The social construction of technology (SCOT), a framework for examining how technologies are created in social context developed by Wiebe Bijker (1), breaks down some of the fog around how technologies come to be used in the ways that they are. The SCOT analysis calls for us to look first at the “relevant social groups” involved in the negotiation over how a new technology is used. So, for example, if we were looking at the Indonesian government’s use of drones (2) to search for tax evaders among palm plantations, we would of course identify the groups of the government and the palm growers. But we should also be careful to look at the composition of these groups: do political elites from a certain socioeconomic or ethnic group control the government? What about the difference between compliant growers who are having their fields monitored and non-compliant growers? Or the laborers? These are important questions to ask as we use the SCOT analysis.
The next step is to define the problems with the technology for the different social groups. In this case, it might seem simple enough for the tax evaders: the technology of drones is allowing the government to detect their evasion. Meanwhile, though, the government has used drones to solve a problem of its own, namely the inability to detect the evasion due to the cost of sending humans to investigate via planes or to use satellites. The problem becomes one of identifying if the technology is living up to its cost. There are potential future problems if growers begin to question the legal right of the government to fly these drones over the plantations.
SCOT analysis follows these questions by asking about “interpretive flexibility.” This refers to the actions different groups take in the use of the technology to fit their own purposes. Here, the clearest case of interpretive flexibility is the use of a technology originally created in the United States for military purposes as a tool of the government to detect tax evasion (3). The drone has been reinterpreted as a tool of enforcement rather than of attack. Furthermore, this can be seen in the plantation owners’ use of drones on their own to observe field sizes and monitor crops. They have also reinterpreted it to be a commercial use that benefits themselves as well as makes the technology itself more ambiguous. Finally, as in many cases across the region we’re looking at on this website, there is the question of flexibility in the design in order to accommodate differing social and environmental circumstances. As in Nepal there are questions about the ability of Indonesian government personnel being able to operate the drones effectively given their training (4). In the Nepalese case, personnel found that the Android app capability greatly improved their ability to operate the drones. In remains to be seen if there is a similar need for flexibility in the Indonesian case on the operation size, but manufacturing drones in Indonesia is considered necessary because of the unique wind conditions found in the archipelago (5).
Finally, SCOT analysis indicates that there is the issue of stabilization or closure. This essentially asks, has the technology’s appropriate use been settled as a question? In the case of the Indonesian government using drones to find tax evaders, the question seems to be yes in some ways. Legally and politically, the evaders have not sought to fight back. However, effectively, it remains to be seen if the use of drones can actually allow the Indonesian government to crack down on evaders. Here, the closure may be politically and legally resolved as often happens with government involvement, but it has not stabilized yet as there is an ongoing negotiation over the technology’s use.
This website aims to provide the information and analysis that gives the reader the tools to see how the adaptation of drone technology in the low-income regions of Africa and Asia will depend on how different social groups use them, solve and face new problems with them, and come to understandings on their use. This means looking at their myriad uses, the social groups that use them, the regulatory environment, and public perceptions. Below, we’ve reviewed a few major themes to keep in mind.
- Bijker, Wiebe E., et al. The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New directions in the sociology and history of technology. MIT press, 2012.
- Brummitt, Chris, and Herdaru Purnomo. “Indonesia Is Using Drones to Catch Tax Cheats.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 03 June 2015. Web. 9 May 2016.
- Packer, Jeremy, and Josh Reeves. “Romancing the drone: Military desire and anthropophobia from SAGE to swarm.” Canadian Journal of Communication 38.3 (2013).
- ConservationDrones. “New Anti-Poaching Video Surveillance Drones for Nepal.” ConservationDrones.org. ConservationDrones, 27 Oct. 2013. Web. 09 May 2016.
- Allen, Paul. “Custom Drones Dot the Skies Over Indonesia.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, n.d. Web. 09 May 2016.
- Art by Chege Gitau