A camera with lenses each representing a different HCE tool

What is the HCE Toolkit?

A set of concepts and methods from Science, Technology, and Society (STS) and History selected to build understanding of the datafied world, helping students to identify where human power structures and value choices get built into technical work, and empowering them to discover how, when, and where they can responsibly and effectively intervene.

Learn about each Tool below or download the HCE Toolkit.


Theories that describe how technology and society related & elements of life that undergo transformation and are salient in defining the design, use, and forms of life in the datafied world.


The asymmetric capacity of an agent to structure or alter the behavior and decisions of other agents, populations, or systems. Technological (computational) power is intertwined with political power.


The way in which one thing is made to "stand for" another. Technologies create representations of people and of social/natural phenomena that do particular work in the world and acquire a life of their own, refiguring the identity and agency of the represented person/phenomena.


The ability or capacity to act or exert power. Technology informs the way in which people both perceive and exercise their capacity to exert some degree of control over the sociotechnical relations in which they are enmeshed.

Identity / Positionality

Life-shaping and socially conditioned aspects of selfhood, such as gender, race, class, disability status, immigration, and income. Identity is not only about how you see yourself, but also how society sees you (positionality). Identity is co-produced with technology.


The way in which systems for organizing knowledge (language, concepts, metaphors, models, classification systems, automated decision-making systems) bring into being the very phenomena they set out to describe.

Sociotechnical Imaginaries

Technologies are a crucial way with which individuals and collectives imagine and build their desired futures. Beyond vanguard visions, sociotechnical imaginaries are collectively held, institutionally stabilized, and publicly performed.


Technology and society are mutually constitutive, or, in other words, they depend on one another for the forms they assume: technology makes society what it is, and society makes technology what it is. Or, “Technology is co-produced with society.”

Sociotechnical System

An organization in which people and technology interact and work together such that human and technical agency is complexly intertwined and distributed. Large and highly complex sociotechnical systems distribute risks and responsibilities widely and unevenly, and are difficult to regulate. When they fail it is often difficult or even impossible to identify a single human or mechanical cause.


Skill or knowledge in a domain. Technical expertise is usually institutionalized and is variously valorized in societies (e.g. associated with establishment of facts, trust, and authority). Technical experts often wield particular kinds of social power.


Implicit and explicit social organization of beings and knowledge into discrete categories governed by identifiable principles. Societies produce knowledge and do work by sorting, ordering, and classifying phenomena in the world. Classification systems inform social order and vice versa.


Entities or systems composed of heterogeneous elements. Technologies are layered upon bodies and spaces in ways that are messy, accidental, piecemeal, resulting in "landscapes" that are part new, part old.


Physical or mental activity or exertion for the sake of sustenance of life, and the conditions in which this activity takes place and acquires value.


The relative size or extent of something. Technology reconfigures the relationship between the relative size, extent, or other established relationship of a phenomenon (e.g. local and the global, national and international, the one and the many).


Informal customs, norms and practices or formal laws and organizations that support and generate forms of social order (e.g. institution of marriage, economic or legal system, courts and schools).


The quality of being composed of matter. All technologies have a material component, and thus require attention to durability, maintenance, and environmental contexts and consequences.

Applications of the HCE Toolkit

The following video provides examples of how to apply the HCE tools listed above.


Techniques for analyzing phenomena in the datafied world.


Look for analogous phenomena in different contexts (across industries, nations, cultures).


Expand outwards and survey the landscape around the phenomenon (problem, technology, institution, event). Identify and analyze the significance of other features of the world which are distinct but directly connected to it.


Move inwards and explore the various meanings of the phenomenon. Identify and explore the significance and implications of the concepts, metaphors or images used to characterize or make sense of the phenomenon.


Move backwards and explore the phenomenon's antecedents and the conditions of its emergence in time. Consider both the unique moment of its emergence, and the longer term processes and changes that made this moment possible. Leverage the historical pointers (alternatives, contingency, trajectory, dynamics, patterns).