What are Socially Disruptive Technologies?

Technology in Society 67:101750 (2021)
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Scholarly discourse on “disruptive technologies” has been strongly influenced by disruptive innovation theory. This theory is tailored for analyzing disruptions in markets and business. It is of limited use, however, in analyzing the broader social, moral and existential dynamics of technosocial disruption. Yet these broader dynamics should be of great scholarly concern, both in coming to terms with technological disruptions of the past and those of our current age. Technologies can disrupt social relations, institutions, epistemic paradigms, foundational concepts, values, and even the nature of human cognition and experience – domains of disruption that are largely neglected in existing discourse on disruptive technologies. Accordingly, this paper seeks to reorient scholarly discussion around a broader notion of technosocial disruption. This broader notion raises three foundational questions. First, how can technosocial disruption be conceptualized in a way that clearly sets it apart from the disruptive innovation framework? Secondly, how does the notion of technosocial disruption relate to the concordant notions of “disruptor” and “disruptiveness”? Thirdly, can we advance criteria to assess the “degree of social disruptiveness” of different technologies? The paper clarifies these questions and proposes an answer to each of them. In doing so, it advances “technosocial disruption” as a key analysandum for future scholarship on the interactions between technology and society.

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Jeroen Hopster
Utrecht University


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