Social shaping of ICTs standards : a case of national character set standards controversy in Korea
This thesis examines the historical array of 'social' and 'technical' factors that have shaped the development and evolution of Korean national Coded Character Set (CCS) standards. CCS standards refer to a layer of compatibility standards which specify rules for digital representation of textual data at the most basic level of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The effective and efficient operation of information processing, storage, and exchange is thus dependent on the employment of technically sound, economically viable, and culturally adequate CCS standards at national, regional and international levels. Historicaily, the CCS standards had emerged around the cultural presumptions and practices of the US and Western Europe due to the economic and tcchnical dominance of the region from the formative stage of ICTs development. As the need for global information infrastructure and multilingual information processing has been growing, however, the international CCS standards regime has evolved (from 1SO 646, to ISO 2022, and JSO/IEC 10646-1) to incorporate various national scripts around the world, and the issues have arisen over the adequate representation of these scripts within the international standards regime. For example, the incorporation of East Asian scripts, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, presents a formidable challenge with their exceptionally large repertoire. In particular, the design and implementation of Korean national CCS standards, normally a exclusive domain of experts and bureaucrats, had caused a series of heated public controversies during the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the intensity of disputes and the breadth of participation in the controversies on Korean national CCS standards, the standardisation process had not been subject to a detailed socio-economic analysis, the lack of which allowed deterministic and simplistic speculations to appear, implying technological rationality, economic imperatives or corporate strategics alone have guided the CCS standards along a linear development path with increasingly larger and more powerful standards replacing previous ones. Drawing on the social shaping of technology perspective, the case study examines the evolution of Korean national CCS standards, focusing both on the process in which a standards emerges as a result of network building activities and alliance formation of various actors, and on the changes in immediate and broader contexts around the standardisation which directly and indirectly affect the interests alliances and evolution of standards. Contrary to the deterministic and simplistic perspectives, the case study suggests a structured but also dynamic social shaping process of the Korean national CCS standards. Four major themes forwarded in the case study are as below: First, the case identified a received view on the Korean controversy which can be characterised as 'technological fix on cultural problem' in a sense that technical challenge experienced in Korean character encoding was a product of distinctive local culture and the problem was fixed by the steady advances in the information technology. Without denying the importance of the state of technological capabilities, however, the case shows that social choices had been made both in international and national standards and had critical roles in shaping various controversy and whole national standards sdting process. Second, the case study identifies two contrasting modes of standardisation, 'technicisation' and 'politicisation,' and examines how the fluctuation between them has affected the development of Korean national standards setting process. In the discourse of technicised standardisation, technological knowledge is accepted as neutral, asocial 'hard fact.' Accordingly, the social choices are obscured and the standardisation process is to be dominated by the negotiation among disinterested experts over the relative technical merits of standards. Under the politicised mode of standardisation,' the political nature of CCS standards design - conflicting values and incongruent ascription of technological properties as a result - is brought forward. The standardisation is characterised by the formation of and competition among interests alliances. The outcome of standardislltion seems to be dependent on which mode is dominant as well as who prevails in each mode. Third, the case study raises a question about the relationship between the standards and interests embedded in them. The ascription of certain technological properties to standards and the interests alliances built around them proved unstable and dynamic. Both of them seem to be influenced by network building activities of llctors and their backdrop, a specific configuration of economic, social, cultural, political and technological factors, enabling and constraining the activities of actors involved in the standardisation process. As the makeup of the configuration changes for various reasons, - for example, globalised software market, social movements, surge of nationalism, political democratisation, advances in related technological field - the meanings attached by the actors to the standard also shifts, and the interests alliances based on them are unmade and replaced by new ones, producing a series of character set standards. Fourth, the study also draws attention to the complexity involved in the nlltional standardisation process and the challenge faced by the social research into those intricate social shaping process. The standardisation process involved many actors at different levels and across various geographical locales. Also there had been recurrent but unpredictable changes in the relationship among the actors and between the actors and artefacts. A recent trend in the social shaping approach - a call for a decentralised concept of actor and the transforming terrain of innovation - was found hrlpful to meet the challenge. In particular, the concept of 'development arena' was found useful to meet the challenge and to understand the case in balance between the actions of different 'modes of performance' and the contexts of varying 'configurations' of heterogeneous clements.