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Let us begin by claiming that cultural appreciation and cherishing cultural diversity go hand in hand. To understand that relationship we must unravel the notion of cultural diversity. Cultural diversity refers to cultural variability between and within societies, meaning that societies around the globe differ culturally. Societies vary in terms of their norms, values, beliefs and practices or conducts. Yet, they also vary in terms of their material culture. Material culture refers to artifacts, objects, and resources that people make and use to define their culture and carry out diverse activities. That includes homes, paper, pencils, buildings, crosses, bridges, clothes, etc. An important aspect of material culture, as the previous list suggests, is then technology.

The term technology is often used to refer to tools, machines and equipment, including computers and like devices. Sociologists and other social scientists, however, use a broader definition that includes social relationships dictated by the technical organization and mechanization of activities, for example, the technical organization of work and bureaucracies.

Technology and cultural diversity

Technology defined broadly or not is culture. Hence, to acknowledge cultural variability is to affirm that among other things cultures vary in terms of their material culture and in terms of technology. For instance, different societies may produce different technologies to do the very same thing. For example, while people in America and Europe use forks and spoons to eat people in Asia use chopsticks. They use different technologies to do the same thing, namely eat.

Peoples from different cultures may also use the very same technology differently, according to their specific culture. The diffusion of technologies from one culture to another exemplifies that fact. The accepting culture not only adopts the technology in question but may actually adapt it to its cultural necessities. Consider, for example, cultural variability in the use of gunpowder. The Chinese, inventors of the substance, firs regarded gunpowder as a medicinal substance, and only after centuries of experimentation did they began to use it for fireworks and for military rockets (Volti 2008). Although the Chinese once used it to fire projectiles from vase shaped guns gunpowder never became an important military technology. But when adopted by Europeans in the thirteen century this soon changed. Europeans adopted and adapted gunpowder to their military needs and cultural imperatives (Volti 2008). They immediately began to use gunpowder for weapons of steadily increasing power.

As the above examples show technology represents an excellent window from which to study, understand and appreciate cultural diversity. The purpose of this module is to provide some insights into the ways in which technology reflects and even embodies culture, which should be helpful in appreciating other cultures and their technologies.

From a sociological perspective, technology is not simply the product of rational technical imperatives, the making of autonomous, unbiased, impartial and entirely objective experts. Rather, any given technology results from a series of specific decisions made by particular groups of people in particular places at particular times for their own interests and purposes. These decisions are made either in the context of conflict or in the milieu of cooperation, involving various stakeholders beyond their inventors or designers. Technologies always bear the imprint of people, their social relations and their culture in a given place and time. Consider Andrew Feenberg’s (1992: 177) words:

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Source:  OpenStax, Civis project - uprm. OpenStax CNX. Nov 20, 2013 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11359/1.4
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