Lausanne, April 1999
European Studies on Science, Technology and Society
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Supervisor: Olivier Glassey
1. Working title
Reflection on the use of Information Technology in social work practice.
A view on the different relevant social actors
This master thesis aims to reflect upon the use of Information Technology in social work. The research will be directed by three main questions.
The three key questions mentioned above will form the skillet of the theoretical framework of the research. Each question is referring to a specific theory. The goal of the thesis is to try to apply this framework to the reality of one or two particular projects of social work. We will briefly explain each of these questions.
1. What is the perception of I.T. in social work by the different relevant social actors, namely the professionals and the users?
The first key question of the research is situated within the theory of the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) of Wiebe Bijker. According to Bijker, a technological artefact, in casu I.T., is constructed through the interactions of the different relevant social groups. Technology – rather than an autonomous force – is socially shaped. A first step in the application of SCOT into the field of I.T.-involved social work, consists in the identification of the different relevant social actors, namely the professionals and the users. Within this network, we will investigate the relationship of the relevant actors toward I.T. and toward each other. How do the actors perceive the I.T.-involved social work? What is their image of I.T.? What does I.T. mean for them? Is their a kind of shift in the their perception of I.T. between the early stage of participation and the latter stage?
Still within the context of the first key question, we want to build up a kind of evaluation of the project. This evaluation will be based on the following three questions.
What is the setting up of the project? What are the expectations, goals and representations of the professionals?
What does the user takes up from it?
Can we speak of a learning process on the side of the professionals?
2. Can I.T. be considered as a boundary object between the different relevant social groups? And if yes, in what way?
The second key question of the master thesis concerns the theory of the boundary object of Star and Griesemer. The authors consider a boundary object as an object or a concept which is on one hand flexible enough to adapt different perspectives and on the other hand solid enough to save a particular identity past the boundaries of different social worlds. Those objects increase the autonomy within and the communication between the different social worlds. They can be considered as a combination of similarities and dissimilarities together in one object.
In the context of social work, we can raise the question whether the use of I.T., for example in the shape of a basis training of computer skills, has the same meaning for both the professionals and the users. Is the use of I.T. more than just a skill training? Besides the skill training, what does the use of I.T. mean for the different social worlds involved? From the side of the users, can the use of I.T be considered as a factor of increased self-confidence?
3. What does the notion of power expresses about the relationship between the different relevant social actors?
The third main question of the research can also be placed within the broader theory of the boundary object. In this context, be add a critic of Bijsterveld and Bijker on Star and Griesemer’s point of view. According to Bijsterveld and Bijker, the relationship between two different social worlds - connected with each other through the boundary object - is not a powerless relationship. They stress on the hierarchical character of the collaboration and the contact between different social worlds.
Within the context of I.T.-involved social work, we raise the question of the power relationship between the professionals and the users. What is the hierarchical position of the different social worlds? Can the projects of social work be considered as a ‘top to bottom’or a ‘bottom to top’project? Which social actor takes the initiative?
3. Identification of key literature
We gathered literature among different disciplines. Within the pedagogical and sociological perspective, we especially mention the work of R.A. Cnaan, The impact of Information Technology on Social Work Practice, and the work of G.R. Geiss, The Human Edge: Information Technology and Helping People. Both works give a more general view on the relationship between I.T. and social work. Within the research field of psychology, we refer to the work of Sherry Turkle, The Tweede ik: Computers en de menselijke geest. In this work, she reflects upon the influence of I.T. on the construction of the human identity. Within the context of the STS studies, we mention the ESST Master thesis of Paola Urio about New Information Technologies in social work. She is mainly focusing on one specific case study, namely a multimedia-based prevention tool, called Café Saïgon.
Concerning the specific STS theoretical framework, we are especially focusing on the different works of Wiebe E. Bijker about the SCOT-theory. Further on, we mention the work of Star and Griesemer about the boundary object – theory. Bijsterveld and Bijker are putting this theory in a new perspective, namely in the context of a power relationship.
We will apply different kinds of methods in order to achieve the objectives we mentioned before. The theoretical framework will be based on literary survey. Beside this, we want to use the literature to illustrate and extend the research of the chosen case studies. The research of the case studies will mainly be based on interviews. We will interview – if possible - both the professionals and the users in English, if not, in French. If the number of users would be too large, we will make a selection or use a questionnaire survey. Depending on the possibilities and the further course of the investigation, also observation and participation could be taken into account.
- first half of the month of May: -further literature survey
-composition of interviewing guideline
- second half of the month of May: so called ‘data collecting’:
-possible observation, participation, questionnaire survey
- begin of June: analysing and handling of these data
- June – August – September: writing and correcting of the master thesis
Arnold, Robert R.; Hill, Harold C. and Nichols, Aylmer V. Modern Data Processing. Santa Barbara, 1978.
Bijker, Wiebe E. Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs. Towards a Theory of Sociotechnical Change. London, Cambridge Mass., MIT Press, 1995.
Bijker, Wiebe E. ‘Sociohistorical Technology Studies’. In S. Jasanoff ; G. Markle ; J. Petersen and T. Pinch : Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Thousand Oaks, London, New-Delhi, Sage Publ., 1995, pp. 229-256.
Bijker, Wiebe E.; Hughes, Thomas and Pinch, Trevor J. The Social Construction of Technological Systems. New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology. London, Cambridge Mass., MIT Press, 1987.
Bijker, Wiebe E. and Law, John. Shaping Technology / Building Society. Studies in Socialtechnical Change. London, Cambridge Mass., MIT Press, 1992.
Bijsterveld, Karin and Bijker, Wiebe E. ‘De vrees om louter verstandelijk te zijn. Vrouwen, woningbouw en het functionalisme in de architectuur’. Tijdschrift voor Empirische Filosofie, XXI (1997) 4, pp. 308-334.
Bishop, Peter. Comprehensive Computer Studies. London, 1981.
Bowden, Gary. ‘Coming of Age in STS . Some Methodological Musings’. In S. Jasanoff ; G. Markle ; J. Petersen and T. Pinch : Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi, Sage Publ. pp. 64-79.
Brown, David. Cybertrends. Chaos, Power and Accountability in the Information Age. Harmondsworth, Middlesex , England, 1997.
Cnaan, R.A. The Impact of Information Technology on Social Work Practice. The Haworth Press, New York - London, 1989.
Fujimura, Joan H. ‘Crafting Science: Standardized Packages, Boundary Objects, and ‘Translation’ ‘. In Andrew Pickering (Ed): Science as Practice and Culture. University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 168-211.
Geiss, Gunther R. and Viswanathan, Narayan. The Human Edge: Information Technology and Helping People. The Haworth Press, New York, School of Social Work Adelphi University, 1986.
Jaclin, F. Le Multimedia. Boulogne, 1993.
Jouët, Josiane. ‘Les usages ordinaires des technologies de l’information : l’interrelation de la technique et du social’. In Adelheid Bürgi-Schmelz and others (Eds): Computer Science, Communications and Society: A Technical and Cultural Challenge. Conference Proceedings. Neuchâtel Switserland, 22-24 September 1993, pp. 143-150.
Kiesler, Sara ; Siegel, Jane and Mc.Guire, Timothy W. ‘Social Psychological Aspects of Computer-Mediated Communication’. In Irene Greif (Ed): Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: A Book of Readings. Cambridge, 1988.
Mackenzie, Donald and Wajcman, Judy (Eds). The Social Shaping of Technology. Milton Keynes, Philadephia, Open University Press, 1985.
Murphy, John W. and Pardeck, John T. ‘Technology, Computerization, and the Conceptualization of Service Delivery’. In R.A. Cnaan : The Impact of Information Technology on Social Work Practice. The Haworth Press, New York – London, 1989, pp. 197-211.
Parsloe, Phyllida. ‘An Example of Serendipity: The Unintended Impact of Computers on Social Work Practice’. In R.A. Cnaan: The Impact of Information Technology on Social Work Practice. The Haworth Press, New York – London, 1989, pp. 169-185.
Pentheram, Brian. ‘An Approach to Integrating Technology in Human Service Situations’. In R.A. Cnaan: The Impact of Information Technology on Social Work Practice. The Haworth Press, New York – London, 1989, pp. 187-195.
Star, Susan Leigh and Griesemer, James R. ‘Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and ‘grens’-objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology 1907-1939’. Social Studies of Science, 19 (1989), pp. 387-420.
Soerensen, Knut H. Learning technology, constructing culture. Socio-technical change as social learning. Centre for Technology and Society. Norwegian University of Science and Technology (place, year to be found).
Sordigli, V. Les Sens de la Technique. Presses Universitaires de France. 1992.
Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen. Identity in the Age of the Internet. London, 1996.
Turkle, Sherry. Het Tweede ik: Computers en de menselijke geest. (place, year to be found)
Urio, Paola. New Information Technologies in social work. The multimedia: a prevention tool. ESST Lausanne. 1994.
Watson, David. ‘Computers, Confidentiality and Privation’. In R.A. Cnaan: The Impact of Information Technology on Social Work Practice. The Haworth Press, New York – London, 1989, pp. 153-168.
Williams, Robin. The Social Shaping of Information and Communication Technologies. (place, year to be found)
Table of content
Part I: Theoretical framework
Chapter 1: I.T. and social work
Chapter 2: The SCOT-approach of the use of I.T. in social work
Chapter 3: I.T. as a boundary object in social work?
Chapter 4: I.T. and the power relation in social work
Part II: Case study/ies
Chapter 1: Presentation of the project
Chapter 2: Project as an urban/cantonal service: the actor of the city/cantonal authorities
Chapter 3: Perception of I.T. in social work by the relevant social groups
Chapter 4: Characteristics of boundary – aspects of I.T. in the project
Chapter 5: Power relations within the project