Conceptualising decadent technology:a case study of path dependence in radiotherapy

Wood, Lisa (2015) Conceptualising decadent technology:a case study of path dependence in radiotherapy. Science as Culture, 24 (4). pp. 507-525. ISSN 0950-5431

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Large-scale investments in health technologies often have limited evidence for effectiveness when first introduced. Nevertheless, professional and public discourses often present the advantages of such investments, with unknown risks, as necessary and entailing significant improvement. Such discourses are evident with the introduction of the Linac Adapted Conebeam Imager (LACI), introduced to improve the accuracy of radiotherapy treatments. From one perspective, the introduction of such technologies can be considered to be decadent since there is limited, if any, evidence of improvement of current standards and procedures, yet they are promoted as the latest and best technologies for solving societal problems. Connecting the concepts of decadence to those of path dependence, through the case of the LACI, enables the exploration of the ‘technical interrelatedness’ of technological changes. Building on the concept of path dependence, it is possible to demonstrate how introducing a closely related technology does not only become a low-risk course of action. Rather change is demanded (but not determined) as well as potential alternative systems being obscured. With decadent technologies, any future changes are not only dependent upon past introductions; but also they create a need for future changes. Such a view demonstrates how these technologies may not necessarily offer any improvements, but rather contribute to the creation of ongoing demand for unproven technologies. As a result they may encourage the introduction of increasingly complex technologies.

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Journal Article
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Science as Culture
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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Science as Culture on 19/08/2015, available online:
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09 Sep 2015 10:22
Last Modified:
15 Sep 2023 00:20