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Computerization and social transformations

Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between the use of computer-based systems and transformations in parts of the social order. Answers to this question rest heavily on the way computer-based systems are consumed - not just produced or disseminated. The discourse about computerization advanced in many professional magazines and the mass media is saturated with talks about "revolution" - and yet, substantial social changes are often difficult to identify in carefully designed empirical studies. The paper examines qualitative case studies of computerization in welfare agencies, urban planning, accounting, marketing, and manufacturing to examine the ways that computerization alters social life in varied ways: sometimes restructuring relationships and reinforcing social relationships in other cases. The paper also examines some of the theoretical issues in studies of computerization, such as drawing boundaries. And it concludes with some observations about the sociology of computer science as an academic discipline.

This paper is based on a keynote address for the annual conference of the Society for the Social Studies of Science in November, 1989.

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