This corsewok analyses two case studies put forward by Ruth Schwartz Cowan, firstly the industrial revolution in the home and secondonly How the refrigerator got its hum. Our discussion focuses on the antagonistic perspective on technoligcal cahnfge, moreover we look at empirical as well as theoretical evidence that tells us about the influence of social trejoectores to the changes in technological choice, we will also attempt to discuss the difference between the socio-perspective and Castells (1996)1 network society thesis.
However to clarify our discussion we begin by trying to define social process perspective on technology from a social science point of view. Industrial sociologist and organizational theorists dominate the social process perspective, the idea of the social process view is that technological change is a extention of numerous discrete stages or successive stages of technologival progress, such evolutionary developments are chronologically represented by particular eras.
Further, the social process perspective share some agreement with the economic rationalist view or the capitalist profit maximisation role in the conclusion of technological venture, however as Mackenzie et al (1998)2 suggests, social perspective in context can override economic rational ideas in particular circumstances, this we will discuss later. We begin now with the former case study on the industrial revolution in the home. The industrial revolution in the home
This case study explains the impact of the industrial revolution in the American homes from a functional sociologist perspective. the logical strute of this case study begins by explaing the preindustrial homes and the affect of technological change to a particular middle class families. The proof is provided by the journals that were available to American women who were the potential readers thus changes in the non fictional advertisements gave indications to social and technological changes.
The case study suggests from a sociological orthodox perspective that modern women are in trouble because of post industrial revolution that changes family bond as they seach for wealth, the once mercantile self producing molecular family diffuse to a more urban orientated location leading to afflauent traditional housewives role to diminish, or this is what we are led to believe, however Ruth Scwartz Cowan (Cowan from now) suggests that this may not be the case as comparing rural middle class women from 1890 to 1950’s shows that the former would hire servants whilst after the world war work would have to be carried out the them selves, as we will see there is a link between scarce servants to socio economical factors.
Also we will eb looking at a number of technological trajectories that have been developed. The changes in the journals literature from 1886 shows some indirect shaping of housewife image by the manufacturers, akthough journals provide a median of advertisement it also gives the manufacturers the media to exploit the electric goods and others technological trajectories. To clarify this shaping the benifts of new technology is shown over the older artefacts. We can see this in the transformation from gas to electric illustration in the articles from 1918 to 1928, the journals no longer illistarte gas but rather electric lighting, further, the US statistics data3 also shows that by 1930, 80% of homes used electric lights.
The benefits of this new technology has opened doors for further ecectrical possibilities from irons (1920’s), washing maschines (1920’s) home heatings (1930’s) to gas cookery (1935). , the coupling of the demand side and the supply side of new technology can explain the ease of transformation and acceptance of new technololigacal systems, for example during the 1920’s households dreaded ironing because of difficuly surrounding it which can be understood, thefore household required (demanding) technology that would reduce this burdon, the establiment of the the electric iron reduces this burdon which “quickly replaced their prodecessors” again the ladies magazine also reflected this change.
So far we have emphasied the social conditions that has given oppertunits for new technology and the social condiyining of the journals we can frther illustrate the image that was portrayed and the conditional behaviour change in the public that has occurred duing the early 1920’s. The introduction of the washing maschine has corresponded to cleaner more frequent washing of colothes further exploration of household germs added to personal hygienic factors during the 1920’s, media portal of housewives were now emotionally driven to concern about childrens food sterilization, cleaniseness and nutrition, readers were feeling guilt and embrassed when childrens clothes are dirty or not fed.
The image of the middle class housewife had profoundly changed from that of the late 19th century, the demographic changes between 1910 and 19204 led to a significant drop in servants in households arguably this ahd fuelled the growth in household tasks and the technological boom. Moreover the changes in servant availability and the need for servants has two sides of the debate firstly the need for servants diminished as technological availability reduced some of the tasks that once required servants, household goods mechanised routine household tasks, on the other hand post world war crisis and demographic changes reduced servants availability and the high wages of educated servats led fewer being employed for housework, thus again we can see the link between the supply and the demand side changes which converged to the industrial revolution in the home. rguably the new electric systems has seen a sociological change that is irreversible because the new technology has seen growth in the infrasturtue of electricity, gas and water supply further the immediate benefits of the new technology outweighs the benefits of the old technology. Castells Network society thesis. Castells prologue to the network society thesis shares some resembalance to the above case as he suggest that Technology does not determine society, neither does society determine technological change.
They interact in a complex way with each other, therfore neither can be credited as being the driving force behind the other, thus he argues the problem over technological determinismiim is a fasle one, castell further argues that technology may not be responsible for the change in society itself, embodies the capacity for change. That is success or failure in the ability to develop technologically is a useful indicator of a societies ability to transform itself. He summarizes it as such: … the ability or inability of societies to master technology, and particularly technologies that are strategically decisive in each historical period. Largely shapes their destiny, to the point that we could say that technology per se does not determine historical evolution and social change, technology (or the lack of it) embodies the capacity of societies to transform themselves, as well as the uses to which societies, always in a conflictive process, decide to put their technological potential. “7
The ability to use technology has historically presented two options as seen by Castells – either society will embrace technological change, or else seek to inhibit its development through the mechanism of the state, suffocate its development (ibid) State control or no control on innovation (pg 11 castell) The overall tone of this argument is to further emphasize that between technology and society the role of the state must be considered, in either its ability to stall, simply allow, or actively promote technological innovation separation of the concepts of informationalism and industrialism from capitalism and statism. The latter are seen as modes of production, while the former are modes of development. 8
Castells invokes the works of Neil Postman as an illustration noting that the nature of communication does have an impact on culture, as we do not see reality as it is, but rather through the lens of language. Altering the means of how that language is communicated, changes our conceptions of society. 9 Mass media television as a move away from written to visaual in communicating, can be linked to benigers control revolution, the two way communication need rateher that a one way system, castell also addreases this point that the interration between the sender and reciver gives two way communication. Telephone competition How the refrige rator got its hum
This case study puts forwards a number of questions that shows the social and the economical questions surrounding technological developments, the initial question put forward is that why can wwe not centrally dispose of garbage via pipe lines, a number od debates springs to mind but dominated by the social instuitions and economic viability in the construction of new technology, Cowan considers the patents holders, decision makers, technical difficulity, economic states that surround innovation and the future success. Betweeb the 1830 and the 1880 saw some groqth in patents for refrigerating machines, partly because of transportaion viability from steam power allowed food travelling but the need for food preservation was poliferated thus refridgeration waas required as cities and people expanded.
During the 1890’s refridgerators were available for commercial use, but were not available for domestic households because of size, weight, technical faults and skills required to operate, although their was considerable demand and financial viability the problems was technical. In 1923 nearly every household would have gas or electric supply, thus their was a social infrastructure for a potential market for either absorption (gas) or compression (electric) refigrators, to add to instutional benefits refrigerators would operate twenty four hours a day therefore increasing revenue that is receivable, this further explains the large sums of investments available to fund Research & Developments (R&D) because immediate revenue is foreseeable for both gas/ electric utility holders.
As we will see the development of the refridgarator was predominatly profit orientated rather than for the benfit of the consumers, financial, and particularly social resources helped organizational conglomerates dominate the refrigeration market. General Electric (GE) who had envolvement in nearly all the electric appliances, wanted to penetrate the refrigerating industry, during the period of 1911 using the development work and the patent held by Marcel Audiffren on the cooling device GE entered the refgertaion market, although GE was suffering financial difficulities Gererd Swope10 believed that they would succeed once they sustained these losses, by 1925 prototype production began on the compression refrigerator (Monitor top) two years later the mass production and promotion led to sales of fifty thousand.
However the reason why GE chose to produce refrigerators that used air cooling rather than water cooling was because air cooling consumend more electricity in the long run than water cooling although it had freezing diffeciencies highlighting GE’s involvement in restricting the choice of technology to consumers which satisfied their intrest. Further the electric utitlty company would benefit substantially from the bill, “which indirectly benefited the General Electric company”11. Nonetheless GE was not the only refrigerator produer their were others12 that dominated the industry who engaged in price wars and other plans to attract consumers, noticeably the companies that were competitaive were large corporations that had financial viability and resources available for R&D, further, these corporations engaged in some level of intergration and synergy to be successful.
Negotation, collective grouping and cooperation between the manufacturers, designers, and the utility holders allowed them to achieve their economic interests, while other companies such as Servel (Serve Electric,) and SORCO13 were said to be ineffiecntly managed because gas innovation came to late, also the their was little negoatiability between the gas utility and the producers thus less financial gains, further GE was able use the patent that encouraged their R&D considerably while Servel were not able to gain from cooportaion from others research, rationally we can see that the social interation between multinational organizations allowed a singular choice of technology to develop while such economies of scale made it difficult for new entrants into the industry particular after market was heaviliy concentrated.