Disruptive enactments: five dimensions of change in sociotechnical ecologies

Weiss, Sabrina M.
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Other Contributors
Eglash, Ron, 1958-
Breyman, Steve
Esrock, Ellen J.
Joyce, Kelly A. (Kelly Ann), 1966-
Winner, Langdon
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Science and technology studies
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States
This electronic version is a licensed copy owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Copyright of original work retained by author.
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This dissertation presents a heuristic analytical framework that examines change in sociotechnical ecologies through five dimensions that diffract through each other. These five dimensions are: agentogenesis/agenticide, rich diversity, cyborg virtue ethics, institutional percolation/creep, and hybrid generative value. Agentogenesis is the creation/recognition of agency and agenticide is the destruction/disregard of the same; these two processes can affect three general types of agency: discursive, performative, and material. By conceptualizing agency in these three types (which overlap and intra-act as Barad [2007] describes), interactions between disparate entities, like humans, nonhuman life, and nonliving entities can be described more richly. Rich diversity is the aligning of epistemological perception and ontological effects of relationships of difference across and through different types of agencies. This concept helps to reconcile disconnects between activities that promote inclusion of many types but fails to demonstrate adequate change. When the epistemological gap is recognized and reconciled, even by utilizing indirect forms of promotion, such as through “natural” processes like food fermentation, the ontological effects of diversity are more predictable.
Institutional percolation and institutional creep describe two types of change that involve institutions; percolation is the process by which an institution is changed by external factors that build up past a threshold and creep is the process of an institution altering the environment and entities within the environment in a positive feedback loop by normalizing power structures and values. These two framings of institution draw from Beth Dempster’s (2000) proposal to consider systems as sympoietic – permeable and able to be defined externally - in addition to autopoietic – impermeable and self-defining. Hybrid Generative Value engages with Ron Eglash’s and others’ work on Generative Justice to challenge the sharp distinctions between factors like local and global and types of value that can be generated (labor, ecological, expressive). This dimension synthesizes the previous four dimensions to look at complicated disruptions of power like vegeculture, the propagation of plants not from seed but from plant cuttings, and the widespread embrace of the “Korean Wave” of culture, through media like the song “Gangnam Style” and dramatic television shows. Together, these five dimensions of change provide a dynamic toolkit for analysis of complex sociotechnological phenomena that both disrupt old structures and enact new relationships.
Cyborg virtue ethics incorporates both Andy Clark’s and Donna Haraway’s conceptualizations of “cyborg” to challenge essentialist categories that unduly limit acceptance and utilization of technologies that can promote agentogenesis, rich diversity, or virtue, defined as improved and enriched relationships with other entities, greater awareness and potential disruption of entrenched power hierarchies, and communal sharing of values and resources. By rejecting dichotomies like “low-tech/high-tech,” “soft-social-tech / hard-material-tech,” and “natural/unnatural,” more accessible training options, like Clementine oranges for surgeons, and more open learning and value-sharing, like with a new user of the Flow Hive for beekeeping, can occur.
December 2016
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Dept. of Science and Technology Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Rensselaer Theses and Dissertations Online Collection
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