Society for Social Studies of Science
Annual Meeting, Montreal Canada, October 2007

7.7 Problematizing Technological “Appropriation”

Organizer/chair: Toluwalogo Odumosu
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Ron Eglash, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Rayvon Fouche, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Recent scholarship indicates that the boundaries of the user/consumer - producer/designer dichotomy is permeable and porous. On the axes of social power, interface design and consumption/production, border crossings are proliferating. The term ‘appropriation’ has been used to describe the processes through which the old binaries are being destabilized, though the term is often employed with differing meanings. We
seek to investigate ‘Technological Appropriation’ and seek to problematize and broaden theoretical foundations of ‘appropriation’.

Toluwalogo Odumosu
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Appropriating Techno-Agency Citizenship

In this paper, I review recent literature on users and how they are constructed within STS academic literature, always in relation with the various
technologies that co-construct them (after all, users, must be users of something). Utilizing the recent academic focus on ‘appropriation’ as a
springboard, I attempt to conceptualize technological agency within a framework of democratic choice using case studies of users interaction
with cell phone networks in Nigeria.

Ron Eglash
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Appropriating Nanotechnology

The “appropriating technology” framework investigates ways in which non-elite groups can participate in the production of science and
technology production by reinterpretation, adaptation, and reinvention. To what extent can nanotechnology be appropriated, and how might such appropriations either detract from or contribute to social and environmental sustainability? This paper will discuss prior models for the
appropriation of technology by social movements (environmental justice, community informatics, AIDS activism, etc.) and compare their
strategies to the possibilities for nanotechnology. Some critical junctures can be found in:

1) Indigenous knowledge systems: reinterpreting the significance of the molecular level
in terms of local understandings of macroscopic material properties.
3) The outsider within: individuals with non-elite identities (by race, class, gender, etc.)
in pure and applied nanosciences.
4) Civic science: integrating public interest values (eg equity of science benefits) and
procedures (eg participation) in nanoscience.

Rayvon Fouche
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Mediating Hip Hop: Technology, Cultural Identity, and the Mixer

The study of Hip Hop can reveal how cultural needs and desires can influence and inform technological appropriation, use, and design.
This paper will examine the DJ mixer as a site of cultural exchange, engagement, and negotiation between black culture, technology, and
multiple forms of music. The mixer is a piece of electronic equipment that mediates the relationships between turntables, musical forms, beats, and signals. The mixer itself can enable a DJ to appropriate elements from multiple sonic origins to “mix”, “cut”, and “reassemble” them into something completely new. Thus, the mixer can become a site for multiple forms of appropriation. By examining how various groups and
communities reconceptualize the mixer as a technology of musical mediation, I will explore how user of technology can determine the shape and structure of future artifacts. By examining music, musical performance, technological design and use, as well as the cultural arenas in which these individuals, artifacts, and belief systems interact, this paper will to contribute to the STS work on cultural identity and technology.

M. Cameron Jones
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Web Mashups: Technological Appropriation in Web 2.0

Mashups counter traditional models of production and consumption when consumers alter, remix, and recombine artifacts to create something which is both new and yet familiar. Web mashups are websites which combine and integrate data and services from more than one source. They allow users to create technologies which satisfy a personal goal or objective. The range of web mashup activities reflects the diversity of skills and expertise held by web mashup developers. Expertly constructed mashups include sites like, which maps out real estate listings from on Google Maps. At the other end of the spectrum are web mashups constructed by endusers and those without formal programming experience. For example, members of the MemoryMaps community on Flickr upload screenshots of satellite photos from map services to Flickr, and use Flickr’s photo annotation tool to attach notes to regions of the map images, creating interactive story-telling maps.

In its present form, mashups are another kind of technological appropriation – they allow skilled programmers, typically individuals, to develop extremely powerful and creative applications by combining existing applications with minimal amounts of ‘glue code’. This allows the creative individual enormous technical leverage, generating new, working applications that conventionally would have required enormous resources and whole teams to approach. This is fascinating in its own right, but raises yet more interesting questions when we consider possible future developments as functionalities are developed to make mashups far easier to code, giving wider access to less technically sophisticated developers.

Min Suh Son
University of California, Los Angeles
The Technology of Protest: Streetcar Riots, Race and Public Activism

It is a little known fact that in 1871, Robert Fox incited a civil rights conflict in Louisville, Kentucky by boarding a streetcar, sitting down in the white section and refusing to move—a method of protest that predates Rosa Parks by 84 years. Fox was thrown out of the car, for which he took the streetcar company to federal court, eventually to win the case. This led to a “ride-in” campaign by black leaders that highlighted the dissonance between local and state policy regarding racial discrimination. This paper will compare various protests that occurred in cities worldwide, such as
Louisville, Chicago, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, and Beijing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the introduction of the new streetcar technology became a locus for expressing dissent against the state, local government or commercial interests. I argue that this
emergent form of protest was different from the machine-breaking sprees of England and France in the early 1800s and signified a distinctly new form of activism. Though it has been argued elsewhere that these early protests were neither premodern nor fully modern, a closer analysis of streetcar riots and strikes as a widespread phenomena demonstrates that there was a distinct concept of citizenship, rights and agency—one
that developed explicitly around new public transportation technology—that has been largely underestimated in understanding mass behavior of local societies during this era.

Shib Shankar Dasgupta
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Appropriated Technologies: A Case study on Grameen Telecom in Bangladesh

Science and technology studies are primarily focused on the impact and relevance of technoscience on the general public. Eglash argues that the concept of general public hardly includes the “groups outside the centers of scientific power” (Eglash, et. el., 2004). In the Third World
countries this disparity is acute. There are awkward statistics on the universal access of telecom services. In rural Bangladesh the villagers
happen to be only the passive recipients of telecommunication services. These excluded groups sometimes reinvent dominant technologies
to suit to their own needs and purposes. They appropriate existing as well as new technologies and participate in creating new concepts and
practices applicable for similar situations outside their communities. This paper is based on the thoughts of the field actors in Bangladesh. They speak for themselves. The views and expressions of the field actors provide the insight and supporting evidence for this study of appropriated technology. In the digital economy, a plethora of consumer goods, including the mobile phone, becomes the source of economic production tool. This in turn creates a space of flows challenging hegemony and power relations in rural societies. This paper highlights Grameen Telecom’s concept of shared resources in telecommunication as a unique idea to bring existing technologies to suit to the economic, political and social demands of rural poor people in Bangladesh. We can try to view Grameen based on this three levels End-user tailoring by Morch (1997).

Tarleton Gillespie (Discussant)
Cornell University