Method Matters in the Social Study of Technology: Investigating the Biographies of Artifacts and Practices

Sampsa Hyysalo, Neil Pollock, Robin Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Science and Technology Studies understandings of technological change are at odds with its own dominant research designs and methodological guidelines. A key insight from social shaping of technology research, for instance, has been that new technologies are formed in multiple, particular (albeit interlinked) settings, by many di erent groups of actors over long periods of time. Nonetheless, common research designs have not kept pace with these conceptual advances, continuing instead to resort to either intensive localised ethnographic engagements or broad stroke historical studies, unable to address both the intricacy and extent of the process in tandem. There has consequently been increasing interest in extending current methodological and analytical approaches through longitudinal and multi-site research templates. We discuss this fundamentally methodological critique and its implications through one of these approaches: the ‘biographies of artifacts and practices’ (BOAP) framework, which by now o ers a twenty years body of studies to re ect upon methodological choices in di erent sociomaterial settings. This paper outlines the basic principles of BOAP and its signi cant variations, and discusses its contribution to STS understandings of innovation, especially user roles in innovation. We nish by arguing that if STS is to continue to provide insight around innovation this will require a reconceptualisation of research design, to move from simple ‘snap shot’ studies to the linking together of a string of studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-25
Number of pages24
JournalScience & Technology Studies
Issue number3
Early online date2019
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • method
  • methodology
  • research design
  • sociotechnical change
  • social studies of technology
  • design
  • use


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