Teaching STS: Reinvention and Modification

I saw this in a student presentation yesterday about the role of adaptation in the process of diffusion, where we were discussing matters of re-invention and post-hoc modification/workarounds. I was somewhat stunned and the students in the class were mezmerized:

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What you see in the image above is a C5 Russian missile launcher removed from its “aircraft source” and then adapted/modified for use on the rollbar of a jeep/truck. There is also a video too, below the image available at reposter here.

Another of these “DIY” wartime inventions is a hand-held grenade launcher modified for individual use (the source being a slew of them mounted on the bed of a truck).

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All of these examples, along with the videos, could be used in lessons about diffusion and re-inventions, of course. My guess, however, is to ask the students: how does this make you rethink some of the ideas scholars have about diffusion and re-invention. Certainly, the old, fun ideas from STS about “using technologies in ways not originally intended by designers” is a good one here, but beyond that one could begin to rethink the, what one might call, “quick and easy” story of diffusion that seems to dominate the basic literature. I’m speaking here about the binary “1 for adopt, 0 for non-adoption” interpretation of spread. It becomes useless to think about C5 missile launchers in this way. Bringing up the old work of Akrich (1995, solar cells) and the newer work of De Laet and Mol (2002, hand-pump) leads to a much more nuanced vision of re-invention, modification, and localizatoin, but is even that enough? The role of “necessity” seems obviously right, but analytically weak as determining “moments of necessity” from conditions of non-necessity is a deadend for research. Taking a Weberian approach and forcing a claim like because of their geopolitical circumstances and cultural approach to the world around them, common Libyans are relatively more “resourceful” than their governmental/military counterparts also seems analytically weak. Is this a classic “drifting edges of global networks come together unintentionally and unexpectedly” making this outcome, as in, Soviet degeneration leading to the global sales of ersatz military resources (that almost nobody can maintain and) which are (therefore) cheap creates the conditions underwhich the only way to get additional utility out of these machines is in remaking their uses. I’m not even sure what one would call that sort of an analysis … “luck theory”? The motivation behind any modification, reinvention or workaround appears to be some combination of the need to localize and/or extend the utility of something (or a portoin of something). Trying to determine the motivation beyond mere “necessity” or “resourcefulness” is difficult to do. In this case, survival plays an obvious motivation factor; however, extending that to a broader framework seems foolhardy too. So, “where does reinvention come from?” ought to be an enduring question for our students and ourselves in STS…

Please note: reposter.net is a resposting site, so the original material comes from somewhere else, always:

Here are the videos, in order and linked to the original posts on alive.in/libya

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This entry was posted in STS, Teaching, Uncategorized by Nicholas. Bookmark the permalink.

About Nicholas

Associate Professor of Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Penn State, Nicholas mainly writes about understanding the scientific study of states and, thus, it is namely about state theory. Given his training in sociology and STS, he takes a decidedly STS-oriented approach to state theory and issues of governance.

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