technology “mediation. He develops these
two kinds of mediation to a theory as a synthesis of post-phenomenology and ANT.
On the one hand, technologies mediate the relations of humans and the world in
terms of experience, as what post-phenomenology holds; they exert influence with
their “technological intentionality.” On the other, technologies mediate in terms of
praxis, as what ANT holds; they do it as if they are “scripts” of films (Akrich, 1992;
Akrich & Latour, 1992). What things do is, accordingly, to mediate. Moreover, tech-
nologies have to be understood as “mediators, but not “intermediaries, because
both two poles in the schema “humantechnologyworld” are “translated” when
technologies take a position between them. Obstetric ultrasound, for instance, not
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only discloses a specific aspect of a fetus with a specific type of imageblack and
white without any other sensorial data, but also makes parents careful caregivers
and “watchers” for a life (Duden, 1993; Verbeek, 2008). In short, the technological
mediation theory is concerned with how a technology mediates human existence
and the connection between a human and a reality. By analyzing the relations be-
tween users and technologies, this theory explores what roles technologies play in
our interactions with them.
2. Morality with Technological Mediation
Insofar as technology shapes human experiences and actions, it has to do with
many aspects of our daily life. One of these aspects is the moral dimension of tech-
nology, to which the technological mediation theory extends itself. Let me start
with a story that is probably known by some researchers in STS.
Someday morning, Latour was in a bad mood and decided not to buckle the
seat belt when driving. At the moment he started his car, the red light “Fasten Your
Seat Belt!” flashed and a high-pitched alarm sounded. Ten seconds later, Latour put
on the belt because he could not bear those annoying warnings. Concerning his
transformation from a law-breaker to a law-abiding citizen, Latour asked: “Where
is the morality? In me, a human driver, dominated by the mindless power of an
artifact? Or in the artifact forcing me, a mindless human, to obey the law that I
freely accepted when I get my driver’s license?” (Latour, 1992: 152) This example
shows the hybrid character of morality when technology is a part of it. The scenes
like this happen very often in our daily life, no matter when we drive slowly for
passing a speed bump with less vibration or when we return a shopping trolley of
a hypermarket in order to get the coin back. All these situations ask for a new un-
derstanding of the moral role of technology in the lifeworld.
Verbeek (2011) argues that morality should not be seen as exclusively human
affair because technologies help us to answer the question “how to act, which is
the major concern of ethics. Moral decisions and actions are co-shaped by humans
and technologies, and morality, therefore, is distributed to the realm of humankind
and of technology at the same time. However, admitting technologies are capable
of exerting influence on our moral behavior always arises the anxiety of whether
technologies invade human autonomy. Verbeek (2011) replies to the doubt in two
ways. In practice, it is much more likely that a technology gives us more options,
rather than eliminates choices. Obstetric ultrasound, again as an example, pro-
vides parents “freedom” of choosing to only have a well-conditioned baby and
aborting an ill one when they know. This kind of choice scarcely existed before the
introduction of ultrasound diagnosis to obstetric practice. In addition, the mediat-
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ing effect of technology always depends on its context, and making precise predic-
tions, however, is a difficult task. Telephones, for instance, were originally designed
for hearing-impaired people, and only in their later use contextschatting with
someone without seeing his or her facetelephones started mediating a certain
kind of social relationship.
In theory, the fact that technological mediation is everywhere and unavoida-
ble requires a reflection on the existing conception of “freedom.In the traditional
sense, human freedom means the absence of restrictions on human subjects. Nev-
ertheless, this freedom is in a negative form, not a positive one. Firstly, according
to Foucault (1975), a subject is the product made by power, coming about in a se-
ries of body discipline and knowledge production. Power is not something external
to a pre-given subject, but a source of it. Power shapes the content of subjects, so
does technology. However, in Foucault’s view, this doesn’t mean that there is no
freedom for humans.7 Moreover, freedom lies in developing relations to powers
around us (Foucault, 1997). What can be learned from the ancient Greeks is their
attitude to sexual desire. By recognizing the sexual desire is an irremovable part of
life, the ancient Greeks deal with it by persistent “self-practice,which styles one’s
sexuality and keeps him or her “free” from becoming a slave of it. In this notion of
“freedom as practice,” similarly, ethics is no longer about how to prevent humanity
from technological invasions, but concerning how to develop theories, frameworks,
and methods that would help people to build their own relations to technologies.
The technological mediation theory opens a new way to understand design
activities of technology. Recognizing the mediating role of technology in forming
human subjects doesn’t mean that we should stop designing any technologies that
would have effects on users, especially when technological mediation is however
inevitable. Nor does the unpredictability of technological mediation mean that de-
signers could give up deliberating the scripts within their designs. Rather, the fact
of technological mediation requires designers to take responsibilities for design-
ing more carefully and even to think of “doing good with technologies” (Waelbers,
2011). Verbeek (2013), therefore, proposes technology accompaniments as a sub-
stitution for technology assessments because there is no pure external standpoint
to criticize technology but the co-constitutions of technologies and values, which
needs to be discussed “from within.8 The concept of technology accompaniment
also links itself extensively to the notion of “the good life,” a topic proposed by
7 “The claim that ‘you see power everywhere, thus there in no room for freedom’ seems to me ab-
solutely inadequate. The idea that power is a system of domination that controls everything and
leaves no room for freedom cannot be attributed to me. (Foucault, 1997, p. 293)
8 This is where a disagreement lies between Verbeek and Feenberg. Feenberg (2013) insists that,
from his critical theory of technology, the task of public technology assessment is to protect social
and moral values form the invasion of technological developments.
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Philip Brey and now many scholars at Twente are working on (Brey, Briggle, &
Spence, 2012). Brey (2012), for instance, argues that “well-being” as an element of
the good life is not only the concern of psychology or economics or general philos-
ophy, but should become a topic in contemporary POT.
As a young theory, however, the technological mediation theory has its issues
and problems to deal with. The most debated one is the moral status and moral
agency of technology. Not everyone agrees with Verbeek that endowing technolo-
gies with moral significance although they admit that technologies do have effects
on human moral behavior. For these disputers, it is problematic to attach the con-
cept of (moral) “agency” to technologies (Ihde, Poel, Peterson, Selinger, & Verbeek,
2012; Peterson & Spahn, 2010). This debate has grown to a book of collected arti-
cles (Kroes & Verbeek, 2014) and is still going on.
Dutch Society-Oriented POT and STS in Taiwan
No philosopher in Taiwan, as far as I know, declares his or her primary research
interest is seated in the field of POT, and only few articles written in Traditional
Chinese focus on the philosophical aspect of technology. In the biggest database
for Taiwanese journal articles (Chinese Electronic Periodical Services, CEPS), there
are 228 articles with the word “Heidegger” in its title or as a keyword, but only 10
of them are about technology.9 STS, the most technology-concerning field among
social sciences and humanities, also pays little attention to POT, no matter classical
or contemporary one. In all published issues of Taiwanese Journal for Studies of
Science, Technology and Medicine
科技、醫療與社會
(STM), a journal sponsored
by Taiwan Science, Technology & Society Association, only the works by Winner
and Latour—two early scholars
in the empirical turn of POTare referred more
than twice,10 and actually they are referred mainly in the sense of sociology, not
philosophy.
The reason for this shortage of POT in Taiwan STS is probably the same as the
reason for the shortage of philosophy of science. As Ruey-Lin Chen 陳瑞麟, a phi-
losopher of science who interacts very closely with STS in Taiwan, has pointed out,
scholars in Taiwan STS tend to avoid philosophical discussions and debates, which
can be seen as symptomatic of a general skepticism in the necessity of philosophy
of science (Chen, 2011). However, the exact cause of the shortage of POT is not the
theme of the paper, although it is an interesting question. What is at stake here is
why STS needs to pay attention to the works of POT.
9 Searched on February 5, 2014.
10 Feenberg and Ihde each is referred just twice, both in Chang (2011) and Fu (2013).
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For the necessity of philosophy of science for STS, Chen (2011) argues that
philosophy of technology is an indispensable condition for STS to “proliferate” dif-
ferent understandings of what science is, and it would help the field of STS become
vigorous and flourishing.11 But, interestingly, Chen doesn’t think that POT is also
such important to STS. In answering the question “why not philosophy of technol-
ogy?” proposed by Francesca Bray (2011), he provides two reasons: 1) STS is itself
a kind of science, and 2) although STS could be seen as a technology, philosophy of
technology does not really concern world views (Chen, 2011: 44-45). In my inter-
pretation, what he asks for is a “philosophy of STS,” and I agree with him that STS
does need its own philosophy. However, this does not mean that philosophy of
“non-STS” technology is unnecessary for STS, and I believe that although POT does
not put all its effort on discussing world views concerning technology, at least it
functions like “lenses,” a notion borrowed from Kuhn (1970), through which re-
searchers look at the technological world. Therefore, my attempt here is also to
argue that POT should be a requisite element for STS, but my reasons are not the
same as Chen’s: Dutch society-oriented POT is worth STS’ attention and could ben-
efit STS because it can provide us better lenses and also fix the problem induced
by the descriptive tradition of STS.
1. How to View Technology?
To STS in Taiwan, the most known philosopher of technology is Winner, who has
been invited to Taiwan for giving three lectures in 2008. The Chinese translation
of his famous article “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”(Winner, 1986, pp. 1939) has
been published in the most read Taiwan STS reader/textbook Social Aspirations of
Technoscience
科技渴望社會
. To the present, the article (Winner, 2004) is still a
basic material on the reading lists of many STS courses and seminars in Taiwan.
Most of the time, probably because much impressed by the story about Robert Mo-
ses’ low-hanging overpasses in New York,12 researchers in Taiwan STS are very
sensitive to the politics hidden behind technology, although sometimes they do not
refer to the article directly. For example, the case study of mountain-hiking trials
points out that most mountain-hiking trials before 2002 and some till today are
user-unfriendly because they are designed and constructed by only state techno-
crats and landscape architecture professionals, which means that users are ex-
cluded from the decision-making processes (Hsu & Lin, 2011). Likewise, the waste
facilities in Hsinchu County infect damages to the local residents’ interests because
11 Although Fu (2013) does not agree with Chen that philosophy of science is an “essential” part of
STS, he does have a positive attitude to a mutual learning between STS and philosophy of science
(and technology).
12 Although there has been a debate on the facticity of the story (Joerges, 1999a, 1999b; Woolgar
& Cooper, 1999), it does not lose its value to be a parable for education.
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its site and design were decided exclusively by governmental officers and engi-
neers (Fan, 2007). The conception of “politics” in such case studies are in line with
Winner’s: “By the term ‘politics’ I mean arrangements of power and authority in
human associations as well as the activities that take place within those arrange-
ments(Winner, 1986: 22). That is to say, technology is to be understood as a prac-
tice and embodiment of engineers’ or experts’ po w er, therefore implying inequal-
ity, hierarchy, and hegemony. Apparently, in this way, the imagery of technology is
rendered negative.
In addition, the term “risk society” coined by Ulrich Beck (Beck, 1992), indi-
cating that we are living with uncalculated and uncontrolled risks caused by high
uncertainty of modern science, also strengthens the negative imagery of technol-
ogy. Technology is to be regarded as a source of various troubling risks because it
is always made by engineers who export scientific knowledge (Chou, 2005). More-
over, the Fukushima nuclear disaster on 11 March 2011 shocked all East Asian
countries including Taiwan, and fears for technological harm arose very soon. “No
Nukes,” the slogan of anti-nuclear movements against the construction of Taiwan's
Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, turns into a dominated opinion in public as well as in
the area of social sciences and humanities. This atmosphere, unsurprisingly, be-
comes so strong and overwhelming that any “non-anti-nuclear” research would
make its author unwelcome. In the 2013 Taiwan STS Annual Conference, for in-
stance, a postgraduate student who presented in the session “Technology for En-
ergy” was confronted with many objections, because he suggested in his paper
several indicators of nuclear knowledge to evaluate the public’s qualification for
discussing nuclear power issues. An attendee even questioned him that “Don’t you
know this is an STS conference?”, and almost everyone laughed. What is becoming
evident with this symbolic event is that modern technology in STS means some-
thing pretty risky, dangerous, and threatening to humans and their society. This
negative imagery of technology has been reinforced again and again in the past
several years by mass media, academic conferences, colloquia, journal articles, etc.,
and eventually turns into a pre-assumption for many STS investigations into tech-
nological artifacts.
When one wears such lenses, technology will be seen as something likely go-
ing wrong. Any development or introduction of technology has to be “checked”
very carefully in order to prevent our society from damages produced by technol-
ogies, and therefore the “precautionary principle” is adopted as the first and prob-
ably the only rule for monitoring technology. However, as the argument of the tech-
nological mediation theory shows, what technologies do is context-dependent and
not bound to create bad consequences. Further, because they play significant roles
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in mediating human existence, we can never separate humans from non-humans,
subjects from objects, or societies from technologies. Insofar as humans and tech-
nologies are interwoven profoundly, the Heideggerian style of criticism toward
technology becomes inadequate for grasping the relationship between humans
and technologies in the real world. We would better leave the negative imagery of
technology to the past period of classical POT, otherwise we are to be stuck in the
mood of nostalgia.13
According to the notion of the technology accompaniment, what is at stake is
how to take responsibilities for developing desirable relations to technologies and
“taking care” of the ways in which they are designed. To be sure, keeping an eye on
possible side-effects of technology is one way to shape technologies, and keeping
distance with technologies is also a kind of relation to them. However, on the one
hand everything brings risks to our lives, and it is too difficult to demand risk-free
technologies, and on the other hand, there is another plausible way to think of
technologies and also exist other relations to them. Only when researchers in STS
begin their investigations into existing technologies without pre-embracing the
negative imagery of them, unbiased analyses of technologies can be made possible.
And only when researchers assess emerging technologies without focusing merely
on their possible bad consequences, scenarios of their potential good can be imag-
ined and thus help engineers and designers to improve the artifacts in design.
2. More than Description
As mentioned earlier, STS adopts case-study as its major research method and usu-
ally asks for a detailed description of network-building or controversy-closing pro-
cess of science and technology. This tradition in the past decades has helped STS
to produce abundant accomplishments, untangling the complicated relations be-
tween science and society, and technology and society. However, a “side-effect” has
been resulted, for both the studies of science and of technology.
In science studies, science has proven to be a cultural and societal activity
among many others, and the content of scientific knowledge is socially constructed,
implying that it is strongly affected by social interests and no more “rational” than
other types of knowledge. Accordingly, scientists have no epistemological superi-
ority and no political priority to make decisions for the public. This opens up a
space for the development of the field of “public participation in science (and tech-
nology),” a very productive and fast-growing branch of STS. However, Harry Collins
and Robert Evans (2002, 2007) have argued that although STS has brought fruitful
13 Probably not coincidentally, Steven Fuller, a sociologist/philosopher who works closely with STS,
recently has a similar reflection on over-stressing the negative effects of technology and tries to
find a way beyond the precautionary principle (Fuller & Lipinska, forthcoming).
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
achievements to resolve the “problem of legitimacy,” which is the focus of the sec-
ond wave in STS, it now needs to begin the third wave in which the focus is on the
“problem of extension,” that is, “how we set boundaries around the legitimate con-
tribution of the general public to the technical part of technical debates” (Collins
& Evans, 2007: 113). The concern of the third wave of STS is, they stress against
the mainstream, of normativity, rather than of description. For them, when STS
proves that science is the product of social interests, it suspends evaluations on
the quality of knowledge at the same time and thus leaves normative issues aside.
Their suggestion, controversial though,14 implies a tension between normative
and descriptive studies of science.
Studies of technology in STS fall into the same situation. Inspired by the “em-
pirical programme of relativism,” an approach derived from the sociology of scien-
tific knowledge (SSK) for looking at controversies in science, SCOT was developed
to show that technology, just like science, is also constructed by society (Bijker et
al., 1987). Similarly, evaluations on the quality of technology are suspended, and
again normative issues are left aside.15 This consequence of preferring descriptive
narrative has been criticized seriously for “opening the black box and finding it
empty” (Winner, 1993) and a “normative deficit” (Keulartz, Korthals, Schermer, &
Swierstra, 2004). To be sure, researchers in STS indeed try to evaluate technology
via procedures such as the (constructive) technology assessment, but they often
do it with a strong intention to protect humanity from technology, just as discussed
earlier. Evaluating technologies becomes an urgent issue because of, according to
the technological mediation theory, the fact that technologies inevitably mediate
what kind of subjects we are and have effects on what we do. Evaluating technolo-
gies is highly relevant to evaluating specific values. For example, in terms of the
good life, to evaluate technologies is meant to be the evaluation on the quality of
life. We can never evaluate technologies without discussing the values they medi-
ate.
What kind of person do we want to be? What kind of life do we want to live?
And what kind of society do we want to build? All these questions are connected
to the types of technologies as well as the properties of them, which means, for
instance, when we discussed how a good society should be, we have to think what
positive roles technologies can and should play in shaping that society. For exam-
ple, when queuing up is acknowledged as a basic and necessary manner to be a
14 After the article on the third wave of STS was published, Collins gets many attacks within STS
and has been accused of “anti-democracy” (Jomisko, 2013) even though Durant (2011) has already
defended that Collins’ project is as democratic as Brian Wynne’s.
15 A strong descriptivist approach of POT, proposed by Light & Roberts (2000), has a similar prob-
lem with normative issues.
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qualified citizen and to form a well-ordered society, then the so-called queuing
barrier would help a lot. A “material line” helps people stand in line even though
they are not well educated to do so; it is a material solution to the problem that
people just don’t queue. In fact, we Taiwanese are very used to those queuing bar-
riers as “guide lines” in movie theatres, train stations, department stores, etc., and
we barely think they are the representation and practice of power, although indeed
they are. That is to say, technologies’ mediation for realizing positive values how-
ever cannot be ignored if we would like to do justice to either existing or emerging
technologies when evaluating them.
By and large, normative researches have to do with values, and descriptive
researches are connected to facts. Latour (2004) has devoted himself to dissolve
the distinction between facts and values, which implies the “Great Divide” for mo-
dernity, but as Chen (2007) has argued, for making judgments, this distinction is
too fundamental to be canceled, and it is logically problematic to slide from “what
it is” to “what it ought to be,” although these two categories practically interact
with each other. That is to say, both normative and descriptive research are indis-
pensable to STS. With the help of the technological mediation theory, the issues of
values regarding technology could be brought back to STS by investigating how
values impact and are impacted by technologies, and STS, therefore, would re-
spond better to the challenge flung down by Winner and the others. Normative
researches related to values become crucial, especially when our goal is much
more about planning the future than about explaining the past.
3. Technology toward Positive Values
When STS is equipped with Dutch society-oriented POT, it would discover the po-
tential of technology in helping us to deal with value issues such as environmental
sustainability. Ta k e the case study I have done as an example (Hung, 2009), when
people are very used to prioritize personal convenience instead of saving energy
for public good and thus prefer lifts rather than stairs, a feasible strategy to “re-
verse” this priority is to set the stairs at a highlighted place in the building and at
the same time hide the lifts. This design, as a material strategy, works effectively
without discomforting the users, no matter they have good environmental con-
sciousness or not. No doubt a design like this materializes the power of designers
and has politics to “nudge” its users toward being environmentally friendly, but in
the light of technological mediation theory, it is not a threat to human autonomy
and need not be resisted, rejected, or refused. Rather, it helps to rebuild the habit
of taking stairs and gives shape to environment-friendly human subjects toward a
sustainable society. Further, with an integrated view of STS and Dutch society-ori-
ented POT, I argued in a later paper (Hung, 2013) that environmental education is
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
far from enough to improve people’s pro-environmental behavior because of a per-
manent gap between “knowing” and “doing,and the gap could be filled up by
means of “material education.Scholars in the field of environmental education,
therefore, have to start thinking how to make environmental itself “educational.
This is particularly the case with Appropriate Technology, the theme of the
annual meeting this year, because it refers to a certain kind of technology that is
correlated to a specific valueappropriateness. The failure of the appropriate
technology movement in 1970s America, as many scholars have pointed out
(Beder, 1994; Hughes, 2004; Pursell, 1993; Winner, 1986), resulted from the una-
wareness of the close relationship between politics and artifacts, and the propo-
nents only aimed to build technologies suitable for, but not helpful with, their ideal
society. Although they were promoting a political/social reform, what they did to
technologies was de-politicalizing them. In the view of the technological mediation
theory, they overlooked how technologies mediate people’s behavior and relevant
social values. The mistake should be corrected if we are going to promote an ap-
propriate technology movement in contemporary Taiwan. A renewed conception
of appropriate technology, therefore, should include the “directiveness” of technol-
ogy to human behavior as one criterion of its appropriateness. Concerning envi-
ronmental sustainability, a design like the set of stairs and lifts mentioned above
can be qualified as an appropriate technology because not only is it low-tech and
energy saving itself, but also it guides users’ behavior toward being environmen-
tally moral.
Will this suggestion bring us back to the notion of technological determinism,
which was overcome by historians of technology in the early stage of STS? No, it
won’t, at least not to the strong version of technological determinism. Actually, STS
can never avoid the mild version of technological determinism if we do believe
technology is a constructive part of society and thus keep studying technological
shaping of society as well as social shaping of technology (Wyatt, 2007). Technol-
ogy is one among various forces shaping our sociotechnical world, and researchers
in STS should take responsibilities for helping it to do better. What needs to be
done for STS after de-constructing the sociotechnical complex is to re-construct a
new one. Nonetheless, STS, with its sociological origin, likes to discuss how to im-
prove our society through laws, educations, and economic systems, but normally
not technologies. Possessing the negative imagery of technology, we researchers
in STS usually don’t believe in a material utopia, but ironically, most time we do
expect the coming true of an institutional one. However, technology itself is an in-
stitution, bridging structure and agency, and cognition and practice, as what laws,
educations, and economic systems do (Pinch, 2008).
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Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
Therefore, it is necessary to consider the institutional effects of technology
and pay much more attention to how they play constitutive roles in constructing a
society. The technological mediation theory could serve as a philosophical founda-
tion on which we build a theory for the institutional role of technology. The insti-
tutional effects of technology need not be seen as threats to human autonomy; ra-
ther, technology helps to form human subjects by mediation. If technology is
inevitably value-laden, then we need to ask what values should be built-in. Positive
values, such as sustainability and (renewed) appropriateness, can be promoted by
technologies, and the goal would be achieved more effectively once technological
mediation takes place on an institutional level. In so doing with the notion of tech-
nology accompaniment, STS would re-tangle technology with society in a better
way, after we spent much time to un-tangle them.
Conclusion: An STS with Dutch Society-Oriented POT Inside
As a Ph.D. student who has been trained in the field of STS and am now doing doc-
toral research in the field of POT, I always see the potential of how they would ben-
efit each other and thus attempt to make a connection between them. In this paper,
against the background of the recent development of POT, I address that Dutch
POTespecially the society-oriented oneis worth attention because its theoret-
ically and institutionally intimate interaction with STS. By introducing the techno-
logical mediation theoryan approach developed at Twenteas an inspiration, I
also explore how STS would reach its goal in a better way with the help of this
approach. For researchers in Taiwan STS, with their respected spirit of activism,
the task is not only to analyze the entangled relations of technology and society
but also to plan a desirable future co-constructed with humans and nonhumans
(Lei, 2002), and appropriate technology is proposed as an entry point to correct
blind technological developments in contemporary Taiwan (Fu, 2009). Neverthe-
less, the constructivist view of technology has its focus mainly on describing the
interaction of technology and society and often leaves normative issues outside its
scope. Descriptive studies have always shown the possibilities of alternative tech-
nological development, but they barely provide specific guidance to lead techno-
logical design or innovation and help little with the prescriptive task of STS. With
the help of Dutch society-oriented POT, STS would overcome this defect16 and be-
come able to participate actively in the design process of technology in a broader
way.
16 Concerning an akin defect of science studies in Taiwan STS, see a recent completed master’s
thesis by Ko (2014).
23
Research Paper 2014 Taiwan STS Annual Conference
POT has learned a lot from STS and been triggered the empirical turn by the
inspiration of STS; it is time for STS to bring POT into the field. By applying the
view of Dutch society-oriented POT, STS would extricate itself from the negative
view on technology, which would be a better starting point to investigate, analyze,
and evaluate technologies. Besides, by recognizing the mediating role of technol-
ogy in our social lives and value systems, normative issues of technology would be
put back on the STS research agenda again. Further, an STS equipped with this ap-
proach is not only capable of analyzing the normative aspect of technology in the
past, but also able to deal with normative issues mediated by technology in the
future. When aiming to build a better society, STS could benefit from Dutch society-
oriented POT to explore what positive roles technologies can play for a desirable
society. Uncovering the relations between technologies and our lives would help
us to deal with normative issues in terms of values, and by recognizing inseparable
interplay of technology and society, STS could take technology and other social fac-
tors simultaneously into account when planning the future. In this way, the STS
with Dutch society-oriented POT inside will play a meaningful role in both the ac-
ademic and the real world.
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