Inside Anthropotechnology

User and Culture Centered Experience
Wiley-ISTE (Verlag)
  • erschienen am 10. August 2017
  • |
  • 182 Seiten
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978-1-119-45282-9 (ISBN)
For the last forty years, anthropotechnology has been concentrating its efforts on the study and improvement of the working and living conditions of populations throughout the world. It guides the actors of the design processes by paying attention to the "human factor", its social, cultural and environmental components. It therefore values a conception of techniques that respect people, their ways of thinking and acting in specific contexts. This book introduces the reader into design dynamics that combine often conflicting sets of competencies, but always anxious to respond to the contexts of the field.
1. Auflage
  • Englisch
  • Newark
  • |
  • USA
John Wiley & Sons
  • 5,36 MB
978-1-119-45282-9 (9781119452829)
weitere Ausgaben werden ermittelt
1. Anthropotechnological Practice and Time Politics in the Development Industry.
2. The Appropriation of Knowledge: An Anthropology of Transmission in the Context of Professional Training.
3. At the Heart of the Sensibility: The "Profane" Gold of Madre de Dios.
4. The Fall Between the Objectification of Engineers and the Subjectification of Elderly People: The Challenges of Mediation.
5. In Step with Prosthetic Limbs! A Study of Scaling Up from Local Innovations.
6. Fab Labs: Product Design and Anthropotechnology.


Since the end of the 1960s, anthropotechnology has focused on the study and improvement of working and living conditions. It contributes to transforming the situations in which it intervenes at the request of social partners from diverse fields (companies, agricultural industry, national and international institutions, research, minorities and so on) in several countries1. Founded on an ergonomic approach to labor, anthropotechnology began to move away from this approach early on because of the shift that it represented. Anthropotechnology intervenes in multicultural situations in the context of technology transfer, and by extension, in all situations where the future use of a technique or an object to design is different from the one that initially inspired it.

This difference creates offsets between a prescribed activity (what ought to be done) and a real activity (what is really done by users), with repercussions that often have serious consequences for individuals and communities. Anthropotechnology contributes to anticipating these discrepancies. It informs design processes by making them attentive to the "human factor", its collective aspects and the overdetermined dimensions of the concept, which are social, cultural and environmental. Consequently, anthropotechnology value design is centered on individuals and how they think and act in specific contexts. To do this, it unites a set of core competencies around a single request in order to understand as many aspects of the intervention situation as possible. It "is part of the "bottom-up" approach, and for this reason it is similar to other similar methods in Human Sciences: ethnology, psychodynamics, etc. It is used to answer a precise question and it is geared toward proposing operational solutions" [WIS 96].

It is important to point out how anthropotechnology is considered and implemented today in our laboratory, and to recognize its recent institutionalization in Switzerland at the University of Applied Sciences. This recognition was gradual. From a simple interest in ergonomic intervention in the world of labor2, it quickly became, as Daniellou [DAN 96, p. 5] noted, a reference for debates about what could constitute an intervention in anthropology. It was the "catalyst"3 that motivated the anthropology of techniques4 to produce knowledge in areas that practice had revealed to be incomplete.

To paraphrase Daniellou [DAN 96], all of the participants in this book are convinced that the question of knowledge in anthropotechnology cannot be treated independently from the engagement of this "discipline" in the action of transforming working situations and technology design. It is therefore impossible to evoke the status of knowledge in anthropotechnology without evoking its role in the action and (Daniellou wrote "perhaps") its creation by the action. In this sense, the authors of this work insist on the "integrating character" [DEJ 96] of anthropotechnology: integrating scientific knowledge in the work of each of our interventions, as well as integrating the field actor knowledge in the dynamics of design.

The evolution of anthropotechnology

In 1962, Wisner (see [WIS 97, p. 5] and [GES 06a]) wrote his first reflections on anthropotechnology (although without using this term, which appeared in 1979) in the context of a round table entitled "Ergonomics and Work Organization", organized by Maurice de Montmollin during the 15th convention of the Société d'ergonomie de langue française (French-Speaking Ergonomics Society) in Paris.

It was not until the end of the 1970s that the first writings in this field were published. Similarly, a seminar was offered at the Conservatoire National des arts et métiers de Paris (CNAM) as early as the 1980s. It ended during the 1990s with Alain Wisner's retirement. The desired rapprochement between ergonomics and anthropology could not hide the fact that ergonomics also borrowed from other disciplines. Our objective here is less to propose an analysis of these approaches than to note their existence to the extent that they provide other points of view on the dynamics of design centered on users and uses. Whether it is the "ergology" developed by Yves Schwartz, the "macro-ergonomics" of Hal Hendrick or the "cultural ergonomics" devised by Michael Kaplan, they are all constructed through more or less close ties with anthropotechnology as it was conceived of by Alain Wisner even if the latter, like ergology, refutes the essentialist perspectives that we perceive to underlie the others.

Important publications appeared from this period up to the mid-2000s. French-language contributions included the summary work of Alain Wisner on anthropotechnology [WIS 97], the overview by Duraffourg and Vuillon [DUR 04] and the special issue of the journal "Travailler", edited by Christophe Dejours [DEJ 06]. English language contributions included the books of Michael Kaplan and Johnson [KAP 04, JOH 13] about cultural ergonomics in line with the works of Chapanis [CHA 75]. This included a contribution by Alain Wisner and recognized the influence of his thinking on the development of the field of ergonomics in North America. Anthropotechnology has been integrated in the Classic Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics Methods [GES 04b] as well as the publication of the 8th colloquium on Human Factors in Organizational Design and Management, which took place in Hawaii in 2004, during which a tribute was paid to Wisner's works in a workshop led by Hal Hendrick. Finally, there was a special issue of the online journal Laboreal dedicated entirely to anthropotechnology [GES 12, BAU 12] and a recent (2016) colloquium on the legacy of Alain Wisner held at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris.

As a whole, these texts attest to the extent of the influence of Alain Wisner's reflections in the field of anthropotechnology, to the point that we can say, like Daniellou, that although it was not an institutionalized field of research, it survived by "impregnating" the works of individuals who were trained by him and who were confronted with the increasing multicultural aspects of working situations. This statement mitigates the remarks of Darse and Montmollin [DAR 06, p. 39] about the decline of anthropotechnology. It may have been in decline in the ergonomics world in which it was created, but not outside of that discipline. Alain Wisner's departure from CNAM and the direction taken by the new management brought anthropotechnology out of ergonomics, its field of origin. This direction laid the foundation for its emancipation from ergonomics. An emancipation that was desired by Alain Wisner:

"I feel a certain reticence toward including related activities in ergonomics: the organization of work and training, for example, as in macro-ergonomics. I prefer when the collaborative role of the human sciences prevails in the analysis and the proposed solutions. That is why I proposed the anthropotechnological paradigm. I worry that the inflation of ergonomics to its etymological meaning (science of work) will result in its dissolution or its breakdown. And in that case, who will remain to deal with improving the technological system?" [WIS 96].

The development and institutionalization of anthropotechnology took place gradually outside the framework of ergonomics, in anthropology, and beyond national borders, mainly in Switzerland5, as well as in countries where Wisner's contacts and teachings influenced an entire generation of ergonomists in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, India, the Philippines and the countries of North Africa.

The attentive reader will have noticed that this field also gradually began to include academic research about technology. In addition to the works that I mentioned in a previous publication [GES 06b], others that should be noted are the works of the philosopher Gilbert Hottois [HOT 09], anthropologists Marie-Pierre Julien and Céline Rosselin [JUL 05], ethnologist Marie-Claude Mahias, business management specialists like Pascal Lièvre [GES 04a, GES 06b], the theories of sociologist Albin Amard [HAM 15] on meditational practices, and more recently works by the ethnologists Hervé Munz [MUN 16] on the Swiss clock-making industry, Laura Bertini (Chapter 4), and Matthieu Bolay (Chapter 1), just to cite a few6. They all place anthropotechnology within the social sciences. Some consider it to be a technology of intervention and others consider it to be a new disciplinary field [GES 06a], or even an art, although the matter is not closed7.

A gradual institutionalization

My encounter with Alain Wisner was decisive. At the time, the development of anthropotechnology that he taught seemed to offer, to the young researchers that we were, new paths of intervention, new ways to be "useful". By this, I mean that he offered our disciplines, whether it was ergonomics, geography (geographers attended Wisner's seminar), or ethnology, the means of integrating and demonstrating the importance of individuals' ways of thinking and acting, their culture, in the process of improving working conditions, design and technology transfer.

I questioned the relevance of ethnographic methods in the anthropology of technology. If we were to compare the results of our analysis with those of other ethnologists of technology (anthropological work), should we not at least use the same tools of ethnographic...

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