This article illustrates the development of the latecomer concept, starting initially from studies of Taiwan's high-tech industry and then proposing a latecomer thesis based on the theoretical arguments in that literature. That thesis has also influenced Taiwanese STS studies of technology, including transferred and local technologies and Chinese medicine, and this article shows how this approach has framed the scope of the literature's interpretation of empirical findings in different ways. Although the latecomer thesis has to some extent become dominant in academic approaches to technology in Taiwan, there exist alternative approaches derived from reflexive studies of Chinese medicine and of local reassembled-car technology, as well as of local trail-construction technology, all of which have broken out of the theoretical constraints of the latecomer thesis. On the one hand, some studies of Chinese medicine construct an insightful model integrating a practical ontology, a correlative thinking method, and displacement agency theory, sharing basic theoretical assumptions with Bruno Latour's actor-network theory. On the other hand, the studies of reassembled cars, plant grafting, bridge construction, and local trail construction highlight the undesirability of classifying diverse technologies into a simple binary and prescribing a convergent destiny for both technological and societal development. These arguments challenge the basic assumptions of the latecomer thesis and also demonstrate the strength of the model established by studies of recent Chinese medicine. Finally, this tripartite model is employed to reinvestigate Taiwan's semiconductor industry as an example of high-tech industries, and to show the networked reality of an industry in which a continuous mix of varied technologies occurs, new trajectories emerge, and technological objects as industrial actors continue to make linkages with other societal elements. The reinterpretation of this industry exemplifies the fact that no given element in a society is isolated from other parts, and that social reality essentially keeps reassembling.
We Have Never Been Latecomers: A Critical Review of High-Tech Industry and Social Studies of Technology in Taiwan
Dung-sheng Chen is professor of sociology at the National Taiwan University. His research interests include public engagement in science and technology, public perception of technology risk, and formation of local civil society. Several years ago, he led a group of researchers from disciplines of sociology, public administration, social welfares, legal study, and political science to conduct a project on public participation in National Health Insurance and to implement different modes of public participation in NHI improvement based on the principles of deliberative democracy. His current research project is to compare different trajectories of formation of local civil society in four places in Taiwan.
Dung-sheng Chen; We Have Never Been Latecomers: A Critical Review of High-Tech Industry and Social Studies of Technology in Taiwan. East Asian Science, Technology and Society 1 December 2015; 9 (4): 381–396. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/18752160-3142998
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