User theory for inclusion or exclusion?

Conceptual models to address the role of users for inclusive socio-technical change

  • Gabriela Bortz National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) | Institute of Science and Technology Studies, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (IESCT-UNQ-CIC-BA), Buenos Aires, Argentina. https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7151-6686
  • Hernan Thomas National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) | Institute of Science and Technology Studies, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (IESCT-UNQ-CIC-BA), Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Keywords: User theory, Technologies for inclusive development, Inclusive innovation, Participation in Science and Technology, Technological governance, Critical studies of innovation

Abstract

Innovation Studies (IS) and Science, Technology and Society studies (STS) explored the role of users in socio-technological change: from their role as consumers, adopters or experimenters to maximize profit, to exploring the mutual shaping of users and technologies and the power relations embedded into the process of use. By the turn of the century, amidst broader claims to democratize Science and Technology, scholars and practitioners explored the ways technologies may contribute to overcome social, material, and political restrictions in structural inequality scenarios. While discursively praising user inclusion as a ‘good practice’, ‘technologies for inclusive development’ (TID) ranged from processes of distributed decision-making and empowerment to paternalistic schemes and unwanted effects that reinforce exclusion patterns. This paper aims to revisit user theories through the lens of inclusion/exclusion to explore user engagement in TID initiatives to understand the relation between user involvement and ‘inclusive’ outcomes. We argue that diverse theoretical views on user-centeredness, which we systematize in 5 types, are tied to different normative assumptions about what user-centeredness is for, with implications for technology practice and STS theory. In interaction between literature review and instrumental TID case studies (in water, health, nutrition, and recycling), we examine how these differences lead to differential outcomes in terms of inclusion (e.g., exclusion problem-solving, distribution of benefits, social learning). In turn, we analyze how bringing the inclusiveness/exclusion dimension may help to reveal user literature blind spots that need to be addressed, and how unveiling user theory may contribute to deepen our understanding of inclusion in technology making.

Author Biographies

Gabriela Bortz, National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) | Institute of Science and Technology Studies, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (IESCT-UNQ-CIC-BA), Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Holds a PhD in Social Sciences (Universidad de Buenos Aires), a Master in Science Technology and Society (Universidad Nacional de Quilmes), and is a Political Science Graduate (Universidad de Buenos Aires). She is an Assistant Researcher of the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) at the Institute of Science and Technology Studies, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (IESCT-UNQ), Buenos Aires, Argentina, Adjunct Professor of Sociology of Science and Technology at the Universidad Nacional de Hurlingham (UNAHUR), and Fulbright Visiting Fellow at the Program on Science, Technology and Society, Harvard Kennedy School (2021).

Hernan Thomas, National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) | Institute of Science and Technology Studies, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (IESCT-UNQ-CIC-BA), Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Holds a PhD in Science and Technology Policy (State University of Campinas, Brazil), History graduate (Universidad Nacional de Lujan, Argentina). He is Director of the Institute for Science and Technology Studies, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (UNQ), Full Professor at UNQ and Lead Researcher of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET). He is also Adjunct Professor at Universidad Nacional de Lujan, and visiting professor at several universities in Argentina and abroad. Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=-WT3-8EAAAAJ&hl=ja.

Published
2022-09-05