Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Reading:: A Sociology of monsters

Originally posted: Wed, 11 Jun 2003 00:36:00

A Sociology of monsters : essays on power, technology, and domination
John Law (Editor)

Too bad this book is out of print. Even though I'm a little tired of discussions of "power," this collection is really interesting and full of useful essays. In particular, I was taken with Steve Woolgar's investigation of usability trials -- an excellent essay to have your usability class read, as it calls into question some of the notions that underpin the realism of usability labs. Woolgar is amused by how large a role coffee seems to play in the usability trials he studied. Beyond that, he asks what the boundaries of an object are, and gives an answer that is a little more complex and satisfying than "they're just social."

Latour's classic "Technology is Society Made Durable" uses examples such as hotel keys to argue that we have to see technology and society in terms of the associative chains built among actants -- chains that are often (always?) forged through rhetoric. What is an actant? An actant, he says, is a list of answers to trials. Here's another answer to the question Woolgar poses: through successive trials, the actant becomes known and distinguished from other actants.

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