In which your author revises her opinion of Suchman

Technologies can be understood as materials whose stability relies upon the continuous reproduction of their meaning and usefulness in practice.

– Suchman (1993), “Working Relations of Technology Production and Use.”

I’ve had similar thoughts and read similar thoughts strewn over papers before but this is a perfect crystallization of the nature of technology. I think this has to go on my mythical quote board, to pull out whenever someone questions why I care about smashing up materiality and practice and context and performance into a great big ball of “research material.” It’s why, although I focus on games, I also look at literature and scanlation (lol yeah really) and “new media” in general.

But I’ll be honest, this works just as well to explain myths, or methods, or anything used by people to make meaning. Which makes me wonder: what if technologies are tools for meaning-making? As in, understand technology as anything that a person uses in order to add meaning? I know this is sloppy, but I feel like it kind of has to be in order to capture the human elements of this. I’m suggesting we look at myths and methods (just to be consistent here) as technologies in the production of meaning.

tl;dr: Suchman got this one right on the nose, and I’m grateful for it.

3 thoughts on “In which your author revises her opinion of Suchman

  1. Since she starts with defining a materiality, does this approximation exclude the possibility of technology defined as a form or structure of information? Spoken, written language, mathematics, and all manners of ideologies and such that can only be defined in those realms?

    • I think you have a really good point, but the way I mediate that is that I’m more of a materialist than I think I am: language is material, communication is material, models for metadata are material—because all of these need to be produced in the world in some way. I even think ideologies are material enough for the purpose of this (de)construction. An ideology without a hand in the world isn’t really an ideology. A lot of this comes from work on digital preservation and also from my history in game studies where the virtual is assumed to be less real because it is immaterial—when, in fact, it is just as material, just less recognizably so.

      But I acknowledge that this makes it hard to talk about shades of materiality, perhaps. And that, as you say, technologies that structure information are lumped in with technologies that structure dirt. Suchman’s earlier book, “Plans and Situated Actions,” uses communication and perception as quasi-material, so I’d argue that she leans away from (what is that even called?) hard materialism?

      (Although a fun thing about being in a school of information is seeing everyone define information as whatever it is that they are studying. Which makes me more inclined to doubt that it exists without being manifested in something.)

      This turned into a monster reply, who knew I had this stuck in my head? 🙂 tl;dr, I think it doesn’t exclude it at all and you’re incredibly insightful to bring that up.

  2. Pingback: Random thoughts | morbidflight

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