The black-boxing of a technology is different than the incremental emergence of “taken-for-grantedness”

Below is an excerpt about black boxing and taken-for-grantedness, which I wrote with Fabio Rojas years ago:

The black-boxing of a technology is different than the incremental emergence of “taken-for-grantedness,” which comes from writers such as Schutz (1967) and Berger and Luckmann (1966). They argue that knowledge in everyday life is taken for granted by individuals as reality, “but [that] not all aspects of reality are equally unproblematic” (p. 24).  They provide an example germane to this discussion:

  • …suppose that I am an automobile mechanic who is highly knowledgeable about all American-made cars. Everything that pertains to the latter is a routine, unproblematic facet of my everyday life. But one day someone appears in the garage and asks me to repair his Volkswagen. I am now compelled to enter the problematic world of foreign-made cars (p. 24).

Technologies, they contend, like those related to car repair, get taken for granted over time and through expertise. But by looking at technologies as black-boxes, scholars can gain a fresh perspective on the institutionalization of technology by emphasizing how stable technologies stabilize human networks, rather than how routinization results in a technology’s disappearance for organizational actors. Returning to Berger and Luckmann’s example, as a black-box, automobiles and the networks of dependence and exchange built-up around them are concealed (or ignored). Further, the patterns of human behavior that make a mechanic’s garage the one place to fix broken cars is missed because of the emphasis on how technologies get “taken-for-granted.”

Seems Berger and Luckmann’s (1966) old work on the social construction of reality might find new use distinguishing blacking-boxing from institutionalization. Also, please note: If there was one thing that early Latourian thinking and the new institutionalism in organizational analysis were looking to unlock was how something gets sealed-up and stabilized over time to the point of being taken-for-granted as real, true, or rational. Look back at the early pages of Latour’s book on Pasteur — it opens with the image of Rue Pasteur and asks how did we get this … a good question, no?

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