Sociology Homework

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You are to use APA style. Along with title page and reference page, the paper is to be2- 3 pages (body of paper). You will need to do a little research on this topic and use at least two sources other than your text. Explain the instrumental and the substantive theories of technology and give an example of each. Which one is more widely accepted? Do you agree? Why or Why Not? What do you think about technology’s influence?

TEXTBOOK- Social Science – An Introduction to the Study of Society 15th ed. 2014, Authors- Elgin F. Hunter and Davis C. Colander : Pearson Publications 
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Explanation of Theories

            The twenty-first century is often referred to as the information age due to the advancement of information and communication technology. The world has seen a gradual change in digitalization in almost all spheres of life and across different continents. This has in turn influenced societal interactions such as communication, business transactions as well as the provision of basic services. Hunt and Colander (2014) posit that there are many theories that help in understanding how societies behave. Like other phenomena that influence society, there are many theories that revolve around technology. This paper seeks to explain the instrumental and substantive theories of technologies.


            The term theory denotes a set of widely accepted principles or beliefs that explain a given phenomenon. As such, they are general statements that try to explain why certain occurrences happen as they do. Technology, on the other hand, refers to the use of science in engineering and industry to solve challenges that confront human beings or alleviate their living conditions. There are several theories aimed at explaining the relationship between the society and technology.Feenberg (2002) posits that the two main theories that explain the societal interaction with technology are instrumental and the substantive theories.

            According to Cockfield and Pridmore (2007), instrumental theories view technology as a neutral tool without looking at its political, cultural and social impacts. They respect human anatomy when it comes to matters of technology by asserting that it has minimal impacts on human affairs. In addition, human beings are assumed to have the willpower to decide whether to embrace technology or not.It is assumed that people can use it for anything they want without being influenced in any way.For instance, instrumentalists hold that with the increased acquisition of mobile phones, an individual can choose whether or not to carry a mobile phone.

            Substantive theories, on the other hand, emphasize on the ways in which technology can impact on individual and societal interests that may diverge from their projected benefits, often without the knowledge of the affected individuals (Cockfield&Pridmore, 2007). Technology therefore is seen to exert control over human beings, such that it does not always make things better. For instance, mobile phones were invented to enable remote wireless communication between people but this benefits have changed over the years especially with the invention of the Android mobile operating system. Smartphones that operate based on the operating system have become a threat to individual privacy especially with the installation of GPS tracking chips that give off users’ geographical location. Besides, with increased cases of organized crime and terrorism, law enforcement officers and even criminals are now able to tap information from and track their targeted victims.

            Feenberg(2002) posits that the instrumental theory is the most commonly accepted view of technology, and this view is based on the reasoning that the theory is more ingrained in many bureaucratic organizations and social sciences and encompasses day-to-day parlance regarding technology use in contemporary societies. As such, instrumentalists hold that technology is completely neutral and serves the intended use held for it by its users(Cockfield&Pridmore, 2007). Hughes (2004) posits that technology is considered a key way to solve problems, hence there is need to ensure that it is used efficiently. A common phrase used by instrumentalists is that “guns do not kill, people do”.  As such, the improper use of the gadget is to blame for the negative effects faced, not the gadget itself per se. While I believe that both theories offer equally critical insights about the prospects of technology and its impact on the society, I tend to identify more with the substantive theory than with the instrumental theory. This is because human beings are increasingly being controlled by their technological addictions.The modern networked society is a product of digital revolution and major social and cultural changes. Croteau and Hoynes (2003) posit that the Internet is fundamentally changing the way people live by facilitating new relationships and forms of social interaction. 


            Children and teenagers have particularly been adversely affected by technology to a great extent Morozov (2013) states that the world is increasing embracinginternet solutionism, a position which holds that all social issues can be solved through internet-based approaches. With increased use of technological devices and apps such as video games, face-to-face communication has become a less dominant form of social interaction and engagement. People are increasing attached to their devices and virtual friends at the expense of real-life interactions. I feel that technology has impacted a lot in my life as I normally enjoy watching YouTube videos and following my virtual friends on Twitter and Facebook than having meaning, highly efficacious,old-fashioned physical encounters with the people around me.One cannot deny, though, that technology has also brought about positive change to the human race in terms of keeping people connected and enhancing the process of the provision of services such as healthcare and education.

            In conclusion, technological advancements continue to unfold as human beings seek to feed their curiosities, alleviate human suffering and lead opulent lives. For instance, mobile phones were initially designed with the aim of easing communication between people but their use has evolved to cover other problem-solving efforts. For instance, the latest smartphonescome with many great features installed that have increasing their benefits for users. The effects of mobile technology continue to be felt far and wide especially with the invention of social media sites that foster increased communication across oceans. On the flip side, it has also been exploited by cyber criminals and bullies to wreak havoc on many people in society. While both instrumental and substantive theories go a long way in explaining the impact of technologyon the society, the latter offers a better perspective by drawing attention to the negative unintended consequences of technology use particularly on children, teenagers, and young adults.


Cockfield, A. &Pridmore, J. (2007). A Synthetic Theory of Law and Technology. Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology 8(2), 475-513.

Croteau, D. &Hoynes, W. (2003). Media Society: Industries, Images and Audiences. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.

Feenberg, A. (2002). Transforming Technology-A Critical theory revisited. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Hughes, T. (2004). Human-Built World: How to think about technology and culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hunt, E. & Colander, D. (2014). Social Science: An Introduction to the Study of Society.    New York, NY: Pearson Publications.

Morozov, E. (2013). To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. New York, NY: Public Affairs.

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