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Reading "all about" computerization: five common genres of social analysis

Abstract

This paper examines unstated, but critical, social assumptions which underlie analyses of computerization. It focuses on the popular, professional and scholarly literature which claims to describe the actual nature of computerization, the character of computer use, and the social choices and changes that result from computerization. This literature can be usefully segmented five ideal type genres: utopian, anti-utopian, social realism, social theory, and analytical reduction. Each genre is characterized and illustrated. The strengths and weaknesses of each genre are described. In the 1990s, there will be a large market for social analyses of computerization. Utopian analyses are most likely to domínate the popular and professional discourse. The empirically oriented accounts of social realism, social theory and analytical reduction, are likely to be much less common and also less commonly seen and read by computer professionals and policymakers. These genres are relatively subtle, portray a more ambiguous world, and have less rhetorical power to capture the imagination of readers. Even though they are more scientific, these empirically anchored genres don't seem to appeal to many scientists and engineers. It is ironic that computing -- often portrayed as an instrument of knowledge -- is primarily the subject of discourses whose knowledge claims are most suspect. Conversely, the discourses whose claims as valid knowledge are strongest seems to have much less appeal in the mass media and technological communities.

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