Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Thoughts on Communities

[ed. Presented herein is an older piece that I found lurking on one of my other machines. It' s out of sequence, but not by much]

The purpose of this piece is primarily to distinguish some of the communities that may have existed for the authors of the early theatres of machines. As a rough first cut I can explore the communities articulated by Darnton for the book industry in general: author, publisher (and bookseller), the printer, the shipper, the bookseller, and the reader. However, these criteria are primarily for books as standards things i.e., things that get thrown on the shelf, things without some sort of material agency in their social relations. While I have a handy excuse for not really knowing much about these categories, other people will be asking the question so they should probably be addressed.

Author- deriving the motives of the authors is a challenge. Ramelli, for example, was primarily a martial engineer and architect. His work may have been a means of driving revenue or perhaps a way of garnering greater patronage. The cases of Besson or Leupold are different. These authors were primarily mathematicians and instrument makers. Their works may have been a form of marketing. How the authors actually created their works in another matter completely. I have no idea what they would have gone through to get things produced. While Ramelli had Amboise Bachot to create his engravings, I’m not sure what Besson or Leupold had to go through. The actual conditions of production are inherently going to have an impact on what gets produced and the material traces that are left over so these things are probably worth knowing.

Publisher/printer/bookseller- I really don’t know anything about these topics. Ramelli published his work himself; Besson had Gesner as a publisher; Leupold—I have no clue. Again, as actors in the network of creation, all of them likely would have had a dramatic influence on the resulting artifacts so this kind of information is probably worth knowing. Of course, I have Darnton’s work as an ally along with the work of prominent authors like Eisenstein and Burke to address some of these questions. I even recall reading about the conditions of production that Agricola experienced in the creation of De re metallica (perhaps as a cover art commentary in Technology and Culture).

Reader- So who were the readers of these works? Well, the aristocracy was obviously one type of reader given the inscriptions carried by the works themselves and their presence in private collections. There must have been other readers. One author (Gnudi perhaps) reports that many copies of Bessons work have been worn out with use so these things were used. Hooke owned Besson as did Galileo so they must have useful to early technologists and scientists despite being written in Latin. Perhaps this is an important question: who was the reader? How did the documentary forms adapt to accommodate the reader? [ed. Wow. What a simple—and yet crucial—question. How have I missed it?]

Other communities- Accounts provided by SCOT studies indicate that there are any number of other communities that could be involved in the stabilization or closure of a documentary form. From a SCOT perspective, they may all be lumped into Darnton’s category of “reader”. I’m just not sure where to go from here… I suppose we could go with something like amateur, collector, engineer, scholar, scientist or something of the like. Some of issues that may emerge include the notion of the lay reader (all of those Besson editions had to be going somewhere). This transition was perhaps driven by the picture book format of the TM rather than prose-heavy latin works.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

SCOT: I’m glad it’s done

Here I am. I’m writing bits and pieces of proposal. The process isn’t linear, nor is it pretty. I’m hoping that the bits will eventually flocculate into a kind of formal… thing. I’m not sure how it will happen. But I have to just keep chipping away with varying degrees of sincerity. I only wish that I had an editor!

“Previously on Countdown: Dissertation,” says a very deep voice.

“We left our heroes considering how to actually work through the problem they were presented. They have some ideas but getting everything to work together is presenting some problems. There’s two choices: discuss the Janus face, or move to SCOT. What will our heroes do?”

Crap. Somehow what I have already written on Janus and Latour isn’t available. Oh yeah. I wrote that one for somebody else and don’t own the copyright. I can’t believe I’ll have to write it again. Ah well… let’s go to SCOT.

- 0 -

Social studies of science and technology (STS) is a growing body of research with deep roots. The influence of STS has slowly been pervading general LIS studies for several decades. The importance of STS for LIS research was recently formalized with a dedicated ARIST review authored by Nancy van House (2004).

Van House reviews a number of different theoretical approaches that fall within the STS rubric such as laboratory studies, actor-network theory, symbolic interactionism, and workplace studies. She also provides an overview of the theoretical orientation that will be utilized within this study: Social Construction of Technology, or SCOT. Van House notes that SCOT is particularly relevant for studies of information systems, stating that “the notions of relevant social groups and interpretive flexibility are potentially useful in understanding various groups’ relationships to information technology and information systems, in making design choices, and in evaluating systems. An information system is not a single entity, but different for different groups.” (pg. 20) While van House is clearly referring to information technology, the applicability of SCOT can be extended to other “information systems” and genres. I contend that SCOT is a suitable theoretical orientation for the study of technical handbooks.

The orienting work of SCOT was published as a collection of papers in 1987. Various approaches and authors were represented. Historians, anthropologists, and sociologists all submitted papers. Wiebe Bijker and Trevor Pinch established the general tenets of what would be known as SCOT in their contributions and with a paper published three years earlier (Pinch & Bijker, 1984). The authors were attempting to shift the study of technological artifacts and systems away from what they saw as technological determinism. Following on from the contemporary work being completed in science studies, they stated that studying the social processes inherent in the creation and “stabilization” of technology was paramount. Van House summarizes their key positions:

“SCOT begins by identifying ‘relevant social groups,’ which include both producers and users of a technological object. Different groups have different arrays of problems; each problem generally has an array of possible solutions. The SCOT descriptive model proceeds with a ‘sociological deconstruction’ of the object of interest, showing different meanings an artifact has for different groups, focusing on the problems and associated solutions that each group sees with respect to the artifact. SCOT contends that a technological artifact possesses ‘interpretive flexibility,’ revealed through different meanings attributed to it by the different relevant social groups.” (pg. 19)

In response to various criticisms, SCOT has incorporated the concept of a “technological frame”. Embodying Giddens’s ideas of structuration (1984), a technological frame structures the interactions of social groups and technology into “sociotechnical ensembles” that include objects, theories, goals, and practices. In some ways, a sociotechnical ensemble can be equated to an actor-network. Various social groups act within their sociotechnical ensembles to attain “stabilization” or “closure” of particular technologies. In their original formulation of SCOT, Pinch and Bijker note “[c]losure in technology involves the stabilization of an artifact and the 'disappearance' of problems. To close technological 'controversy,' one need not solve the problems in the common sense of that word. The key point is whether the relevant social groups see the problem as being solved.” (Pinch & Bijker, 1987 pg. 44)

To summarize, SCOT has five key tenets. The first is “relevant social groups.” The second is that technologies approach a state of “closure” where the problems of the technology disappear from the perspective of the “relevant social groups” and the meanings and physical form of the technology “stabilizes.” To accomplish this stabilization, various members of the relevant social groups exploit a number of “closure mechanisms”—the third concept—that are unique to each particular combination of technology and social groups. Different groups may interpret and experience technology differently. Meanings can differ radically. This notion is “interpretive flexibility”, the fourth concept. Finally, members of social groups, technologies, and other actants are situated in a “technological frame.”

As a methodological approach, SCOT has met with great success and has been used in a number of different disciplines. Web of Science indicates that Pinch and Bijker’s work has been cited over 700 times since they first presented their theories in 1984 (analysis conducted on March 27, 2005). Over 70 of these citations have occurred since the beginning of 2004. Even LIS is represented in the corpus of citations evidenced by the recent work of van House, and Talja (2005).

While popular, SCOT has met with staunch criticism (Mackay & Gillespie, 1992; McGee, 2000; Rosen, 1993; Russell, 1986; Winner, 1993). On several occasions, Pinch and Bijker have found it necessary to defend the approach (Bijker, 1994; Bijker & Pinch, 2002). In one paper, Pinch (1996) summarized the main criticisms.

The first criticism is that “the jargon of social constructivism is obscurantist; nothing is added which good plain narrative history cannot do better.” (pg. 27) Pinch notes that this argument has been made for various approaches of studying history (see discussion of determinism in Hall, 1996), and that all methods are susceptible to certain embedded assumptions. Pinch explains that the point of SCOT is both to guide research and provide a framework of commensurability for various studies. SCOT is not a detailed method, but rather a methodological approach to guide analysis. This explanation also addresses the second criticism—in some ways the inverse of the first—that SCOT is too formulaic.

The third criticism is that “SCOT focuses upon the design stage of technology at the expense of users.” (pg. 30) Pinch states that this criticism is essentially correct but claims that the fault is not with the approach but rather with the types of study that have been conducted. In the ensuing years SCOT has been used to address use in addition to design but the criticism is well founded and needs to be addressed through method.

The fourth criticism is that “SCOT ignores power relationships” (pg. 31) and is strongly related to the fifth criticism: “SCOT is politically insipid.” (pg. 33) Again Pinch states that this may represent a fair criticism and explores ways that SCOT could be used as a means of addressing power relations, particular within the context of “technological frames.” This criticism was most vociferously leveled by Langdon Winner who notes that “although social constructivism escapes the bind of Whig history [teleological technological determinism], it seems not to have noticed the problem of elitism, the ways in which even a broad, multicentered spectrum of technical possibilities is skewed in ways that favor some social interests while excluding others.” (Winner, 1993 pg. 370) In Winner’s rebuke, however, there exists another threat. Through slavish adherence, “power relationships” becomes as totalizing a discourse as technological determinism. A compromise is present by Donald MacKenzie who notes that the study of technology must be about the artifacts, and the social practices that begat the features of those artifacts. For MacKenzie, any approach to the history of technology is not just about the narrative of events, or social discourse:

“And that is perhaps the ultimate reason why we need the history of technology. Not to settle priority disputes, not to satisfy antiquarian curiosity, not for celebration, but because only through history can we find how the ship got into the bottle, how the technological artifacts and the technological knowledge we take for granted became takeable for granted.” (MacKenzie, 1996 pg. 263)

Another criticism of SCOT was presented by Paul Rosen (1993). In response to Bijker’s seminal paper on the stabilization of the “safety bicycle” with pneumatic tires in the nineteenth century (revisited in Bijker, 1995), Rosen conducted a similar analysis of the modern mountain bike. The analysis indicated a number of shortcomings with the approach, although Bijker and Pinch (2002) later claimed they were the result of either mis-readings of their work or logical fallacies. One argument of Rosen’s, however, is quite evident and remains unaddressed. In the case of mountain bikes, it seems that a neat set of “relevant social groups” has not emerged and that arbitrarily creating them would severely limit the analysis. It seems that mountain bikes have not stabilized enough for SCOT to be an effective approach. Rosen’s comments resonate with those of Winner (1993): our conceptions of relevant social groups for historical examples may be more reflective of the intervening discourse rather than the actual conditions of the time. Both of these arguments are reflective of the broader problem of classification in any research program. As noted by Traweek (1996):

“A singular focus on simplicity, stability, uniformity, taxonomy, regularity, and hierarchy can, of course, be limiting. Furthermore, every way of making sense has its cognate forms of obsession. Certainly, there is an aesthetic of purification that can linger over the ways of the mind and body... Swirling around with Occam's razor, slicing away what cannot be categorized, leaves more than order behind.” (pg. 146)

The problem of determining relevant social groups is particularly relevant for the study of historical documents. Darnton (1983) provides an illustration of Winner’s argument with his retelling of “the great cat massacre”, “the funniest thing that ever happened in the printing shop of Jacques Vincent.” To modern ears, the story of herding cats together and butchering them with printing apparatus is horrific. To the social groups of the 1730s, it was high comedy.

This criticism—the difficulty in determining relevant groups—is a major shortcoming of SCOT that I intend to address this through method. The criticisms of Rosen and Winner are related to studies that generalize findings from a single case study, a problem with other studies of technical documents (see McGee, 2000 for criticism of Henderson's work). To increase the rigour of my analysis I intend to study two different eras. The first, quite distant from us in time, is susceptible to Winner’s criticism. The second, a relatively recent development, is inherently prey to the criticisms of Rosen. By analyzing works from both periods, and by testing theories developed from the study of one era with the findings of analysis conducted on the other, I hope to extract some grains of insight.

** cut in assumptions about methodology and method **


Bijker, W. E. (1994). Reply to Hull,Richard. Science Technology & Human Values, 19(2), 245-246.

Bijker, W. E. (1995). Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs : toward a theory of sociotechnical change. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Bijker, W. E., & Pinch, T. J. (2002). SCOT answers, other questions - A reply to Nick Clayton. Technology and Culture, 43(2), 361-369.

Darnton, R. (1983). What is the history of the book? In Books and society in history, Papers of the Association of College and Research Libraries Rare Book and Manuscripts Preconference, 24-28 June, 1980, Boston, Mass.

Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society : outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Polity Press.

Hall, B. S. (1996). Lynn White's Medieval Technology and Social Change after thirty years. In R. Fox (Ed.), Technological change : methods and themes in the history of technology (pp. 85-101). Australia: Harwood Academic.

Mackay, H., & Gillespie, G. (1992). Extending the Social Shaping of Technology Approach - Ideology and Appropriation. Social Studies of Science, 22(4), 685-716.

MacKenzie, D. (1996). How do we know the properties of artefacts? Applying the sociology of knowledge ot technology. In R. Fox (Ed.), Technological change : methods and themes in the history of technology (pp. 247-263). Australia: Harwood Academic.

McGee, D. (2000). [Book review:] On line and on paper: Visual representations, visual culture, and computer graphics in design engineering [by Karen Henderson]. Technology and Culture, 41(2), 388-390.

Pinch, T. J. (1996). The social construction of technology : a review. In R. Fox (Ed.), Technological change : methods and themes in the history of technology (pp. 17-36). Australia: Harwood Academic.

Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E. (1984). The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts - or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. Social Studies of Science, 14(3), 399-441.

Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E. (1987). The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. In W. E. Bijker, T. P. Hughes & T. J. Pinch (Eds.), The Social construction of technological systems : new directions in the sociology and history of technology (pp. 17-50). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Rosen, P. (1993). The Social Construction of Mountain Bikes - Technology and Postmodernity in the Cycle Industry. Social Studies of Science, 23(3), 479-513.
Russell, S. (1986). The Social Construction of Artifacts - a Response to Pinch and Bijker. Social Studies of Science, 16(2), 331-346.
Talja, S. (2005). The social and discursive construction of computing skills. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 56(1), 13-22.
Traweek, S. (1996). Unity, Dyads, Triads, Quads, and Complexity: Cultural Choreographies of Science. In A. Ross (Ed.), Science wars (pp. 139-150). Durham: Duke University Press.
van House, N. A. (2004). Science and technology studies and information studies. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 38, 3-86.
Winner, L. (1993). Upon Opening the Black-Box and Finding It Empty - Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Technology. Science Technology & Human Values, 18(3), 362-378.

Monday, March 28, 2005


1. State of the literature; where we need to go

A review of the extant literature from an LIS background. Extend Frohmann's arguments in an effort to further articulate both the theoretical background and application. Introduce how the notion of the handbook is slippery given existing IC approaches (i.e., handbook is "at-hand", it doesn't contain text, etc.)

2. Theoretical orientation and methodology

Discuss various aspects of the theoretical approach of the study. A number of issues have to be addressed: 1- document as part of practice (i.e., Frohmann), 2- document as a technology (i.e., Darnton), 3- the importance of understanding the chain of operations inherent in technology, 4- the evolution of technology to reflect changes in practice, 5- the stabilization of technological artifacts (i.e., SCOT), and 5- analyzing the technology to gain insights into the changes in practice (i.e., discourse analysis of visual materials). Provide a roll up of the methodological approach.

3. Introducing the cast of characters/ Limitations of existing research

Discuss the extant literature related to both Architectural Graphic Standards and the theatrum machinarum. Present both what we know and what we don't know. In particular, focus on the limitations of method (or absense of method!) of research that has already been conducted. Focus on the need for a new approach.

4. Theatrum machinarum: findings

Following the discourse analysis of the theatrum machinarum, indicate the findings. Demonstrate if these findings are consistent with extant research on the theatrum machinarum.

5. Theatrum machinarum: exploration

Discuss the findings in the context of a view of documentation as practice.

6. AGS: findings

Following the discourse analysis of AGS, indicate the findings. Demonstrate if these findings are consistent with extant research on the theatrum machinarum.

7. AGS: exploration

Discuss the findings in the context of a view of documentation as practice.

8. Drawing the eras together

Address the commonalities and distinct differences in the work. Are these features consistent with existing theories of documentation and practice? What insights can be gained from the approach?

9. Answering the question: What is a technical handbook

Conclude the discussion by answering the questions: "what is a technical handbook?", and "how did it come to be?"

CODA. Reflection on method

Before leaving the work, reassess the adopted method. Did it work? Why or why not? How can the method be adapted? What other applications are there for the method?

A quick reality check on when the theatrum machinarum got their start. The French Wars of Religion don't mean much to me but Shakespeare does. When Besson was publishing, Shakespeare was five years old. Ramelli published the year before old Willy penned his first play.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Moving to method

After spending some time considering why I want to do the dissertation thing that I want to do, it’s time to start shifting to the how. There are two aspects to the how—as there probably is to most things. There is the big how, and the little how. The big how relates to methodology and the little how to method. The importance of separating methodology and method has been recognized for qualitative research in general (Potter, 1996) and particularly for LIS studies (Wilson, 2002).

The big how is related to my belief that material artifacts bear within them traces evident of the social system in which they were produced. A book, therefore, bears within it not just inscriptions for conveying some sort of information. It also contains the traces of all the other books that have come before it. Furthermore, the features and characteristics of the modern book exist for a reason. From an evolutionary view of technology, if the features hadn’t been beneficial, they would have disappeared. In addressing the big, we have to first open up the black box of the book.

Traditional studies on the history of the book have viewed the book as a black box. Darnton’s (1983) depiction of the book, for example, features the book as an artifact that is passed around between various actors (i.e., the author, the publisher, the reader, etc.) It these studies we get detailed accounts of the backgrounds of the various actors and we get some sense of the interaction between them. In a sense, it’s like watching a rugby game. But instead of actually seeing the movement of the ball, we only get the commercial breaks where the commentators talk at length about the backgrounds of the players. We never actually get to see the game play. When we do get to see the ball being passed around, the camera zooms in unbearably close so that we can learn a great deal about the stitching on the ball and the particular manner in the way it was constructed. Either way, we miss the game.

Recent movements in physical anthropology would suggest that our rugby players don’t solely dictate the outcome of the game. Notions of “material agency” have leaked into our perspectives so that not only the players, but also the ball, the field, and the weather all have an important role to play (as every good bookie knows). The interaction between these actants determines not just the outcome of the game but also the ensuing development of the game. In the case of rugby, the players change as the ball changes, and the dimensions of the field may adjust to accommodate the features of particular players.

The scenario is no different when it comes to documents. Not only have documents adapted to the requirements of individuals (e.g., codices, chapbooks, typographic characteristics, etc), but humans adapt given the affordances of documents (e.g., air traffic control, engineers and drawings, options traders, etc.). While as individuals we may not have evolved to accommodate print by sporting third arms specialized for page turning, our social practices certainly have. The prime example of a human social practice adapted to documentation is science and it’s primary centralizing practice: the creation of documentation.

In our studies it becomes important to look beyond just the document to the practices of document creation. While this point has been made quite thoroughly by Frohmann (2004a; 2004b) for LIS, there is a similar body of work emerging in physical anthropology and archaeology. Marcia Anne Dobres (2000), for example, maintains that the study of documentation must move beyond just the classification of artifacts to embrace the “social agency” inherent in document production:

"In essence, (the study of social agency) requires developing conceptual, methodological, and interpretive ways to look past objects, artifact patterns, and activities in order to bring into focus subjects, artifice, and agency." (1)

Central to Dobres’s thesis is the notion of practice. She claims that in order to breakdown the black box of artifacts and to move beyond blunt descriptions of material culture we must embrace the complete cycle of artifact creation, use, and destruction. If she was to study our rugby game she would encourage us to explore not just the histories of the players but how their histories were effected by other changes in the various actants in the game. Instead of just describing the stitching of the ball, she would attempt to explore the social reason for the changes in the stitching. For books, she might explore not just Darnton’s cycle of production in narrative terms but the notions of social agency that explain the changes in the production of the artifacts. Dobres claims that our studies of process and material culture simply create the black boxes that distort perception and frustrate further growth of science:

“To put this bluntly: the conceptual erasure of the process of becoming is what enables the conceptual transformation of human subjects and their technological practices into inert and reified objects of study (entities) by seemingly dispassionate, objective observers (be they materials scientists or archaeologists).” (pg. 82)

Of key importance to the work of Dobres is the material artifact. Dobres moves beyond simply assigning each artifact a place in a particular classification schema and attempts to position it within a particular “chain of operations”. It is this chain that demonstrates the social function of each artifact by providing the required context.

Technical artifacts, however, are very different from natural objects. While Dobres clearly demonstrates that the “chain of operations” imposes a type of evolutionary pressure on artifacts, the process of evolution is highly different from a natural process. Instead of nature determining the evolutionary fitness landscape, technical artifacts are subject to a set of evolutionary forces imposed by man. Similarly, the process of change and evolution isn’t necessarily one of blind variation but is imposed by the whims and creativity of homo faber. Man does not just live in his environment but he creates it. His environment, in turn, creates him in a constant process of becoming. In this way, all technical artifacts bear the traces of those that have gone before. As noted by the historian of science, George Basalla:

“Any new things that appears in the made world is based on some object already in existence.” (Basalla, 1988 pg. 4)

Books are no different from other made things. Each book has a history and each genre has a pedigree from those documents that have gone before it. While my primary focus is not on those documents that we store in archives but rather on those that we wear out with use, the human predilection for locking up documents in libraries has certain advantages. When it comes to technical manuscripts and handbooks, we know have a great wealth of material object that contain within them the vestigial traces of the social practices that created them and came before them. My position is that the technical handbooks of the late Renaissance—the works of Besson, and Ramelli—contain features that were driven by the social processes of their time. Their “chain of operations” is still inherent in their features. Furthermore, as progenitors of the genre, the features that they introduced and popularized are still buried within our current technical handbooks.

The purpose of my study is to explore how technical handbooks stabilized as documentary forms. My intention is to explore handbooks from two distinctive eras—immediately after the introduction of the printing press and in the last fifty years prior to the popularization of the Internet. The handbooks of question are the works of Jacques Besson and Augustino Ramelli, and the various editions of Ramsay and Sleeper’s Architectural Graphic Standards. The reason for using artifacts from two specific eras is described in additional detail in section xxx.

The artifacts themselves will be subject to analysis to determine commonalities and unique features of each specific document. By comparing the features of documents from two eras, I can develop hypotheses through the analysis of documents from one era and test them against the documents of another era. I intend to use an iterative process of analysis to establish how the documentary for of the technical handbook has been stabilized.

The specific method to be used for analyzing the document is a particular form of discourse analysis for visual materials developed by Gillian Rose (2001). Her approach calls for paying close attention to various features of visual representations such as the ways in which a group of images addresses complexity or contradictions, and what aspects are inherently missing from the representation. Rose’s approach is complimentary to the position of other researchers such as Bijker or Dobres since Rose sees discourses as fundamentally rooted in social practices:

“Since discourses are seen as socially produced rather than created by individuals, this type of discourse analysis is especially concerned with the social modality of an image site. In particular, discourse analysis explores how these specific views or accounts are constructed as real or truthful or natural through particular regimes of truth.” (pg. 140)

Discourse analysis is typically applied to explore how documents are used to create “truth”. The study of technical handbooks presents a unique extension to such an application of discourse analysis. Unlike the discourse of science, technical handbooks aren’t necessarily about constructing truth so much as constructing the possible. Some of Besson’s figures, for example, clearly do not represent an invention that has already been realized. Instead, Besson represents an artifact that possibly could be. Besson used the various tropes of visual rhetoric of a medium in order to create this sense of naturaleness or possibility. The reasons for Besson’s behavior are within the purview of this study.

In summary, Rose provides a number of strategies for those wishing to use a discourse analysis method on visual materials:

  1. Looking at your sources with fresh eyes.

  2. Immersing yourself in you sources.

  3. Identifying key themes in your sources.

  4. Examining their effects of truth.

  5. Paying attention to their complexity and contradictions.

  6. Looking for the invisible as well as the visible.

  7. Paying attention to details. (pg 158)

While discourse analysis may be a valuable technique for analyzing resources, the researchers must always be conscious of reflexivity. Not only is the research analyzing a discourse—and perhaps creating a discourse simply through the process of naming it one—they are also creating a new meta-discourse that is susceptible to the same sorts of criticisms and concerns. To address this concern, Rose also supplies a “list of things to consider” for writing up a discourse analysis based on visual material:

  1. Using detailed textual or visual evidence to support your analysis.

  2. Using textual or visual details to support your analysis.

  3. The coherence the study gives to the discourse examined.

  4. The coherence of the analysis itself.

  5. The coherence of the study in relation to previous related research.

  6. The examination of cases that run counter to the discursive norm established by the analysis, in order to affirm the disruption caused by such deviations. (pg. 161)

By splitting my analysis across two specific temporal periods, the method presented herein addresses not only the limitations inherent in studies of scientific processes—i.e., the “Janus-face” of science described by Latour—and the criticisms of SCOT as a research method, but provides opportunities for assessing the coherence of the study. Aspects of discourse discovered through the study of one period can be assessed through study of the second time period. Study of the two periods may reveal both discrepancies and commonalities that must be accounted for.

A limited amount of study has been conducted on the periods in question. The theatrum machinarum, for example, have been subject to a great deal of study using narrative approaches but very little has been done on their discursive role. In contrast, several studies have explored the discourse of Architectural Graphic Standards (Hosey, 2001; Johnston, 1988), but this work is primarily limited to how the works construct gender. Indeed, most of the extant work relates primarily to the plates on the dimensions of the human body. Combining research on these two eras represents a rigorous way of gaining insights into the ways in which technical handbooks stabilized as technical objects.


Basalla, G. (1988). The evolution of technology. Cambridge [England] ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Darnton, R. (1983). What is the history of the book? In Books and society in history, Papers of the Association of College and Research Libraries Rare Book and Manuscripts Preconference, 24-28 June, 1980, Boston, Mass.

Dobres, M.-A. (2000). Technology and social agency : outlining a practice framework for archaeology. Oxford, UK ; Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers.

Frohmann, B. (2004a). Documentation redux: Prolegomenon to (another) philosophy of information. Library Trends, 52(3), 387-407.

Frohmann, B. (2004b). The multiplicities of documentation. Paper presented at the DOCAM 2004, Berkeley, CA.

Hosey, L. (2001). Hidden lines : Gender, race, and body in Graphic Standards. Journal of Architectural Education, 55(2), 101-112.

Johnston, G. B. (1988). Gardens of architecture: Relections on the plates of Architectural Graphic Standards. In R. Miller (Ed.), Implementing architecture. Atlanta GA: Architecture Society of Atlanta.

Potter, W. J. (1996). An analysis of thinking and research about qualitative methods. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Rose, G. (2001). Visual methodologies : an introduction to the interpretation of visual materials. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Wilson, T. D. (2002). Alfred Schutz, phenomenology and research methodology for information behaviour research. The New Review of Information Behaviour Research, 3, 71-81.