Lots of devices

The concept of ‘device’ has been widely discussed in recent work in Science & Technology Studies (STS). Think of the idea of a measurement device (i.e. thermometer), now expand it to any kind of hard (e.g. a heart rate monitor) or soft technology (e.g. a mathematical equation) that converts inputs into specified outputs. As empirical objects these kinds of things are all around us. They are the stuff out of which sociality is made. But social scientists also have their devices – what we would normally call ‘methods’. These things are not neutral data-gathering tools, but have a kind of cultural life of their own. Think of those lists of stressful life events you see in magazines, for instance. Or economists discussing their market predictions or bank stress tests. The ever interesting Journal of Cultural Economy has a special issue on ‘The Device: The social life of methods’ on this. Or you might try Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford’s Inventive Methods: The happening of the social. [Full disclosure: I have blotted the copy of the latter]

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