Unraveling the Threads of Progress: Barbara’s Insightful Challenge to Technocentrism at 4S Conference

On November 08, 2023, Barbara Lazarotto virtually attended the Society for Social Studies of Science 2023 Conference, a conference that focused on Science, Technology, and Society and Science and Technology Studies that took place in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Barbara presented her research titled “The history of datafication and the rise of the concept of smart”, a presentation which aimed to draw the historical roots of datafication, tracing it back to the Industrial Revolution. Throughout her presentation, Barbara unraveled the intricate web of beliefs that have given rise to “technological solutionism” and the phenomenon of “smart governments.”

Barbara began her exploration by tracing the deep historical roots of technological determinism. From the advent of the steam engine to the information age, the belief that technology is the primary driver of innovation and societal progress has been a persistent undercurrent.

The allure of technological solutionism lies in the belief that technology holds the answers to all problems. This worldview, deeply ingrained in contemporary society, has not only influenced individual attitudes but has also permeated governmental structures, paving the way for the rise of “smart governments.”

Barbara highlighted the lack of academic consensus on the precise definition of “smart governments.” However, she explained that the prevailing understanding views it as the utilization of diverse technologies by the public sector. This includes the incorporation of sensors, artificial intelligence, and big data to enhance governmental efficiency. This techno-deterministic outlook presupposes that technology is the primary driver of improved public administration.

In conclusion, Barbara’s presentation challenged the prevailing narrative of technological determinism and its manifestation in smart governments. By advocating for a more holistic approach that recognizes the intertwined nature of technological and socio-technical factors, she urged the audience to reconsider blind faith in technology as the sole driver of progress which can taint potential mechanisms of regulation, which tend to focus on technology as the sole solutions to all problems, disregarding other potential socio-technical solutions.

Barbara’s presentation was also reflected in a paper that will soon be published.