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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Chapter 40

Sociotechnical Systems

MAARTEN FRANSSEN AND PETER KROES

The core of technology is the design and realization – which includes manufacture, implementation and maintenance – of technical artifacts. The prototypical artifact is a single material object designed to be used by a particular person for a particular purpose. There is an important class of artifacts, in the sense of man-made constructs, that cannot be seen as a single connected material object, nor as having a single user or even a sequence of single but distinct users. Typical examples are the infrastructures that form the backbone of our societies: the air and road transportation systems, the electricity and gas networks. Such artifacts have a diffuse multitude of users, a multitude that is, moreover, heterogeneous in that the purposes for which the users participate in its use may be quite different. It is increasingly being recognized that artifactual constructs of this sort have particular properties that set them apart from other artifacts, and pose special problems to the people who are involved in designing and implementing them, which has led to their being referred to by the special term sociotechnical systems.

Sociotechnical systems are, first of all, systems. The notion of system, however, is extremely general. Any single-user consumer artifact is a system in that it consists of various components, where the behavior of the overall artifact results from a careful matching of the input–output relations ...

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