The role of reflexivity in explaining rather than describing technological diffusion

Talking about explaining rather than describing the diffusion of a technology doesn’t imply that the former is important and the latter isn’t. Not least of all because we need to describe the diffusion of a technology before we can explain that pattern. But it’s the explanatory question which interests me far more than the descriptive one: why has the technology diffused in this way rather than that way (etc). Explaining technology use (and non-use*) entails among other things, questions about reasons for use and non-use.

Recognizing this doesn’t mean we neglect the many structural factors which account for patterns of diffusion (e.g. material and cultural barriers to access) but to really get an explanatory handle on such patterns we need to consider the personal reasons, causally operative within a structured context, which engender action tendencies over time towards a given technology. I mean ‘reasons’ here in an extremely broad sense: interconnected patterns of meaning and motivation which may only be expressed in a very partial way at the discursive level. But my point is that this isn’t just semiotic and that these reasons are causes because they can lead to action.

Another way of putting it is to say that we need to understand social behaviour like this queue in a richly hermeneutic way but also to use that understanding to account for personal behaviour outside of this very particular social situation:


*I hadn’t grasped the importance of non-use until talking to Deborah Lupton yesterday.