Suchman, Lucy (2012) Configuration. In: Inventive Methods. Taylor and Francis, pp. 48-60. ISBN 9780203854921

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Methods for studying science and technology, like their research objects, are both already made and always in the making. With respect to technology studies in particular, we have by now a powerful toolkit of conceptual and practical resources to bring to the analysis of objects, ranging from individual artefacts to socio-technical systems, historically and in contemporary formations. To name just two examples among many, Haraway’s ‘cyborg’ alerts us to the history of nationalist and military technoscience as a crucible for contemporary conjoinings of bodies and machines, while also opening up generative resources with which to investigate particular cases in ways that retheorize the nature of human-non-human entanglement (Haraway, 1985/1991). Law’s trope of ‘heterogeneous engineering’ both expands and further specifies how scale is enacted in and through complex socio-technical assemblages, as they draw together and multiply entities through time and across space (Law, 1987). Offered as an addition to this toolkit, the device of configuration has two broad uses. First, as an aid to delineating the composition and bounds of an object of analysis, in part through the acknowledgement that doing so is integral not only to the study of technologies, but to their very existence as objects. And second, in drawing our analytic attention to the ways in which technologies materialize cultural imaginaries, just as imaginaries narrate the significance of technical artefacts. Configuration in this sense is a device for studying technologies with particular attention to the imaginaries and materialities that they join together, an orientation that resonates as well with the term’s common usage to refer to the conjoining of diverse elements in practices of systems design and engineering. In what follows, I attempt to elaborate the sense of configuration as a tool to think with about the work of drawing the boundaries that reflexively delineate technological objects, and as a conceptual frame for recovering the heterogeneous relations that technologies fold together. I offer two case studies of socio-technical projects that, while not done through the trope of configuration, can be read as demonstrations of the sensibilities that it recommends.

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01 Oct 2019 00:01
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21 Sep 2023 03:59