Friday, December 16, 2016

Reading :: Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs

Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change
By Wiebe Bijker

I've seen Bijker's work cited frequently in the science, technology, and society (STS) literature, so when I saw this 1995 book at the used bookstore, I scooped it up. Bijker uses three case studies—the development of the bicycle, the invention of Bakelite, and the marketing of fluorescent lights—to develop his theory of sociotechnical change. This theory draws heavily from others in STS, including Latour, Woolgar, Callon, Star, and Bowker.

Unfortunately, the book itself did not leave much of an impression on me. Bijker does an able job of developing the three cases, but the theory he develops does not seem markedly different from other readings in STS—it seems more like a summation of STS theory. Perhaps I missed a crucial theoretical distinction that others didn't? Or perhaps the book seems middle-of-the-road now only because it influenced STS so strongly? But looking at STS books from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, I don't think that's the case.

In any case, the book is a relatively quick read and I learned a lot of things about the three cases themselves. If you are interested in one of these three things, or in a mid-1990s look at STS theory, pick it up.

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