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By contrast, Dutch engineers focus on “keeping the water out.” They are more concerned with prevention than mitigation. The risk criterion used in the Netherlands is 1: 10,000. This criterion is not only the technical norm in that country; it is also a governmental regulation, sanctioned by the law.

Basically, Dutch and American engineers are driven by differences in style. For Bijker these different styles are a consequence of “differences between American and Dutch societies, or rather technological cultures” (7). He also noted that American and Dutch engineers respond to different socio-cultural relations with nature and/or with different geographies. They also respond to different political cultures. While Americans are less supportive of government involvement the Ducth are more open to its involvement in various affairs, including coastal defense technologies.

Despite cultural differences coastal technologies in the United States or the Netherlands have, embedded within their design, representations rooted in scientific rationality. However, American coastal engineers are more concerned with scientific research than are the Dutch engineers. Nonetheless coastal technologies in either country embody the application of scientific expertise and techniques to a non-science context, flooding management. These technologies, like many other modern technologies, are entrenched in values of scientific and technical rationality. We’ll get back to the role of rationality in the subsequent section.

Coastal technologies show that the social and the cultural are entangled in any given technology. Technology is then a prevalent form of the embodiment of both culture and social relations. In what follows we will focus on the technological embodiment of culture, how a given particular culture is enmeshed in a given technology. The starting point is that technology embodies a culture in all its elements: values, beliefs, norms, ideologies, discourses, symbols, worldviews, and practices. Again, technology is culture.

The social meanings and cultural horizons of technology

Technology, embodied culture, ought to be subject to interpretation like any other cultural artifact (Feenberg 1995). As such we should examine how culture determines both the meaning and content of technology and its uses and how technology, in turn, shapes culture.

A particular technology can be interpreted or studied in terms of two cultural dimensions: its social meanings and its cultural horizon (Feenberg 1995). Both, the meanings attached to a given technology and the cultural horizon in which it is embedded play an important role in technology design, development and use.

Technologies have social meanings, a symbolic and figurative content attached to it by various social actors and/or stakeholders. Put differently, different social agents or groups construe, signify, represent or assign different meanings to the very same technology. Often, these meanings are actually embedded, encoded and/or implanted in the technology itself. Technological objects thus embody and materialize multiple social meanings. Recall, for instance the various meanings attached coastal defense structures in the United States, meanings regarding prediction and mitigation. The multiple meanings given to coastal technologies were not extrinsic to the kit but actually make a difference in the nature and design of the object itself.

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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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