what is technoscience? how has technoscience impacted society?

The world that we live in seems to change at an ever faster pace. We attribute this to technology…but how did technology become so pervasive in our everyday lives? What role has science played in this evolution? And, how do science and technology impact one another? The concept of technoscience helps us to understand this evolution and the reason why technology has come to impact almost every aspect of our daily lives.

To best understand this relationship, it is important to first define traditional science, which is considered knowledge production that uses technology to create phenomena and make representations. For example, models, diagrams and theories.

This approach to science generally depends on a pristine and controlled research environment and process in which objects are immutable and timeless. Within such research environments, traditional science aims to test a hypothesis.

Further, traditional science alleges that the world is made up of facts and not things and that there is a distinction between technology and science.

It is at this contention that traditional and technoscience diverge as technoscience makes no distinction between technology and science. Instead, technoscience considers science and technology to be interconnected concepts that have evolved in a symbiotic manner and therefore cannot be isolated from one another.

Likewise, within the realm of technoscience, the categorical distinction between science and technology is subverted as technologies dependent on science and sciences dependent on technology are now standard. As such, scientific knowledge has come to appropriate some technological characteristics, while technological knowledge has shifted towards creating new technology purely for the sake of creating something. Accordingly, technology is considered a tool that can and should be used to remove the constraints of our current understandings in science.

technoscience vs. traditional science

According to philosophies of Francis Bacon (as adapted by Schmidt 2011), there are four ways of interpreting technoscience:

  1. Purpose technoscience: motive, interest, purpose, and power
  2. Method technoscience: method, practice, process, and action
  3. Truth-technoscience: objectivity, evidence, and truth
  4. Object-technoscience: ontology and object

Purpose-technoscience serves to provide a competitive advantage, which ensures wealth and ultimately power. With power comes the ability to blend the dichotomy of facts and values, the intentions of which are to influence the flows of society.

Method-technoscience aims to open the Pandora’s Box of science to create and manipulate the ideas of science to shift focus towards “The activity of making science and not the definition by scientists and philosophers of what science consists of (LATOUR 1987, p. 174)”.

In other words, the aims are construction and discovery as opposed to justification. This shift necessitates the use of specialized instruments to effectively make this approach to science more complex as it cannot be decontextualized. This shift also effectively removes the possibility of “big narratives”, i.e. explanations that are unification-oriented because of the specialized nature of scientific endeavors.

Truth-technoscience asserts that it is not the theory but the object being created that serves as proof of validity. BAIRD (2004) describes this as the difference between “thing knowledge” [meaning the material objects produced by science] and theoretical knowledge, which acts as a rejection of the traditional dichotomy of practice and theory. This is because, according to HACKING (1983), if it can be constructed then it is true, meaning that all theoretical knowledge can be molded into “thing knowledge” – it is simply a matter of finding a way of creating a bridge between the two branches of knowledge.

Finally, object-technoscience explores the human-technology, human-nature, and nature-technology relationship. Currently, technology has an inherent human component in a way that nature is arguably lacking. However, as the influence of technology grows, these lines become blurred to challenge the previously defined understanding of what “is”.

Accordingly, object-technoscience questions whether a distinction between technology and nature ever actually existed, because technology is, in a sense, only an extension of nature because the collective “everything” exists within the confines of nature. Due to this restriction, object-technoscience attempts to “vanquish” nature by commanding and controlling it via technologization.

The development of common instruments for scientific use is believed to have led to to the initial blending of science and technology (HONG 1999). As discipline overlap grew, social relations between natural philosophers and engineers expanded and ultimately led to the establishment of organizations, e.g. universities, which increased the social status of those engaging in collaborative activities. Their improved social status eventually led to more societal influence and ultimately the construct of modern structures of authority and power.

PICKSTONE (2000) credits this established dominance to the institutions that supported the blending of industry, academia and government into a co-dependent entity that influences the general functionality of society. It was during the period from the turn of the 20th century to the 1970s that technoscience established itself as the dominant form of problem-solving as it was during this time that scientific research became a central mechanism for technological change in the economy. Likewise, the labor process became deconstructed as a component of the adoption of organized capitalism.

Also during this period, a number of revolutionary technologies were introduced, ranging from refrigeration to shipping containers which transformed the production process. However, by the end of this era, all of the “low-hanging fruits” of economic growth had been picked, causing investment in new technologies to dwindle, thereby slowing economic growth. Instead of further investment in new and radical technologies, industry opted to reorganize and adopt neoliberal policies.

Biotechnology, arguably the most well-known technoscience output, subsequently emerged as a placation in developed countries as it promised new and innovative technologies that would bring about another age of development. However, HESS (2012) asserts that despite a great deal of fanfare and hype, biotechnology has not resulted in increased productivity or profitable commodity production.

However, despite failing to produce the technological equivalents of the Second Industrial Revolution, technoscience allowed for one very influential change in society: the commodification of science and the creation of “knowledge commodities” (PICKSTONE 2000).  REYNOLDS and PELLIZZONI (2012) explain that for scientific knowledge, which can be considered both intangible and collective, to become a commodity, legal infrastructure [patents, intellectual property laws or other institutional concessions, for example) must be in place.

This approach to policy infrastructure aligns with the principles of neoliberalism in that there is a shift away from State intervention and collective action in favor of privatization and individual rights.

Within the neoliberal knowledge-based economy, science as a commodity has become both a driver and an object of speculation within the realm of financialization, instead of contributing to the general accumulation of knowledge as many of the advancements have become privately appropriated (REYNOLDS & PELLIZZONI 2012).

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