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KEY WORDS: sociotechnology; ecology; pollution; environment.
The paper makes a theoretical case for the extension of the sociotechnical model as a heuristic device, to include those aspects of the environment which are directly or indirectly affected by technology. We will call this the socioecotechnical model. Environmental deprivation as a consequence of some mechanical atomic, or chemical technologies has long been in evidence but during the last half century, levels of public tolerance to environmental damage have decreased and sensitivity has heightened. The political-economic changes in Eastern Europe after 1989 have exposed very high degrees of environmental damage due to the use of inappropriate technology. Similar problems have been noted in parts of South America, Eastern Rim countries, and especially in China. The highly industrialized countries of Europe and North America have analogous difficulties with excessive pollution though the etiology differs.
The paper will develop the argument in five stages, starting with a brief historic review of the sociotechnical concept and relevant antecedents; it will show that extension of sociotechnology was given serious consideration by the founders of the model, one of whom had intended to start his conceptual scheme at the macro level, but was prevented from carrying this through by the exigent priorities derived from the pressure of fieldwork. Second, the extension of the model derives from two of the roots that characterized the original concept namely contingency rather than generalistic theory and decentralized democratic decision making rather than the division of labor and hierarchy. Third, we will argue that, as a consequence of the dominant emphasis of the traditional model on the micro level of organizational design, its relevance for modem open system organization theory is diminishing. Fourth, by underemphasizing or omitting meso and macro level applications, the sociotechnical model has not engaged itself with debates initiated by economists although they can be shown to be relevant.
These arguments will be used to make a preliminary case for a socioecotechnical model. A number of examples of possible applications will be given; two in particular. One makes use of large-scale existing data derived from recent legislation in the United State which accumulates intra-company and external measures to reduce pollution. The second example comes from an action research project on raising energy consciousness in secondary schools with the triple objective of increasing comfort, saving energy, and reducing the carbon dioxide ([CO.sub.2]) emission in the environment.
The sociotechnical model was formulated by Eric Trist, Fred Emery, and a group of researchers at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations as a result of extensive fieldwork in a number of British coal fields. They found that new technological designs cannot achieve maximum results on their own although they are separate from the human component with which they have to interact. The technology and the people who work with it have to be treated as being coupled within a system; they cannot be maximized as separate entities. Out of these considerations evolved the important concept of joint optimization of the social and technical subsystems (Trist & Bamforth, 1951; Trist et al., 1963).
The need for extending sociotechnology has frequently been discussed, most notably by Eric Trist who, in his important 1981 publication, informed us that in his own thinking, he first conceptualized the model at the macrosocial level. The next stage concentrated at the whole organization level and only then did he consider the primary work system. The reason why the micro level analysis became dominant for Trist and his colleagues was the fortuitous circumstance of the examples provided by three British coal fields.
However, for Trist as well as for Emery, the wider considerations never ceased to Occupy their minds, stimulated by an early publication of von Bertalanffy's open systems theories. Their interest in the environment and its impact on lower levels of the work system found expression in their well-known 1965 article on "The Causal Texture of Organisational Environments." Trist's frustration with the uneven micro concentration of the sociotechnical model is well described in the 1981 booklet in the chapter headed "Developments at the Macrosocial Level."
In the sociotechnical field as a whole, the knowledge base is unevenly distributed.
Most is known about primary work systems and a good deal about modelling new
plants. Far less is known about transforming existing work establishments. Even
less, however, is known about sociotechnical processes at the macrosocial level. The
payoff from directing research attention to this level would be considerable. (p. 50)
Trist saw the macro extension as capable of embracing a range of important phenomena, including the advent of the microprocessor revolution and its consequential threat to employment leading to a new conceptualization of the work ethic. At the meso level, he saw the need to extend the concept to cover a whole industrial sector and in this connection he mentioned Thorsrud's work in the shipping industry. He thought that the model could be extended to the community and in this context he mentioned his own extended work in Jamestown. He was quite adamant that the model should not be confined to work organizations and he specifically mentioned "the built environment -- the urban scene, the home . . ." (p. 51) and he thought that sociotechnical studies "needed to be carried out at three broad levels -- from micro to macro -- each of which is interrelated." In this connection, he mentioned media and architectural forms which, although not organizations, are sociotechnical phenomena (p. 11).
It will be seen that these extensions applied to levels of analysis and to what Trist called "domains," that is, areas of application. He did not seem to envisage an extension of the meaning of the social or the technical subsystems, although such an extension is indirectly implied in some of his and Emery's writing and, of course, they have become very much aware of the impact of different intensities of environmental interference in their 1965 paper on "The Causal Texture of Organisational Environments," and later in their book Towards a Social Ecology (1973).
The sociotechnical system was usually described as an open system with boundary roles that have to be sensitive to the external world. However, the environment was always seen as a dynamic acting on the organization (Emery & Trist, 1973, p. 221) and not the reverse. In the socioecotechnical open system model, the boundary role has a dual responsibility. In addition to managing the intra-organizational priorities in relation to changes in external product and market conditions, it has to adjust, control, and monitor the organization's impact on the environment.
Vickers, in his Introduction to Emery and Trist's Towards a Social Ecology (1973) anticipated the need for outward-oriented boundary responsibility. He describes the ecologist as a person who "looks at the total pattern of life in some defined habitat, in the belief that it constitutes one system" (p. vi) and later, he talks of changes which humans "unwittingly breed in their surround" (p. ix) which have a tendency to accelerate exponentially. As a consequence, he asks us to "establish a way of thinking which is urgently needed and stiff far from general." It requires an "acceptance of limitation; of mutual obligation; and a sense of time which extends the present deep into the future as the concern of men now" (p. ix).
There is much to be gained by not treating the sociotechnical concept and environmental factors separately, but combining them in one, admittedly more complex, socioecotechnical model. The obvious theoretical advantage of a combined model is the requirement of jointly optimizing or submaximizing three important and interacting components of a wider system. The disadvantage is some loss of parsimony and the greater difficulty of establishing the short- as well as long-term results of the socioecotechnical joint optimization. However, the second difficulty would apply to nearly all the meso …