New: Article on the Medieval minsters of Beverley, Rippon and York, submitted by Stuart Sharp.
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"Social shaping of technology "refers to the ways that physical structures, tools and techniques reflect and interact with the social structures, needs and beliefs of the community.
There are three basic approaches to defining the interactions between technology and social relations.
Technological determinists, such as Childe, treat technology as the engine of historical change (Chant & Goodman, pp 2-4). Wittfogel's approach was similar, focusing on water management (ibid, pp 17-19).
Social Constructionism, in the work of Bijker, Hughes and Pinch (ibid, p 17), views technological change as solely resulting from negotiation between groups of people.
A middle ground, such as Carter's approach, focuses on specific interactions between technology and society (H. Carter in Chant, pp 7-14).
Using the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt as an example, there is debate over how society and building technology interacted and developed. The central feature of Ancient Egyptian society was the dominance of the strong centralised monarchy able to engage the whole population in the Pharonic cult of the afterlife. Monument building was a central organising factor. The image of Egyptian buildings existing only to serve a cult of death is a distortion, partly reflecting the fact that domestic and administrative buildings were made of mud brick, as throughout the Mesopotamian area, and have seldom survived (David, in Chant, p 23).
Stone was locally available and Egyptians had developed advanced quarrying and stone dressing skills. However the Pharaohs - who valued stone for its use in funerary monument construction - ensured that the stone was used for monuments rather than domestic buildings. Moving large stones from the quarries and building the pyramids required specialist-lifting technologies in very labour intensive operations (Chant & Goodman, pp 37-38).
Herodotus assumed the workers were under compulsion. (Herodotus in Chant, p 21). However, David argued that there was a corveť system that obliged the populace to work for the state for a set time, assuring peasants of food and occupation when the Nile flooded. She noted that the Pharonic belief system was an element in securing the workers' compliance, as workers who built or decorated monuments shared in the Pharaoh's afterlife expectations. The most skilled craft workers in Deir el-Medina could even build their own tombs. (David, in Chant, pp 23-28).
Thus, against technological determinism, no strikingly new technologies drove the pyramid building, despite Herodotus' assumption that cranes were used (Herodotus, in Chant, p 21), and access to a water supply was not a necessary precondition for building worker's settlements (David, in Chant, p 23). In some support of social constructionism, the system of labour conscription was the outcome of negotiation between groups; the wealthy could avoid it and the poor were fed. However, it is probably more valid to focus on how the centralised power of the pharaohs, supported by a shared belief system (Chant & Goodman, p 35) drove the ways that existing and new technologies were used.
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