Vivesharaya as Engineer-Sociologist and the evolution of his techno-economic vision
Source:NIAS, Volume L1, Number 81-87663-18-9, Bangalore (2001)
In recent years, sociological approaches to the history of technology have interposed new aspects that have brought the history of technology to the notice of policy research and policy makers. In particular, this renewal is encountered in studies on the sociology of techno-scientific innovation, and is reflected in publications appearing in journals such as Social Studies of Science, Technology in Society, Technovation, Technology and Innovation, and even Technology and Management. Traditionally, the history of technology was designed to address different audiences and serve different functions. In the first instance, the history of technology chronicled the progress of technological development. In this capacity it addressed both science and technical education, providing a frame and a repository of relevant technological objects for practising engineers and technologists. However, during the nineteenth century a particular genre of history emerged: the genre of heroic biography emphasizing the persona and contributions of several ?technological heroes?. For example, the contributions of James Watt, Stephenson, Edison, Marconi and innumerable others. This genre persisted into the twentieth century, playing a significant cultural role in positioning technology at the centre of contemporary culture. While the primary problems addressed by the history of technology related to the genesis of invention, the process of innovation, the transmission of innovation, and finally the impact of technological innovation on society, the new sociology of technology, on the contrary, established that the process of technological invention and innovation is much more complex than hitherto discussed in the history of technology. Furthermore, innovation is a social process, involving a multitude of actors, resources and circumstances rather than the result of the effort of a uniquely endowed individual. In other words, serendipity and genius have been underplayed by a more carefully elaborated contextualism. Thus, in short, the focus of this history of technology includes communities, workers, women, unsung laboratory assistants, and engineers, and in the process has questioned fundamental assumptions underlying the earlier history of technology, such as technological and social progress. But, more significantly, it has rejected the Eureka approach to the history of technology and instead focussed upon understanding the complex interactions taking place between the science and technology system and society.
Lecture presented on 7th January, 1999 at the XIII Course for Senior Executives on ``Leadership and Society: An Integrated Approach to Knowledge and Information'', National Institute for Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore.