The public acceptance of technological innovation is seen as a decisive factor in current technology-related issues and debates, be it around the transition to renewable energies or the reshaping of mobility and food systems. The concept of “technology acceptance” has frequently been critiqued on several grounds: 1) It naively assumes acceptance of technological innovation as the norm. 2) It thus renders critique, resistance, or even reluctance as deviant and thereby only worthy of attention because of said deviance. 3) It conceptualizes the public as well as local stakeholders as passive. Despite these critiques, “technology acceptance” served and still serves as a pivotal concept in public debates, policy advice, and in social science research on issues such as infrastructure projects, NIMBY-ism, participatory planning processes, the role of prosumers in socio-technological transitions, or in more general assessments of public attitudes towards innovation.
During the last few decades, historians of technology and scholars from adjacent fields have tried to move away from a top-down model of “technology acceptance” and have developed strong heuristic tools to investigate the public and social negotiations around technological innovations and their success, failure, or modification. Historical studies have furthermore investigated numerous public conflicts around new technologies or infrastructure projects, and they have described public discourses of technophobia as well as technophilia and their variants. We thus have a relatively good theoretical and empirical basis for assessing past public attitudes towards technology. What we lack, however, is a second-degree history, a history of concepts, discourses, and knowledge production about what is today called “technology acceptance” and of how this knowledge has been put into practice as a social engineering tool.
In light of the critiques levelled at “technology acceptance,” the aim of this historical workshop is twofold: On the one hand, it will carve out the history of concepts and knowledge practices related to what is today called “technology acceptance.” On the other hand, it will historically enrich the current critique by spelling out the political and ideological implications of concepts of “technology acceptance.”