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Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs : Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change [Paperback]

Wiebe Bijker

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Book Description

3 Mar 1997 0262522276 978-0262522274 New edition
This book crystallizes and extends the important work Wiebe Bijker has done in the last decade to found a full-scale theory of sociotechnical change that describes where technologies come from and how societies deal with them. Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs integrates detailed case studies with theoretical generalizations and political analyses to offer a fully rounded treatment both of the relations between technology and society and of the issues involved in sociotechnical change.The stories of the the safety bicycle, the first truly synthetic plastic, and the fluorescent light bulb - each a fascinating case study in itself - reflect a cross section of time periods, engineering and scientific disciplines, and economic, social, and political cultures. The bicycle story explores such issues as the role of changing gender relationships in shaping a technology; the Bakelite story examines the ways in which social factors intrude even in cases of seemingly pure chemistry and entrepreneurship; and the fluorescent bulb story offers insights into the ways in which political and economic relationships can affect the form of a technology.Bijker's method is to use these case studies to suggest theoretical concepts that serve as building blocks in a more and more inclusive theory, which is then tested against further case studies. His main concern is to create a basis for science, technology, and social change that uncovers the social roots of technology, making it amenable to democratic politics.Inside Technology series

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Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs : Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change + The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology
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"Bijker has provided a useful text demonstrating the advantages ofopening up technological phenomena to relativist inquiry...a valuablecontribution to the important goal of redefining the relation betweenthe technical and the nontechnical." Steve Woolgar , New Scientist

About the Author

Wiebe E. Bijker is Professor at Maastricht University and the author of Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change (MIT Press) and other books.

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cycling into social history 27 May 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Bijker's case studies could be read as fascinating histories of technology, but their strength lies in the analysis of the chosen artefacts. Bicycle presents mechanical technology, bakellite chemical and the fluorescent lighting electrical; the cases are also different in their approach: bicycle is discussed from end user viewpoint (who rode the bicycle and how); bakelite is a story of an inventor and a birth of a new industry, whereas the bulb presents a case of an established industry going through a turbulent technological renewal.
Bicycle was not a useful thing: it was a completely useless hobby of a few inventors and daredevils, and Bijker traces the developments that made the bicycle an indispensable form of transportation. The case offers hilarious deja vu: bicycle means death of distance ! Before the safety bicycle established itself as the dominant design, bicycle races and speed tests were used for advertising, not unlike the PC performance tests that were numerous not too many years ago.
Bakelite and Baekeland are described in a "heroic innovator" way, but taking into account historical context, professional trajectories of the involved scientists and the dead ends and failed experiments. Synthetic resin business is also covered.
Fluorescent lighting case shows how the invention goes through various phases before it is established as we know it today. In the case of fluorescent lighting, things developed rapidly between 1938 and 1940 and the lamp transformed itself from low intensity lamp for coloring purposes to energy saving lamp to high intensity daylight lamp. The power struggle within the industry is obvious because the lamp supplier got only 4% of profits in incandescence lighting but 24% in fluorescent case, with the share of the utility dropping from 80% to 44%.
Bijker's approach calls for identifying all relevant social groups, and these are very different in the different cases: sewing machine makers were important in bicycle manufacturing because of related skills and economic downturn in their major business; but non-users of bicycles were also important (because they were, by definition, numerous in the beginning). Sports cyclists, touring cyclists, elderly men and women all had special requirements, like sideways sitting and pedaling designs for women riding in long skirts.
The style is ready readable, and background science is suitably discussed. Enjoyable book !
1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars None have ever shipped a book to me with such grace and poise. 1 May 2013
By James N. Stroup - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What can I say? It came. It was like they said and I'm a happy guy now. Is anyone reading this? No.
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