Propositions about Artifacts [v1. 17th Feb. 2013]

the following is a new project to establish a set of propositions which clarify the nature of  artifacts - technology

The interplay between humans and non-humans has been the subject of intense debate for a number of decades. A variety of terms have been coined to capture the nature of this relationship: socio-technical systems, socio-technical constituencies, sociomateriality. It is suggested that the concepts of materiality, artefact and technology are distinct from each other.  However, what is implied?

1.       Man is in interaction with nature through its material form, which man attempts to domesticate, using science and engineering as more sophisticated modes of learning compared to learning by trying or imitating.
2.       Man is in interaction with others, this constituting society
3.       An artefact is something produced by man.
4.       The manner in which an artefact comes into being is through two processes
a.       Invention, artistic creation (bring into being)
b.       Multiple production (recreating)
5.       Artefacts are an intrinsic part of man’s, and hence society’s existence – artefacts are used to act (transform) and to communicate (interact).
6.       Artefacts, if preserved, provide traces (evidence) of man’s presence
7.       Culture is the particular manner in which a specific societal group behaves, this including the creation and use of artefacts (cultural artefacts).
8.       Specific societal groups are each regulated in terms of what is acceptable and unacceptable modes of behaviour, with these manifesting in the beliefs, norms, values and the structural relations (dynamics) of the group, which may be aligned with other groups.
9.       Artefacts take different forms, but can be differentiated by whether they are embodied (e.g. a book) or not [disembodied] (e.g. electricity). 
10.    The materiality (matter) of an artefact relates to the substance of its embodiment – it can have solid form or be liquid or gaseous.
11.    Materiality differs from the energy (e.g. electricity, muscle) which empowers the artefact to function.
12.    The technical configuration of materiality and energy permits an artefact to function in desired ways [technical determinism]
13.    Whilst man can choose [agency] how to use an artefact, an artefact cannot choose how to be used, but affords possibilities.
14.    The manner in which an artefact is used is:
a.        an expression of the user’s intent, underpinned by the user’s knowledge and ability to use the artefact, which may be ‘informed’ by others or the outcome of ‘learning by trying to make work’
b.       an interpretation of the affordances [possibilities] offered by the artefact, perhaps in ways not necessarily intended [agency]. Affordances differ from properties in that properties determine what is possible and are an outcome of the configuration of its elements. 
15.    An artifact is that which is produced by man, which is the outcome of accumulative learning about the production of prior artifacts.
16.    An artifact is, what it affords.
17.    An artifact amplifies man’s capability to act and interact, which includes reifying invariances (structures) in relations. 
18.    An artifact provides an auxiliary memory for man, irrespective of its form, but man can ‘forget’ how to access this memory.
19.    An artifact can be affective; it is associated with human  emotional behaviours.  
20.    The images and sounds encountered through newer forms of artifacts are
digital representations of their more primitive forms.
21.    These digital representations are created through a process of digitalisation (Leonardi, & Barney, 2012) whereby primitive forms are translated into a digital form, which can then be digitally configured.
22.    Digital representations are necessarily semiotic but not material, which is distinct from artefacts, which are material but not necessarily digital [13th Jan. 2014]


This project is informed by:
Fleck, James and Howells, John (2001). Technology, the technology complex and the paradox of technological determinism. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 13(4), pp. 523–531.

I would like to thank Farjam Eshraghian and Ali Eshraghi for their comments.

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