Reductionism, like technological determinism in general, is a mechanistic mode of explanation associated with positivism: a philosophical stance based strictly on the scientific method. Machines offer tidy models of phenomena for mechanistic theorists. It is common among social theorists to refer to 'mechanisms of change'. Machines serve a designated function and operate strictly according to cause and effect. Within the context of their mechanisms, causes are explicit and intentional and consequences are predictable. Machines are characterized by their relentless and rigid regularity. They are assembled from parts and can be analysed or disassembled into them. A machine like a clock, once it is initiated, is autonomous in the sense that it can run independently of human intervention for long periods, but it does not select its own goal. Critics of reductionism are often broadly anti- analytical and anti-mechanistic. For the biologist Rene Dubos, 'the mechanical definition of human life misses the point because what it human in man is precisely that which is not mechanical' (Dubos 1970, p. 132).
Mechanistic models have obvious deficiencies when applied to social phenomena. The use of complex and interacting technologies may have implications which are not always entirely intended or predicted. And the complex fabric of social reality cannot be neatly analysed into component factors. Machines are also under complete control - we can turn them off - which one might expect to appeal to voluntarists of a rationalist bent. However, we may also need to consider to what extent the user may become part of a complex machine when using it.