Shifting perspectives: holography and the emergence of technical communities

Technology and Culture 46 (1):77-103 (2005)
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Holography, the technology of three-dimensional imaging, has repeatedly been reconceptualised by new communities. Conceived in 1947 as a means of improving electron microscopy, holography was revitalized in the early 1960s by engineer-scientists at classified laboratories. The invention promoted the transformation of a would-be discipline (optical engineering) and spawned limited artist-scientist collaborations. However, a separate artisanal community promoted a distinct countercultural form of holography via a revolutionary technology: the sandbox optical table. Their tools, sponsorship, products, literature and engagement with wider culture differentiated the communities, which instituted a limited ‘technological trade’. The subject strikingly illustrates the co-evolution of new technology along with highly dissimilar user groups, neither of which fostered the secure establishment of a profession or discipline. The case generalises the concept of 'research-technologists' and 'peripheral science', and extends the ideas of Langdon Winner by demonstrating how the political dimensions of a technology can be important but evanescent in the growth of technical communities.
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