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The bootstrapped artefact: a collectivist account of technological ontology, functions, and normativity

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The bootstrapped artefact: a collectivist account of technological ontology, functions, and normativity
  The bootstrapped artefact: a collectivist account of technological ontology,functions, and normativity Pablo Schyfter Science Studies Unit, University of Edinburgh, Chisholm House, High School Yards, Edinburgh EH1 1LZ, UK  a r t i c l e i n f o  Article history: Received 1 July 2007Received in revised form 28 January 2008 Keywords: Technological artefactsDual natureTechnological functionsNormativity of artefactsPerformative theory of social institutions a b s t r a c t In 2006, this journal addressed the problem of technological artefacts, and through a series of articlesaimed at tackling the ‘dual nature of technical artefacts’, posited an understanding of these as constitutedby both a structural (physical) and a functional (intentional) component. This attempt to conceptualiseartefacts established a series of important questions, concerning such aspects of material technologiesas mechanisms, functions, human intentionality, and normativity. However, I believe that in establishingthe ‘dual nature’ thesis, the authors within this issue focused too strongly on technological function. Bypositing function as the analytic axis of the ‘dual nature’ framework, the theorists did not sufficientlyproblematise what is ultimately a social phenomenon. Here I posit a complementary analytic approachto this problem; namely, I argue that by using the Strong Programme’s performative theory of social insti-tutions, we can better understand the nature of material technologies. Drawing particularly from MartinKusch’s work, I here argue that by conceptualising artefacts as artificial kinds, we can better examinetechnological ontology, functions, and normativity. Ultimately, a Strong Programme approach, construc-tivist and collectivist in nature, offers a useful elaboration upon the important question raised by the‘dual nature’ theorists.   2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. When citing this paper, please use the full journal title  Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 1. Introduction Technological artefacts have been examined from a range of perspectives within science and technology studies. The scholar-ship on technological artefacts has employed historical (Hughes,1999), sociological (Latour, 1992), anthropological (Pfaffenberger, 1992), economic (Dosi, 1982), feminist (van Oost, 2003), labour process (Noble,1999), culturalstudies (Miller, 2001), psychological (Turkle, 1982), and philosophical (Feenberg, 2002) approaches in an attempt to comprehensively understand the nature of artefactsand their roles within society. These studies have demonstratedthe complexity, heterogeneity, and dynamism that characterisetechnological artefacts, and have overwhelmingly captured theubiquity of these objects in our societies.Recently, this journal contributed to this body of scholarship bytaking up as a subject of studythe natureof technological artefacts.In a comprehensive issue dedicated to the topic, a series of authorsposited a conceptual and analytic framework intended to addressthe so-called ‘dual nature of technical artefacts’ (Kroes & Meijers,2006). The authors included in the special issue covered withimpressive breadth arange oftopics concerningtechnologicalarte-facts, and collectively put forward a program of enquiry aimed atunderstanding the duality inherent in all these objects. Namely,theseauthors hopetoidentify,describe, and explicatebothtechno-logical artefacts’ physical structures and functional capabilities,which together constitute this ‘dual nature’.In this paper, I will argue that while this approach offers a greatdeal for our examination of technological artefacts, particularly byhighlighting such issues as ontology, functions, normativity, andhuman intentionality, it too quickly elides important issues of arte-fact sociality. By deploying technological function as the analyticaxis 1 within the ‘dual nature’ framework, the authors do not 0039-3681/$ - see front matter    2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.shpsa.2008.12.006 E-mail address: 1 I am indebted to David Bloor for providing me with this term. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40 (2009) 102–111 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Studies in History and Philosophy of Science journal homepage:  satisfactorily problematise function itself as a sociotechnical phe-nomenon embedded within a dense milieu of social practices. Assuch, I believe a re-examination of some central problems in the nat-ureoftechnologicalartefactsis fruitfullabour.HereIwillre-examinethe nature of technological function and its place within a broaderframework for the analysis of technological artefacts by engagingwith issues of artefact ontology and normativity. I hope to contributetotheworkalreadybegunbythe‘dualnature’theoristsandelaborateupon someof their crucialobservations; specifically, I intendtodem-onstrate that a constructivist and collectivist understanding of tech-nological function can further our understanding of technologicalartefacts. Let us begin, then, by identifying some important characteris-tics of technological artefacts, so that we may establish the para-meters within which this examination will take place. Theseveral authors of the ‘dual nature’ issue argue that technologicalartefacts display four primary qualities. First, artefacts have anobdurate spatio-temporal materiality; that is, they exist physicallyin the world (Kroes & Meijers, 2006). Second, they are designedboth in terms of their physical construction and their operativeguidelines; that is, they are purposefully brought into existence(ibid.; Vermaas, 2006). Thirdly, humans mobilise artefacts in orderto carry out particular tasks: artefacts have functions (Kroes &Meijers 2006; Vermaas & Houkes, 2006; Hansson, 2006; Houkes,2006). Finally, artefacts have a normative component both in thesense that humans can use artefacts ‘correctly’ or ‘incorrectly’and in the sense that specific examples of an artefact type can be‘good’ or ‘bad’ (Franssen, 2006; Dancy, 2006). This fourfold charac-terisation serves to delimit the field of interest, and satisfies ourneed for a clear identification of the issues under scrutiny.As I will detail below, the authors of the ‘dual nature’ thesisbroadly tend to argue that technological artefacts (as characterisedby these four qualities) can be conceptualised as possessing a bin-ary existence. First, artefacts have a designed physical structurewith particular capacities; second, they have functional capabilitybroadly associated with human intentionality. The linking bridgebetween the two is technological function (Vermaas & Houkes,2006). As I will argue, function thus forms the reference point forconsiderations of artefact ontology, as it does for issues of normativity.By not problematising technological function as a socially con-stituted and dynamic phenomenon, and employing it as an explan-atory concept for artefact ontology and normativity, the ‘dualnature’ theorists (perhaps unintentionally) reify function and en-gage with it as an immutable and essential quality. Consequently,the authors limit their own programme of description and explica-tion; their conceptualisation of function poses a hurdle to theirobjective of analysing artefact ontology and normativity. I believethat an alternative approach, one that attempts critically to engagewith the problem of artefacts through the Strong Programme’s per-formative theory of social institutions (see Barnes, 1983; Bloor,1997), can more effectively address these issues.By using the work of Martin Kusch (1997, 1999), I believe wecan examine technological artefacts as  artificial kinds  constitutedthrough referential practice and formative intentional actions(Collins & Kusch, 1998). Through a sociophilosophical understand-ing of technology, we can come to develop a constructivist andcollectivist framework for the analysis of artefact ontology,function, and normativity. In contrast with the ‘dual nature’ frame-work, I will argue that  artefact function is generated by rather than generative of usage , and that we can analyse ontology, function,and normativity as collective practices made intelligible throughself-referential social institutions.This constructivist and collectivist understanding of artefactsallows the student of technology symmetrically to account forartefact functions, ontology, and normativity by examining thesocialprocesses that bring these into being. That is, unlikethe ‘dualnature’ theorists, I intend to use Kusch’s notion of artificial kinds toaccount for function, ontology, and normativity as products of thesame social institutions, rather than mobilise function in order toexplicate the remaining facets of artefacts.My attempt to employ the Strong Programme within studies of technology is certainly not without precedent, as previous workhas followed related strands within the sociology of scientificknowledge (SSK). Perhaps most notably, Pinch and Bijker (1984)mobilised the empirical programme of relativism in order to devel-op the ‘social construction of technology’ approach. My projecthere differs in two important senses: first, I am employing a sepa-rate component of SSK and second, I am interested not in thedevelopment of new technologies but instead on the nature of technological artefacts. MacKenzie (1996) also employed SSK inorder to examine the manner in which knowledge about technol-ogies and technological artefacts comes to be accepted on a widerscale. Although his concerns resonate closely with my own inter-estshere,he focuses moreclosely uponknowledge oftechnologicalfunction rather than addressing issues of ontology and normativi-ty, with which I engage in this text. Thus, while my approach is sit-uated in relation to other attempts to employ SSK to the study of technology, it is distinct both in its choice of framework and topic.Below, I will detail the approach taken by the ‘dual nature’ the-orists, focusing upon their conceptualisation of artefact ontology,function, and normativity. I will then proceed to describe the ana-lyticand conceptual toolsof the performativetheory of socialinsti-tutions by examining the concept of artificial kinds, and the natureof referential practice and formative intentional actions. Finally, Iwill employ these in an examination of a specific technology, thewaiter’s corkscrew, before moving on to draw some conclusionsand implications of this work. 2. The ‘dual natures’ thesis Let us review the principal theoretical propositions argued bythe authors of the ‘dual nature’ issue. I should note that the issuedoes not provide an explicit, comprehensive theoretical pro-gramme free of analytic tensions; rather, it forwards a series of postulates and tentative theoretical frameworks. As such, this sec-tion is intended to consolidate the various strands of argumenta-tion into as cohesive a framework as possible. I will address theduality of technological artefacts, technological functions, andnormativity with the aim of summarising and synthesising theissue’s literature as effectively as possible.The‘dualnature’authors,asIhopetodemonstratebelow,mobi-lise the concept of proper functions in order to analyse issues of artefact ontology and normativity. While in principle the ‘dual nat-ure’ of technological artefacts—that is, structural and functional—isnot a flawed model, the authors’ over-reliance upon technologicalfunction and structural limitation ultimately proves to be a hurdlerather than an aid. Without problematising and deconstructing theveryphenomenonoftechnologicalfunction,anyanalysisoftechno-logical artefacts will draw limited conclusions about the nature of these objects and their place within social practices.  2.1. Function(s) and ontology First, let us address the duality of technological artefacts, the‘dual nature’. As Kroes and Meijers argue in their introduction tothe issue, the analytic ethos of the collection is a commitment toconceptualising technological artefacts as constituted by two dis-tinct, though interrelated and mutually dependent natures. Tech-nological artefacts are composed of first, a ‘designed physicalstructure’ (Kroes & Meijers, 2006, p. 2) and second, ‘functions, P. Schyfter/Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40 (2009) 102–111  103  which refer to human intentionality’ (ibid.). Thus, the authors of the special issue begin their work from a dichotomisation of arte-facts into ‘structural’ and ‘intentional’ components, by which Kroesand Meijers broadly mean physical and human-agenticcomponents.Consider the waiter’s corkscrew. Let us employ this example toexplore the nature of technological artefacts. This object has aphysical component (it has materiality and mechanical capacities)and an intentional component (it is used to perform a particulartask: removing corks from bottles).Kroes and Meijers go on to recognise the difficulty of relatingthese two components and in some way identifying the links thatbind artefacts’ double existences. Approaches that focus on thestructural component, often labelled ‘mechanistic approaches’(see de Ridder, 2006), do well in characterising the relationship be-tween physical constitution and artefact function, but ultimatelyelide the relationship between functions and mental states, whichnecessarily ‘form the core of the intentional conceptualisation’(Kroes & Meijers, 2006, p. 2). Conversely, theoretical approachesthat focus heavy-handedly on the human intentionality compo-nent lack a connection to the so-called ‘physical substrate’ (ibid.)of any one artefact. Clearly, some form of compromise is requiredadequately to link structural and intentional components and thuscapture the full range of characteristics endemic to technologicalartefacts. The ‘dual nature’ theorists argue this link is to be foundin technological functions.Vermaas and Houkes suggest that by conceptualising techno-logical artefacts as binary entities, the ‘dual nature’ theorists arepresented with a significant problem:the concept of a ‘dual nature’ immediately raises the questionof how these natures connect. At the same time, the thesis pro-vides a starting point for answering this question: the conceptof technical functions provides the connection. (Vermaas &Houkes, 2006, p. 6) As they argue, functions serve as the ‘drawbridge’ between thestructural and intentional components of technological artefacts,and thus resolve the considerable tension found in managing twodiscrete facets—physical and functional. Thus a waiter’s corkscrew’sstructural and intentional components are linked by its function:‘toopen bottles by removing corks’. Function allows the analyst todeconstruct or unify artefact ontology. A waiter’s corkscrew canbe understood to be ontologically distinct as a material entity oras a functional, operating entity used to perform a task. To summarise: artefacts have two distinct, though interrelatedcomponents: structural and intentional components. These twoare linked by function, which can be used to link these two compo-nents or separate these two ontologies.  2.2. Function(s) and proper function(s) Vermaas and Houkes (2006) argue that technological functionsconstitute the ‘drawbridge’ between the structural and intentionalcomponents that characterise technological artefacts. Artefactfunction consists of:the role the artefact plays in a use plan for the artefact that is justified and communicated to prospective users. In ouraccount, it makes no sense to ascribe technical functions to anobject that is not, metaphorically speaking, embedded in a useplan. (Ibid., p. 4) Use plans are behavioural scripts that individual users follow toaccomplish specific ends. In addition to relying on end-goalachievement, use plans emphasise physical action and mechanicalcapacities: ‘a use plan of object x is a series of such actions in whichmanipulations of x are included as contributions to realising thegiven goal’ (ibid., p. 7). Thus a waiter’s corkscrew has a function:‘to open bottles by removing corks’, which is linked with a particu-lar use plan, consisting of the physical actions required to remove acork from a bottle. As functions are couched within use plans, not all forms of usage can be termed function; a synchronicity would have to beestablished with the behaviours congruous with the use plan.Scheele argues that functions can be categorised as proper func-tions, ‘ what the artefact is for  ’ (Scheele, 2006, p. 25; srcinal empha-sis), or accidental functions, ‘any use that the artefact physicallyallows’ (ibid.). Evaluating the nature of an artefact’s proper func-tion is a complicated business, which involves considerable exam-ination of both the artefact’s structure as well as its conventionalusage. It is this second element of an artefact’s proper function thatScheele chooses to examine; he notes that social context entersinto an internal relationship with proper function in the sense thatit cannot be elided when attempting to determine any artefact’sproper function. Despite this, he ultimately argues that properfunctions cannot be understood as products of collective socialdetermination, as ‘Social considerations  . . .  are at best  necessary ,but not  sufficient  ’ to determine function (ibid.; srcinal emphasis).Scheele argues that social considerations of usage fail to recognisethe ‘physical features of artefacts, which are obviously not sociallyconstructed’ (ibid.) and provide a proper function that is groundedin the artefact’s ‘objective properties, that is  . . .  its physical proper-ties and its causal history’ (ibid., p. 28). Scheele does argue for asocial contextualisation of function ascription, but subordinatessocialityto‘objectivephysicalproperties’,and althoughmaterialityis not a sufficient condition, it does receive analytic priority. Awaiter’s corkscrew has particular proper functions, which areembedded within a social context; however, these functions areultimately more dependent upon material constitution, whichoverrides idiosyncratic usage, than social processes.Similarly, Franssen argues that structure trumps intentionality,shifting the balance of functions ascription to the material compo-nent of the ‘dual nature’ thesis. He states, ‘Regarding the ascriptionof function, design often defeats performance’ (Franssen, 2006,p. 51) and goes on to investigate the relationship between instru-mental goals, materiality, and usage:what establishes the existence, for a person p, of an instrumen-tal reason, conditional on p’s havinga particular goal, to use x, isthe presence of certain physical capacities. (Ibid., p. 52) Thus, mechanical construction dominates not only the ascription of function, but also instances of usage. Finally, the ‘dual nature’ theorists examine the mannerin whichindividuals learn about artefact functions and the manner in whichthey mobilise this knowledge, particularly in relation to an arte-fact’s so-called ‘proper’ functions. Wybo Houkes (2006) argues thatartefact function knowledge must be understood as consisting of two components: knowledge of a particular artefact as a specifickindoftechnologicalartefactandknowledgeofhowtooperatethatparticularartefact.Thustoknowthatawaiter’scorkscrewisawait-er’s corkscrew is interlinked with knowledge of its proper function.To summarise: artefacts have proper functions, embeddedwithin use plans, which determine the proper usage of the artefact.While social context is of considerable importance, it must ulti-mately be subordinated to physical structure when determiningproper technological function.  2.3. Function(s) and normativity As I established above, our working definition of technologicalartefacts involves an inherent component of normativity, both interms of artefact performance and artefact usage. Normativity,Franssen (2006) argues, consists of three components: the quality 104  P. Schyfter/Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40 (2009) 102–111  of an artefact token, the success of artefact usage, and the validityof belief that a particular artefact can be used to accomplish a spe-cific task. The ‘dual nature’ theorists, when engaging with this par-ticularly salient aspect of technological artefacts, again emphasisea functional conceptualisation of normativity.As I discussed above, the ‘dual nature’ theorists argue that anartefact’s proper function is couched both within a specific useplan as well as a set of physical properties that define that arte-fact’s mechanical capabilities. This understanding of proper func-tions features prominently within the ‘dual nature’ theory of normativity. Franssen argues that when judging the quality of aparticular token within an artefact kind, materiality dominatesthe process of evaluation:When we saythat a particular violinis good,we expressthe factthat the violin has certain features and that these features,though not furnishing a reason or even a conclusive reason todo something in particular, are such that a positive rather thana negative attitude toward it is in order. (Ibid., p. 45) Thus considerations of token evaluation within the ‘dual nature’framework rely heavily on the artefact’s physical and mechanicalstructure, and are contextualised within particular proper func-tions. Franssen does note, ‘the use of an artefact for the purpose itis designed for usually requires more  . . .  than just the desire to rea-lise the corresponding end.’ (ibid., 2006, p. 47) and as such so do judgements of token quality. Artefact usage is embedded withinuse plans, which determine the necessary contextual requisitesfor successful operation: every artefact is imbedded in a use plan that specifies whichoperations of the artefact will lead to the end state that corre-sponds to the function of the artefact. A use plan tacitly orexplicitly contains the circumstances that must obtain and theabilities the user must show for these operations to lead tothe desired end state. (Ibid., 2006, p. 28) For instance, waiter’s corkscrews require trained operators in orderto judge artefact quality and bottles upon which to perform theproper function and use plan. This is not merely an abstract point:wider considerations factor into the technological normativityquestion. However, we can see again that the emphasis is placedupon use plans, which themselves are representative of and deeplyinterlinked with proper functions. Franssen concludes by noting that ultimately, proper function iscrucial to normativity in the sense that artefacts can accomplish arange of tasks, but we judge only their proper function. Ascriptionwill determine whether we can state an artefact  works  to do some-thing or  is designed  to do something, and consequently whether weare justified in believing a particular artefact should operate in anysingle manner:mere function ascription to a particular artefact, that is, withoutbringing in the actual physical characteristics of a particularartefact, matches the justification of the use of that artefact.(Ibid., p. 53) If we believe we are justified in using a particular artefact for itsproper function, we can then make normative judgements of itsperformance. Franssen here reifies proper function, even elidingphysicalcharacteristics,asthedeterminantandbasisofnormativityin technological artefacts. Our belief that the entity understood tobe a waiter’s corkscrew is used properly when it is used to openwine bottles is enough to validate our normative judgements of its performance in opening wine bottles. To summarise: artefacts are normative in the sense that theycan be used correctly or incorrectly and can be good or bad exam-ples of a type of artefact. These judgements are linked to the arte-fact’s proper function, although the ability of an artefact to achievethis function is not an exhaustive measure of its normative status.  2.4. A different approach I have attempted to demonstate that within the ‘dual nature’framework, function operates as the axis of analysis, providingthe basis for an understanding of artefact ontology, usage, andnormativity as well as linking physical structure and individualhuman intentionality. This framework provides the analyst witha great deal of valuable theoretical tools, but by not deconstructingfunction itself as a social phenomenon, does not explore a deeplyproblematic issue. In virtue of what do technological artefacts havefunction, and how do we continue to understand them as possess-ing particular functions?I contend that by employing the Strong Programme’s performa-tive theory of social institutions, supplemented by Martin Kusch’snotion of artificial kinds, we can begin to answer these questions.By utilising this theoretical framework, we can shift the emphasisfrom function to the social processes that make technological arte-facts intelligible  as artefacts , and the practices that engender func-tion and normativity. We are able critically to address the verynature of function not as a basis for understanding ontology andnormativity, but rather as a product of social practices.Put simply, we can  symmetrically  analyse artefact function,ontology, and normativity as products of social processes. This isthe most important fact of a Strong Programme approach, the abil-ity equally to problematise these three characteristics of techno-logical artefacts, and thus supplant an analysis focused heavilyon function as a causal factor with one that seeks equally toaccount for function, ontology, and normativity through socialprocesses. 3. Technological artefacts as artificial kinds The performative theory of social institutions, situated withinthe Strong Programme in the sociology of scientific knowledge,initially addresses referential practice and concept mobilisation.Following this framework (specifically Barnes, 1983) and Kusch’selaborations upon it (1997), I argue that we can characterise refer-ential activity as operating through three conceptual and analyticcategories: natural, social, and artificial kind terms.Natural kind (N-kind) terms are those that individuals employin order to categorise entities through analysis of external empiri-cal qualities (Barnes, 1983). That is, N-kind terms can be employedby reference to a set of empirically verifiable characteristics; thesequalities are perceptually collected and then cognitively compared,analogised, and matched to a stored pattern. For example, whenattempting to identity a particular entity, I might empiricallyobserve that this object has features such as a fine coat of fur,pointed ears, and long whiskers; 2 by analytically comparing thesefeatures to a previously identified and stored pattern, I can inducethat the object is indeed a ‘cat’. Note that the referent (the spatio-temporal entity we refer to as a ‘cat’) exists entirely independentlyfrom the label we choose to attach to it. The animal would continueto exist if we were suddenly to decide to call it a ‘monkey’ or a ‘tablelamp’. Our choice of word to label the N-kind entity is ultimatelyirrelevant. The animal lives on. Because these objects exist 2 Note that these are in themselves N-kind terms. Often, we can observe such cascade-like distributions in referential practice. It is necessary, then, to be able to speak of analmost ‘automatic’ ability to identify and label N-kind terms. Importantly, this does not imply that referential practice is by any means without consciousness. P. Schyfter/Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40 (2009) 102–111  105  ‘independently of the reference’ (Kusch, 1997, p. 17), we can statethat natural kind terms are  alter-referential  (Kusch, 1997). 3 Conversely, we may speak of social kind, or S-kind, terms.UnliketheN-kindterm, anS-kindtermcan beappliedwithno con-sideration whatsoever of the object’s empirical characteristics.That is, there may be no way of empirically identifying an S-kindterm in the same manner that I identified the ‘cat’ above. Consideran S-kind term such as ‘leadership’: the leader of a group does notnecessarilyposses any distinctive empiricalfeatures about him/herthat would allow an observer to distinguish his/her ‘leadership’.Instead, the S-kind term is properly applied to an individual simplybecause it has previously been properly applied in this manner: anindividual has ‘leadership’ of the group because he/she has previ-ously been referred to as possessing ‘leadership’. As soon as theconstitutive members of the group cease referring to and thinkingof this individual as possessing ‘leadership’, that very ‘leadership’vanishes (Barnes, 1983, 1988). The referential activity, rather thandrawing from existing and external empirical qualities, creates thereferent it labels. When I talk about ‘leadership’ of a group, I amcreating that ‘leadership’. 4 As the referent, the S-kind term, has noexistence outside the referring practice, social kind terms are  self-referential  (Barnes, 1983). We can also speak of S-kinds as  bootstraps .As Barnes notes: whenever in a system of inductive inferences the productsemerge tagged with patterns recognized earlier in the systemthe intervening inductions will be described as  bootstrapped .(Ibid., p. 534; my emphasis) Thus S-kind terms are bootstraps of referential practice. In addition to these two polar opposites, Martin Kusch intro-duces a third category: artificial kind (A-kind) terms (1997). Artifi-cial kind terms lead an existence between N-kind and S-kindterms; as such, they have both alter-referents and an ontologicalstatus entirely dependent on self-referential activity. Put a differ-ent way, while artificial kinds have empirical qualities that canbe observed and analyzed (an alter-referent exists), theirontological status is the product of self-referential activity. Allowme to develop this point with greater detail.Artefacts such as ‘waiter’s corkscrews’ have alter-referents inthe sense that the spatio-temporal entity has an existence outsidereferential practices. We can speak of specially shaped pieces of metal, wood, and plastic; we can identify broad prototypical exam-ples of these entities; we can cease our referential talk and thepiece of metal would continue to exist. The shaped piece of metalstrictlyas a spatio-temporal entity has anexistence independent of social activity. However, the entity known as a ‘waiter’s corkscrew’is necessarily dependant on social activity for its ontological status.The spatio-temporal entity is only the artefact known as a ‘waiter’scorkscrew’ insofar as a social process makes it so.I should note at this point that while the performative theory of social institutions was initially developed to discuss  terms  and  con-cepts , I am here discussing technological artefacts as  artificial kinds ,not  artificial kind terms . That is, I am discussing entities rather thanthe nominative demarcations we use to distinguish between enti-ties. While terms are of obvious import to the study of artefacts insociety, my interests lie elsewhere: with the actual entities them-selves, and our conceptual understanding of artefacts  as artefacts .Artificial kinds are embedded within social practice. This socialpractice, as I will argue below, takes the form of a  social institution . 5 Social institutions are social phenomena that display five qualities:they are conventional, self-referential, generative, collectively con-stituted, and normative. I will expand upon this definition below;for now I will claim that social institutions constitute the productivesystems that transform material entities into technological artefacts. 4. Reference and formative intentional actions As I stated above, social processes convert spatio-temporal enti-ties such as pieces of metal into technological artefacts such as‘waiter’s corkscrews’. These processes consist of two components:referential practice and formative intentional action. Together,these two constitute a  social institution . Before defining referenceand formative intentional actions and illustrating that they indeedare social institutions, I should first establish the nature of socialinstitutions. Let us characterise these as possessing five primarycharacteristics:1.  They are conventional . Social institutionsare contingent on con-ceptual frameworks that exist within specific spatial, temporal,and cultural contexts.2.  They are self-referential . Social institutions are referents pro-duced by self-referential activity.3.  They are generative , in the sense that the collective generatesthe referent. Put another way, they are performative.4.  They are collectively constituted , in the sense that social institu-tions are created and sustained through the action of a multi-tude rather than isolated individuals. Like S-kinds, they are bootstrapped  into existence.5.  They are normative . Social institutions are susceptible to nor-mative judgments, and agents within them display practicesof sanctioning, imitation, and self-correction. Here I intend to demonstrate that reference and formative inten-tional actions display these five characteristics, before returningto the issue of technological artefacts as artificial kinds constitutedby social institutions. 4.1. Referential practice Consider the ‘waiter’s corkscrew’ again. How do we come torefer to certain objects as ‘waiter’s corkscrews’? Consider an indi-vidual uninitiated in the socio-cultural framework within whichwe identify and refer to ‘waiter’s corkscrews’; this individualwould manage to identify the alter-referent (the shaped piece of metal) through empirical observation, but would have no basisupon which to refer to this entity as a ‘waiter’s corkscrew’. TheA-kind is embedded within particular conceptual frameworks con-tingent on space, time, and culture. That is, reference to artificialkinds is  conventional .For those of us initiated within the conceptual framework, thisA-kind operates through self-referentiality. The referent ‘waiter’scorkscrew’ exists because of continued references to the object asa ‘waiter’s corkscrew’. With each instanceof reference to the objectas a ‘waiter’s corkscrew’, the referent is generated as well as stabi-lised. In other words, reference to artificial kinds is  generative  and self-referential .However, self-referentiality does not operate through individ-ual agents alone. Simply stating, ‘this is a ‘‘waiter’s corkscrew”’because this has previously been referred to properly as a ‘‘waiter’s 3 As Kusch notes, N-kind terms have both an alter-referential  and  a self-referential component. For the case of N-kind terms, the self-referential component consists of the‘criteria for classifying individuals’ (ibid, p. 17) such as paradigms of classification. For the purposes of my current argument, however, I believe that my simplification is bothuseful and justified. 4 We can describe individual references to S-kind terms as  performative utterances , as they bring about the state of affairs to which they refer (Austin, 1962). However, thischaracterization fails to incorporate the crucial collectivist component of Barnes’s work. 5 For a comprehensive overview of   social institutions , see Bloor (1997). 106  P. Schyfter/Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40 (2009) 102–111
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