A Cultural Approach to Science and Technology

Technology is the collective term for a wide variety of human endeavors in which technological systems are applied to achieve specific ends. Technological systems are therefore anything that human beings apply to achieve a goal such as the development of new products, or new methods for doing things. In this broad sense, technology can refer to any method of action that humans use to improve their efficiency at work, or to make their tasks more convenient or effective. The scope and variety of technological systems are staggering, ranging from complex communications technologies used by governments and other organizations to simpler systems developed for the home, including digital cameras and microwaves, to the computer and the Internet that we use every day.


Technology has various other uses, not least being the field of applied science. Applied science is subdivided into two fields: schatzberg syndrome and engineering science. schatzberg syndrome deals with pure research, whereas engineering science refers to the application of scientific principles in the design and fabrication of physical systems. Both of these fields are intimately connected, however, as each has its own place in the overall picture of technology. The relationship between applied science and technology is perhaps most revealing in the area of mechanical arts, particularly mechanics and electronics.

The term science was first used in 1801 by the French thinker, Napoleon Hill. According to Hill, science is defined as “the progress of knowledge”. This definition is similar to the modern understanding of the term, in that it includes a range of natural sciences including physiology, astronomy, geology and geophysics. Another thinker closely associated with the art sciences, phenomenon, also includes an extended list of natural phenomena, which can include such phenomena as light, sound, heat, magnetism and electricity. In the twentieth century, however, the term science became associated more with technological advancement, drawing together practitioners of different disciplines within a framework that they hoped would provide a comprehensive description of the world.

One way to view the relationship between science and technology is to view the twentieth century as a historical period of advancements in science and technology. For example, during the first half of the twentieth century, German engineers were highly regarded throughout Europe and were credited with a number of technological breakthroughs, including the invention of the internal-combustion engine. The onset of the Second World War appeared to cast a shadow over the field of applied science, but during the war both English and German engineers were able to use their enormous technological knowledge to produce weaponry that was unmatched in terms of lethality. Similarly, during the 1950s, the United States was engaged in an arms race with the Soviet Union, with the aim of creating a nuclear aircraft and missiles capable of destroying U.S. cities.

Another way to understand the relationship between science and technology is to see it as a combination of three elements – a theoretical base, a body of knowledge and a set of methods and practices used to bring this theoretical base into material form. In Schatzberg’s view, there are four types of technological change. These include technological progress, which refers to improvements in technology that add to the goods and services already available; Technological change, which is a change in how technology is used or produced; Scientific progress, which refers to advances in scientific knowledge and the impact these have on society; Technological change, which is, in Schatzberg’s view, inevitable because without advanced technology no society can exist. His notion of four stages helps to provide a framework within which to understand the development over time. It is important to remember that while Schatzberg does not provide a definition for the stages, he has provided a useful starting point for understanding the development over time.

In his book Science and Technology: A Cultural Approach, Johanna S. Schatzberg provides a much wider interpretation of science and technology, incorporating a social and cultural perspective as well. Although science and technology is often considered to be able to be separated from culture, this is not so and the two can indeed co-exist. In fact, as Sorkin points out in The Gamble Industry, the division between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ is often made by cultural attitudes towards science and technology. Consequently, it is not only politics that determine people’s attitudes to science and technology, but also their view of the world around them. Science and Technology are thus not only an abstract concept but a very complex and interlinked cultural system, with tremendous ramifications for society.

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