About two decades ago, Margaret Hedstrom gave some suggestions about how to approach the reigning new technology of her day – electronic records. In order to more legitimately and proactively participate in the development of new technologies and the policies that govern them, archivists need to do more and better research, she warned.
Grounding her analysis of in the history of technology, Hedstrom advises researchers to avoid the extremes of both technological determinism and social determinism. Instead, researchers are advised to take the middle-ground ‘social construction of technology’ perspective, and she illustrates how very specific and productive research questions can be generated from within this perspective.
Hedstrom also has levels very serious criticisms against much of the research being undertaken by archivists at the time. She identifies a general lack of rigor in theory and method, which has produced findings of limited value.
It would be interesting to see how far archival science has come in the twenty years since the publication of Hedstrom’s warnings, especially in the context of a society and profession that have only become more intertwined with digital technologies.
Margaret Hedstrom, “Understanding Electronic Incunabula: A Framework for Research on Electronic Records,” American Archivist, 54 (Summer 1991), 334-354.