انتخاب تکنولوژی و عملکرد آن: به سوی ارائه جامعه شناسی تأمین تجهیزات پکیج نرم افزاری
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی||تعداد کلمات|
|16924||2007||31 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید||محاسبه نشده|
Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Information and Organization, Volume 17, Issue 3, 2007, Pages 131–161
Technology acquisition is an important but neglected issue within the social science analysis of technology. The limited number of studies undertaken reproduce a schism between rationalist (e.g., economic) forms of analysis, where the assumption is that choice is the outcome of formal assessment, and cultural sociological approaches which see choice as driven by the micro-politics of the organisational setting, interests, prevalent rhetorics, fads, etc. While sympathetic to the latter critical view, we are dissatisfied with the relativist portrayal of technology selection: that decisions beset with uncertainties and tensions are divorced from formal decision making criteria. Influenced by Michel Callon’s writing on the ‘performativity’ of economic concepts and tools, we argue that formal assessment has a stronger relationship to technology decisions than suggested by cultural sociologists. We focus on a procurement which is characterised by high levels of organisational tension and where there is deep uncertainty about each of the solutions on offer. We show how the procurement team are able to arrive at a decision through laboriously establishing a ‘comparison’. That is, they attempt to drag the choice from the informal domain onto a more formal, accountable plane through the mobilisation and performance of a number of ‘comparative measures’ and criteria. These measures constituted a stabilised form of accountability, which we describe through the metaphor of a ‘scaffolding’, erected in the course of the procurement. Our argument is threefold: first, we argue that comparisons are possible but that they require much effort; second, that it is not the properties of the technology which determines choice but the way these properties are given form through the various comparative measures put in place; and finally, whilst comparative measures might be imposed by one group upon others in a procurement team, these measures remain relatively malleable.
As with many topics in the social sciences the debate surrounding the choice and purchase of technologies is polarised across a number of incommensurable positions. A major line of argument has been between, on the one hand, technocratic analyses advanced, for example, by economics, management and engineering accounts, where the assumption is that sufficient information is available about the properties of artefacts to enable rational choice to be made, and, on the other, more sociological and critical approaches which emphasise the profound uncertainties surrounding procurement, the consequent contestability of claims about the properties of technology, and the ‘negotiability’ of the criteria used to assess objects. In this latter view, choice of one technology over another is seen to reside not in the objective properties of the artefact as revealed by a formal technical or economic assessment but to be, of necessity, refracted through or, in some accounts, driven by the micro-politics of the organisation, the commitments of the various actors, prevalent rhetorics, fads, etc (Grint and Woolgar, 1997 and Neyland and Woolgar, 2002). While sympathetic with the critical account, we are dissatisfied with the relativist outcome and portrayal of technology selection as divorced from formal decision making criteria, particularly when it seems to us that procurement is subject to powerful, albeit complex, rationales. In contrast, we suggest that the formal assessment criteria adopted guide and transform the technology selection process. Our thinking is influenced by the work of those scholars who have become sensitive to the interrelationship between these two positions. In particular the work of Callon, 1998, Callon, 1999, Callon and Muniesa, 2005, MacKenzie, 1992 and MacKenzie, 2005 which has examined the contrasting explanations that economists and sociologists offer for the functioning of economic and financial markets. They both suggest that the gulf that exists between these two viewpoints is unhelpful. MacKenzie (1992) raised the idea that these disciplines offer tools with different kinds of explanatory power. Economic tools he suggests are well-honed for assessing the aggregate outcomes of highly regularised behaviour; where there are more or less formal criteria in play. Sociological tools (and here he refers to contemporary actor-centred accounts) are best honed for exploring the particularities of behaviour in their more or less unique historical geographical and social setting. Callon too focuses on the efficacy of the tools that both disciplines bring to bear but he takes the discussion further by investigating why one set of explanatory mechanisms appears to be more successful than the other. His conclusions, which have sparked an intense debate in the field of economic sociology and beyond, are that certain theories and tools not only describe but help to create the settings in which they are applied. In other words, certain theoretical constructs appear to more accurately reflect their setting because they are performed in (and in so doing help constitute) that setting. It is the notion of ‘performance’ (and ‘performativity’) which is crucial here. The term suggests that certain phenomena are, to a substantial degree, brought into existence and sustained through the actual ‘doing of them’ (Callon et al., 2002 and MacKenzie, 2005). Callon and MacKenzie have applied this concept in economic sociology to explain how markets may be brought into being. Callon suggests that if people are to trade and purchase goods in a ‘market’ (as opposed to any of the other ways the exchange of goods might occur) then the market has to be continually performed. The strength of his work lies in the conceptual framework he introduces to show this performance. For instance, he discusses and confirms the existence of ‘homo economicus’, suggesting that economic man does indeed exist but only because ‘he’ is brought into being through a process of ‘disentanglement’ and ‘framing’.1 It is because of disentanglement/framing says Callon that actors can make decisions which appear ‘calculated’ and ‘rational’. Callon also introduces a third term, ‘overflowing’, to emphasise the constant need to reframe as new information relevant to the decision comes forward. Holm (2002) describes how in Callon’s approach actors and objects are so thoroughly entangled in ‘sticky cultural contexts’ that these processes of framing and disentanglement are crucial if market actors are to evaluate and calculate the likely results of their decisions: buyer and seller must be constructed as ‘autonomous agencies’ and the object to be sold must be constructed as stable and commodity-like. Importantly, the mechanisms that enable this decontextualisation are not part of ‘human nature’ but have to be actively constructed (Holm, 2002). To put it more in the terms we want to develop in this article, various assessment and comparative measures must be defined, constructed and put in place if framing and disentanglement are to take place. Paraphrasing Holm, the more taken for granted, embedded, and ‘thing-like’ these measures become, the more effective they will be in untangling objects from their social, cultural and technological contexts, and thus enabling actors to make the calculated decision they desire (Holm, 2002). These are important ideas, which, if they can be applied to the study of decision making during economic transactions, can also be useful for understanding the choice of one technology over another.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
From the point of view of economics, management and engineering accounts, the procurement of technologies is seen to be the result of a formal process in which information about the properties of objects is assessed against a narrow set of pre-specified decision criteria. By contrast, critical interpretations informed by constructivist and cultural sociology reject this view, portraying technology selection as the outcome of more informal social processes in which the micro-politics of the organisation overshadow the substance of the selection procedure. In particular many follow a ‘Woolgarian’ type view in which the technical properties of the different systems and the decision criteria, if not entirely removed from the equation altogether, are seen as ‘indeterminate’ to that decision. While constructivist tools are well honed for unpicking the political moves underlying technical discourse and seek to demonstrate how micro-politics are in command and decisions divorced from formal assessment, we argue that technology selection cannot be fully understood unless we more fully consider the role of assessment criteria. In the case presented here, we have shown that the procurement decision was not a purely political device in the ways that radical constructivism might suggest (even though it had an important ritual and dramatic element). The decision occurred in a context characterised by high levels of uncertainty, where the properties of the different offerings and the decision criteria were negotiable and indeed openly and covertly contested. Added to this, the relationship between the Council and its joint venture partner was teetering on the brink of failure. However, utilising Callon’s concept of the performativity of economic concepts and tools, we have shown how the Procurement Team sought to ‘frame’ the procurement, and in doing so to push away arguments that came from outside the boundaries of the choice, to edge around controversies, and to drag the procurement from the informal domain onto a more formal, accountable plane. In other words, they attempted to draw a boundary around those things they considered central to the decision and those that belonged elsewhere. These kinds of overflows included the ambiguity and uncertainty that was introduced late on by the JV Partner when they attempted to include ‘risk’ as a feature of the choice. Their efforts involved the laborious construction of a ‘like for like’ comparison: that is, attempts to draw out and compare those properties which were deemed to be significant, and to lay them on a common plane. To this effect we saw how the Team wove into the process a number of ‘comparative measures’ or ‘comparative scaffolding’. These included elements set prior to and outside of the array of actors involved in the procurement, along with others put in place in the process of reaching a decision. First, there were attempts to collect and interpret testimonies from reference sites, – though the evidence obtained was often uniformly positive and thus provided little opportunity to differentiate suppliers. Second, much time went into establishing the provenance and status of the software packages and there were discussions of what kinds of objects with what kind of biographies and careers the Council were willing to accept (a package built from scratch, one constructed for other industries, or a partially formed local government package). Third, where the Team were unable (or simply unwilling) to ‘imagine’ a finished system from the ‘bits and bobs’ they were shown, or to make the necessary parallels between their setting and the references sites, there was a requirement for suppliers to show that they could also make their systems work within the Council. In other words they were being asked to provide evidence of technical competence. Fourthly, there were attempts to assess the standing of suppliers, as a measure of their current and future performance, by asking external experts to comment on and investigate that standing. Finally, it became increasingly important for the suppliers to demonstrate their systems and that the Team could bear direct witness to these demonstrations. We describe these comparative measures as stabilised forms of accountability – albeit a loosely coupled form of accountability which left considerable discretion for actors (they are a resource rather than a constraint). We suggested that these operate as a kind of ‘scaffolding’ erected during the move towards the procurement decision. These measures – this scaffolding – as they are put into place gradually give a shape to assessments of the various systems (i.e. their boundaries are mapped out, and it is shown on what they depend and who they are connected to). Our argument is that it was not so much the properties of the systems which were important for establishing differences and similarities between the various software packages but it was the enactment of these various assessment criteria within the procurement team which give a form to those properties. When there were difficulties and uncertainties these have to be interpreted not as uncertainties about directly ascertained properties but, rather, as uncertainties surrounding the measures that calculate properties. Each of the different comparative measures had different explanatory power (and thus there was a constant need to move between measures in order to compare the artefacts). We saw a shift from the notion of procurement as an exercise in imagination or even enchantment (i.e. where the Team were asked to ‘imagine’ how a system in a reference site would work within their own setting); to an exercise in trust based upon testimony (where the team were asked to assess testimonies and expert judgements); and finally to more concrete ‘visual’ exercise (where the Team could witness demonstrations). It was by shifting between measures that the technologies were eventually ranked and sifted; that they could be disentangled from the reference sites and the supplier, and that their differences could be shown. What was also interesting about our case is that most members of the Team appeared to have a hand in the decision, to be relatively satisfied with the process, to think that not all but some of their views had been included, and that the outcome (although it meant giving up their initial preference) was the correct one for the Council. This latter aspect (how the Team members shifted vendor preferences) is the most interesting. Callon and Muniesa (2005) have discussed how measures may be imposed by specialists groups. In our case the Team ended up evaluating the packages (not through the measures that were initially touted – such as fit, price, the packages’ potential for updating processes, etc.) but through sets of measures that were proposed to them – maybe in some cases imposed on them – by their (more technical) colleagues. However, perhaps the notion ‘impose’ is too strong. No one member of the Team was able to completely frame the process: new sites of tension were continuously opening up; measures were subject to continuous ‘overflowing’. This was most evident in instances where assessment criteria were recast: these included MiddleVendor attempting to sidestep their lack of a demonstrator by offering a ‘Proof of Concept’; MiddleVendor’s benign proposal that Melchester be a ‘pilot site’, which was subsequently reinterpreted by hostile local actors that they were actually being used as a ‘guinea pig’; and JV Partner’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to introduce the notion of ‘risk’ as a further assessment criteria. The scaffolding metaphor addresses, on the one hand, the continued spaces for negotiation and discretion about what new criteria and methods should be introduced and how they should be applied – and as we saw, these reconfigurations could give rise to ‘surprising’ outcomes.14 On the other, the outcomes were not wholly open but were structured, subject to various kinds of local and broader accountability. For instance, we saw how the assessment process became increasingly constrained as different planks of the scaffold were put into place and the parties moved towards a decision. Procurement of course takes place in a range of contexts, with more or less well-established evaluation criteria and subject to different levels and types of accountability. And as we saw in this case, accountability may change. The actors’ awareness of formal requirements such as the fair trading legislation changed the parameters of this discretion – enacting a tighter form of accountability. In other words, the transparency that was required within the OJEC had a determinate effect on the conduct of decisions. To conclude, technology choice and purchase should not be reduced to one single dimension (either the outcome of rational decision making or the result of discursive struggles). Rather, it is the tension between these two positions that is interesting and should be explored. What our story highlights is that though laborious, comparison is possible – it is performed through this cycle of disentangling, framing and overflowing. In this respect, we need to understand in greater detail the ‘grey space’ that exists between rationalistic accounts of technology and cultural sociological accounts. Theorising these grey spaces as well as the actors who inhabit and are able to speak in them is crucial for analysing technical change. In terms of the former, there is a need to accept that the comparative measures identified here constitute a form of assessment (they are not simply a ‘rhetorical ploy’). In terms of the latter, we point to the emergence of new kinds of experts who accept and work with this more amorphous kind of knowledge (see particularly Herschel & Collins, 2005) and argue that these experts and their organisations need to be studied. In other words, the challenge for researchers addressing technology choice, within Information Systems research or Technology Studies, is to develop tools honed for understanding the space established between techno-economic accounts and more cultural sociological approaches.