Title: Closure by Unclosure. A perspective on the role of conflict in the study of technological controversies
Author(s): Andrea Lorenzet
Affiliation: University of Padova
Presented At: STiS 2008
Primary Topic Area: S&T Studies
In STS theorisation on technological change, controversies on technological artefacts resolve thanks to the steady convergence of actors towards shared meanings of technology (as in the SCOT model – Bijker 1995), or through the cooperation of actors around ‘boundary objects’ (Star & Griesemer, 1989), discursive anchors that allow translations of different interpretations of technology. Such a cooperative vision of the stabilization of technological artefacts emerged mainly on the basis of the study of technological innovations and is centred on the concept of ‘translation’ (Callon & Latour, 1981), used to describe the processes of formation of alliances among heterogeneous actors that leads to the stabilization of artefacts. However, moving from the study of single technological innovations to the analysis of broader controversies on technologies in a policy context, one relevant aspect to consider is that these latter disputes can be characterised by conflicting and obdurate argumentations that resist translation and therefore prevent consensual or cooperative closure of technological controversies. Starting from this consideration, this contribution is a first attempt to consider and discuss, also with reference to concrete case studies, the concept of ‘unclosure’, aimed at interpreting the stabilization of technological artefacts and the closure of disputes not only as a result of consensus and/or cooperation, but also as an outcome of polarized and enduring conflicts. The paper argues that the concept of ‘unclosure’, inspired by STS studies on controversies and focused on conflict as a constitutive element of stabilization of contested ‘public’ technologies, can help in bridging the gap between STS and STP approaches.