Histories of technology acceptance in the 20th century

Histories of technology acceptance in the 20th century

Institut für Philosophie, Literatur-, Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte (Technische Univ. Berlin)
Technische Univ. Berlin
Straße des 17. Juni 135, H 2051
Gefördert durch
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Findet statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
05.10.2023 - 06.10.2023
Fabian Zimmer, Institut für Philosophie, Literatur-, Wissenschafts- & Technikgeschichte, Fachgebiet Technikgeschichte, Technische Universität Berlin

The Division of History of Technology at TU Berlin organizes a workshop on technology acceptance from a historical perspective. The workshop features a keynote by Ortwin Renn, RIFS Potsdam. If you wish to join, please send an informal registration to fabian.zimmer@tu-berlin.de

Histories of technology acceptance in the 20th century

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.”


5 October
12:30–13:00 Welcome and Introduction
Fabian Zimmer (Berlin): Introduction

13:00–15:00 Panel I: Concepts of Technology and Acceptance
Comment: Heike Weber (Berlin)
Adelheid Voskuhl (Philadelphia, PA): Engineers’ struggle for social and technological acceptance in the Second Industrial Revolution
Christian Götter (Braunschweig): Flexibility on a Firm Foundation – The Central Electricity Generating Board’s Fight for Nuclear Power’s Acceptance in Olbury-on-Severn
Antonis Kechrimparis / Panagiotis Kazantzas / Aristotle Tympas (Athens): Concepts and materialities in the history of renewable energy technology: The paradigmatic case of Greece

15:00–15:30 Coffee break

15:30–17:30 Panel II: Resistance?
Comment: Aybike Alkan (Berlin)
Tiia Sahrakorpi (Espoo/Helsinki): “Let’s talk about kitchens!” Finnish women’s magazines, acceptance of electrification, and consumer culture 1920s-1960s
Chase Galis (Zurich): After Dark: Broadcasting Village Illumination in Switzerland, 1966
Johann Meyer (Leipzig): “The Computer as a Sophisticated Disguise of the Devil.” Electronic Data Processing (EDP) and Ecclesiastical Technophobia in West German Protestant Churches

17:30–18:00 Coffee Break

18:00–19:30 Keynote
Ortwin Renn (Potsdam): Contested Acceptability: Conflicts about technology in times of post-factual irritations

20:00 Dinner

6 October
9:00–11:00 Panel III: Acceptance in political debates
Comment: Christopher Neumaier (Potsdam)
Andie Rothenhäusler (Darmstadt/Mainz): Framing or genuine debate? Technik¬feindlichkeit as a discourse topic of the Bonn Republic in the 1980s
Thomas Lettang (Potsdam): Technology acceptance from “above” and “below”. Energy conservation technologies and governmental action in West Germany, 1978-1985

11:00–11:30 Coffee break

11:30–13:30 Panel IV: Emotions, acceptance and adaptation
Comment: Karena Kalmbach (Berlin)
Heidi Schweickert (Darmstadt/Graz): Emotional acceptance strategies using SAP as a case study
Fabian Zimmer (Berlin): Adapting to modernity. River engineering and social engineering in 1950s Sweden

13:30–14:00 Concluding discussion



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