Notes on Andrew Feenberg Questioning Technology
Key concepts: ambivalence of technology, anti-essentialist philosophy of technology, built environment, class struggle, concretization, democratic rationalization, instrumentalism theory, rational dread, reflexive design, secondary instrumentalization, social constructivism, strategies and tactics, technical micropolitics, technical pluralism, technocracy, technological fetishism, technological unconscious, underdetermination.
Essentialist view of technology based on impartial reason and logic that trickles down into society through via production needs to be altered to perceive its historical, social, and cultural determinations and flexibility, as Kuhn did with science. May Events as stimulus to changes reducing the dominion of capitalist technocracy that have occurred since. The democratic position of sharing a role on the design process accommodates subordinate, in the sense of illiterate, non-engineer, users so their experience of technologies is not simply that of an indifferent consumer. Constructivist position profits from the relative transparency of open source projects whose design evolution is documented in online developer communities. Can the structure of this analysis be carried over to the free, open source movement against the capitalist, cathedral mentality of proprietary, closed source software and hardware companies? Develops concepts of technical hegemony, regimes and codes leading to de Certeau's study of games, strategies and tactics. After mixing in Latour, presents democratic rationalization as political response to technical micropolitics. Famous examples of Minitel, AIDS patient networks point to current example of open source software movement. Rich arguments involving Latour, Simondon, Heidegger, Habermas culminating in two-level instrumentalization theory, discussion of technological fetishism, concretization, technical pluralism.
Related theorists: Adorno, Bijker, Borgmann, Commoner, Ellul, De Certeau, Dreyfus, Foucault, Habermas, Heidegger, Horkheimer, Ihde, Kuhn, Latour, Malthus, Marcuse, Marx, McLuhan, Pinch, Sclove, Simondon, Weber.
(vii) Formerly, the democratic movement gave its fullest confidence to the natural processes of technological development, and it was only conservative cultural critics who lamented the price of progress. . . . all agreed that technology was an autonomous force separate from society, a kind of second nature impinging on social life from the alien realm of reason in which science too finds its source. For good or ill, technology's essence—rational control, efficiency—ruled modern life.
(vii) But this conception of technology is incompatible with the extension of democracy to the technical sphere. Technology is the medium of daily life in modern societies. . . . Insofar as we continue to see the technical and the social as separate domains, important aspects of these dimensions of our existence will remain beyond our reach as a democratic society.
Essentialist view of technology based on impartial reason and logic that trickles down into society through via production needs to be altered to perceive its historical, social, and cultural determinations and flexibility, as Kuhn did with science. By studying the technology of texts and other media a similar appreciation can be developed, focusing on the deep involvement of technologies in human subjectivity.
The time has therefore come for an anti-essentialist philosophy of
(x) If essentialism is unaware of its own limitations, this is because it confounds attitude with object, the modern obsession with efficiency with technology as such.
(x) I believe there is a single fundamental distinction among technical actors that enables us to link social to philosophical issues. This is the distinction between the dominant and the subordinate positions with respect to technological systems.
(xi) We have “domesticated” the technicized house and made it ours in all sorts of ways that have little or nothing to do with efficiency. The essence of technology, whatever it is, ought to encompass this complexity in principle.
(xii) Essentialist dualism cuts across the lifeworld of technology, in which both these dimensions are immediately present, and disconnects the technical as such from the experience of it.
(xii) Even if meaning plays no role in technical disciplines at any given point in time, it is relevant to the history of technology. Lifeworld meanings experienced by subordinate actors are eventually embodied in technological designs; at any given stage in its development, a device will express a range of these meanings gathered not from “technical rationality” but from past practices of its users. Technology as a total phenomenon thus must include an experiential dimension since experience with devices influences the evolution of their design. This is a conclusion generously documented in constructivist sociology and social history of technology.
(xiii) Thus what essentialism conceives as an ontological split between technology and meaning, I conceive as a terrain of struggle between different types of actors differently engaged with technology and meaning.
(xiii) we need to take seriously Don Ihde's remark that “technology is only what it is in some use-context” (Ihde, 1990: 128).
The democratic position of sharing a role on the design process accommodates subordinate, in the sense of illiterate, non-engineer, users so their experience of technologies is not simply that of an indifferent consumer.
(xiv) Real change will come not
when we turn away from technology toward meaning, but when we
recognize the nature of our subordinate position in the technical
systems that enroll us, and begin to intervene in the design process
in the defense of the conditions of a meaningful life and a livable
(xv) Obscured in the identitarian classification of the new social movements is the potentially unifying articulation supplied by technology, which is often the states in their struggles.
(xv) But the limitation of technology to production in Marx's day has long since been transcended. Only through a generalization of the political question of technology to cover the whole surface of society does it again become relevant to our time.
Technology, Philosophy, Politics
DETERMINISM AND SUBSTANTIVISM
(2) either politics becomes another branch of technology, or technology is recognized as political.
Initial cheerful optimism about technological progress ruined by substantivist claim of inherent bias toward domination; essentialism locks these views as definitive.
According to substantivism, modernity is also an epistemological
event that discloses the hidden secret of the essence of technology.
And what was hidden? Rationality itself, the pure drive for
efficiency, for increasing control and calculability. This process
unfolds autonomously once technology is released from the restraints
that surround it in premodern societies.
(3) In Marshall McLuhan's melodramatic phrase: technology has reduced us to the “sex organs of the machine world” (McLuhan, 1964: 46). Ellul is as pessimistic as Heidegger and calls for an improbable spiritual transformation in response to the domination of technology.
(3) What makes substantivism so very gloomy, where determinism started out as a cheerful doctrine of progress, is the additional assumption that technology is inherently biased toward domination. . . . Essentialism holds that there is one and only one “essence” of technology and it is responsible for the chief problems of modern civilization. I will offer both a critique of essentialism, which continues to set the terms of most philosophy of technology, and an alternative to it, in the concluding chapters of this book.
Technocracy as administrative system legitimated by scientific expertise over tradition, law, popular will.
By “technocracy” I mean a wide-ranging administrative
system that is legitimated by reference to scientific expertise
rather than tradition, law, or the will of the people.
(4) That those consequences were political was due to the intellectual arrogance of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
The situation is much different today in the technical realm of banking and economics; the emergency bailout that just emerged from democratic control is seen as the intellectual arrogance of the Bush administration to rescue the world from financial crisis just as it tried to rescue the world from radical Islamic terrorism.
The left in this period called for democratic control over the
direction and definition of progress, and reformulated socialist
ideology on these terms.
(5) The French May Events was the culminating new left movement.
(6) I analyze in some detail the debate between Paul Ehrlich and Barry Commoner that divided environmentalists in the early 1970s.
(6) Several members of this [American philosophy of technology] school, Langdon Winner, Albert Borgmann, Don Ihde, will be referred to frequently in this book, which itself belongs within this tradition (Achterhuis, et al., 1997).
(6) Marcuse and Foucault stand out in this period as the most powerful critics of the role of scientific ideologies and technological determinism in the formation of modern hegemonies (Marcuse, 1963; Foucault, 1977).
In his next book Transforming Technology a whole part is devoted to the ambiguity of the computer.
(7) The left dystopians reject essentialism and argue for the possibility of radical change in the nature of modernity. . . . I call the availability of technology for alternative developments with different social consequences, its “ambivalence.” At stake in the ambivalence of technology is not merely the limited range of uses supported by any given technical design, but the full range of effects of whole technological systems.
Frankfurt School viewed technology as materialized ideology.
(7) The Frankfurt School
expressed a similar view in claiming that technology is materialized
ideology. . . . Habermas, for example, treats technology as a general
form of action that responds to the generic human interest in
control. . . . Technology only acquires a political bias when it
invades the communicative sphere.
(8) For Marcuse, technology is ideological where it imposes a system of domination, and forces extrinsic ends on human and natural materials in contradiction with their own intrinsic growth potential.
(8) He [Foucault] explores the “subjugated knowledges” that arise in opposition to a dominating rationality.
(9)(Chart 1: The Varieties of Theory)
(10) The influence of Kuhn and Feyerabend grew among social scientists in the 1980s and it became intellectually respectable to study the history and sociology of science and technology on terms similar to other cultural domains.
(10) Constructivism focuses on the social alliances that lie behind technical choices. Each configuration of components corresponds not only to a technical logic, but also to the social logic of its selection.
(11) Closure produces a “black box,” an artifact that is no longer called into question but is taken for granted. .. Looking back from that later standpoint, the artifact appears purely technical, even inevitable. This is the source of the deterministic illusion.
Clearly the constructivist position profits from the relative transparency of open source projects whose design evolution is documented in online developer communities; the black box nature of finished technologies is related as much to how we might learn about them, the availability of records, as the metaphysical claims of essentialist determinism.
(11) But so far most constructivist research has confined itself to the study of the strategic problems of building and winning acceptance for particular devices and systems.
THE POSTMODERN DILEMMA
(13) In abstaining from the philosophical debate over technology, philosophy left it to other disciplines, such as “postmodern” literary theory and cultural studies.
(14) Must we choose between universal rationality and culturally or politically particularized values?
AND HISTORY: ON HEIDEGGER AND HABERMAS
(14) Both developed essentialist theories that fail to discriminate significantly different realizations of technical principles.
(15) In Heidegger and Habermas, modernity is governed by a very abstract concept of technical action. I call this view “essentialist” because it interprets a historically specific phenomenon in terms of a transhistorical conceptual construction.
(15) The difficulty is inherent in the essentialist project: how to fix the historical flux in a singular essence? Two strategies are available: either deny all continuity and treat modern technology as unique - Heidegger's solution; or distinguish earlier from later stages in the history of technical action in terms of the degree to which it has purified itself of the admixture of other forms of action - Habermas's solution.
(16) Modern technology is no merely contingent historical phenomenon but a stage in the history of being. Perhaps because of this ontologizing approach, Heidegger allows no room for a different technological future. Modern technology remains fixed in its eternal essence whatever happens in history. Not technology itself but “technological thinking” will be transcended in a further stage in the history of being that we can only await passively.
(16) For Habermas, on the contrary, modernity does not reveal being but human activity in a new and purer light. In premodern societies the various types of action are inextricably mixed together, with no clear distinction between the technical, the aesthetic, and the ethical. In modern societies these action types are differentiated practically and theoretically. .. His goal is the restoration of a healthy process of social communication capable of providing direction to market and administration and especially of limiting their influence.
(17) The basic problem is essentialism.
Instrumentalization theory engages Heidegger and Habermas building social account to enlarge democratic concerns.
(17) I propose an account in which social dimensions of technological systems belong to the essence of technology as well. This essence includes such features as the impact of these systems on workers' skills and the environment, their aesthetic and ethical aspects, and their role in the distribution of power. This “instrumentalization theory” attempts to embrace the wide variety of ways in which technology engages with its objects, its subjects, and its environment. A social account of the essence of technology enlarges democratic concerns to encompass the technical dimension of our lives. It offers an alternative to both the ongoing celebration of technocracy triumphant and the gloomy Heideggerian prediction of technocultural disaster.
THE POLITICIZING OF TECHNOLOGY
2. Technocracy and Rebellion: The May Events of 1968
(21) In fact the May Events overthrew not the Gaullist state, but the narrow ideological horizons of the old left it challenged in challenging capitalism in new ways.
(21-22) French intellectuals were also liberated from the moral burdens of communism that had weighed on them since World War II. New theoretical movements associated with Foucault, Deleuze, Baudrillard finished the break with the old left begun in 1968.
Can the structure of this analysis of May Events of 1968 be carried over to the free, open source movement against the capitalist, cathedral mentality of proprietary, closed source software and hardware companies?
(22) The themes on which I will
focus are: the logic of the student revolt; the relations between
workers and students; the ideological crisis of the middle strata;
and the new libertarian image of socialism.
(22) The struggle against technocracy played a central role in each these domains.
TECHNOCRACY AND STUDENT
(23) In the late 1960s, student resistance was directed at first against the growing pressure to achieve a technocratic integration of the university and society. In France a profoundly traditional university viewed the rise of technocracy with dismay and resisted adaptation to a world it rejected. In America the movement arose simultaneously with the creation of the modern “multiversity,” in the service of business and government as never before.
(26) the revolt within the university was a struggle against the use of arguments from technical necessity and intellectual authority to justify a system of domination.
(26) the students found themselves at the leading edge of a contradiction that cuts across all modern societies, the contradiction between the enormous knowledge and wealth of these societies and the creativity they demand of their members, and the mediocre use to which this knowledge, wealth and creativity is put.
(28) the [Communist] Party completely misunderstood what was new about the movement: its demand for workers' self-management and for the transformation of daily life and culture. As a result, the communists found the new student opposition contesting their own leadership of the working class from the left.
(30) The New Left was thus not exclusively a student affair. Industrial workers, who were believed to be content with receiving periodic wage increases, also came forward in this period with demands for power and control over the labor process.
IN THE SERVICE OF THE
(31) The struggles of May briefly dislocated one of the structural bases of capitalist democracy: the allegiance of the middle strata to the established parties and institutions.
(32) Their protest focused on the absurdity of “consumer society;” they denounced the bureaucratic organization of their work and demanded the right to participate in the determination of its goals.
(35-36) In May 1968 the French middle strata did not so much feel useless or guilty about their privileges as misused by those in command of the society. Their radical stand is best understood as an appeal to the population to redirect their work into more humane and productive channels.
(36) The “entente” they were looking forward to was not merely political, but social and economic as well. It was to be based on the transformation of the division of labor in a self-managed society.
STRATEGY AND GOAL
(39) Socialism was to emerge not from an electoral victory, but through the transformation of the general strike into an “active strike” in which the workers would set their factories back in motion on their own account.
Self-management so deeply rooted in consciousness it appears outcome of progress; compare to Malabou critique of Darwinism in neurobiology.
industrialism has continued to develop on the track originally set by
its capitalist origins. Its central problem is still control
of the labor force which,
lacking ownership or identification with the firm, has no very clear
reason to favor its success. The
instruments of that control, management and technological design,
have rooted the system so deeply in consciousness and practice that
it seems the outcome of progress as such. The
fact that the system has been shaped not only by technical
necessities but also by the tensions of the class struggle has been
(42) The May Events revived this forgotten council communist tradition under the name “self-management.”
Feenberg views May Events as stimulus to changes reducing the dominion of capitalist technocracy that have occurred since.
While the May Events did not succeed in overthrowing the state, they
accomplished something else of importance, an anti-technocratic
redefintion of the idea of progress
continues to live in a variety of forms to this day.
(43) Without the struggles of those years in the background it is difficult to imagine the growth of client-centered professionalism, changed medical practices in fields such as childbirth and experimentation on human subjects, participatory management and design, communication applications of computers, and environmentally conscious technological advance.
3. Environmentalism and the
Politics of Technology
INTRODUCTION: TRADEOFF OR TRANSFORMATION
(47) At the core of the disagreement are very different views on the nature of technology. Fundamentalist environmentalism emphasizes control of growth because it can conceive of no change in the industrial order that would render it ecologically compatible (Ullrich, 1979). Technological determinism thus leads straight to a Malthusian position for which environmental and economic values must be traded off against each other. This is Ehrlich's position. Commoner's contrary view depends on a non-determinist philosophy of technology which admits the possibility of radical technical transformation. Only on this condition can growth and the environment be reconciled.
AN END TO HISTORY
(48) The new scientific statesmanship hoped to gain a hearing by emphasizing the apocalyptic nature of the forces science had unleashed, and organizing a united front of scientists to put the new authority of research to good use.
(48) Like a natural disaster of planetary scope, the environmental crisis could unify humankind beyond historic rivalries in a more fundamental confrontation with nature itself.
RACE AND NATION
(54) All these Malthusian positions treat society as a natural object ruled by deterministic laws. .. Technology too is naturalized by the assumption that economic growth implies more technology of the sort we use now.
(54-55) Without these deterministic premises, the analogy between the population bomb and the atom bomb is weak and the rationale for a politics of survival breaks down.
THE BIOLOGICAL OR THE
(55) For Commoner, environmental problems of all sorts, including overpopulation, are effects of social causes inherent in capitalism and colonialism.
(56) Commoner proposed transforming modern technology “to meet the inescapable demands of the ecosystem” (Commoner, 1971: 282).
(57) Technological design must be freed from the profit system.
THE QUESTION OF DIMINISHING
(57) But was Commoner right to link the fresh young environmental movement with the tired old struggle for socialism?
THE PERSONAL OR THE
(60) the dilemma of population politics is the absence of any significant realm of action other than appeals to individual conscience and government enforced limits on family size.
(63) environmental politics is a zero-sum game in which the distribution of costs affects classes differently, according to their position in the economic system. Starting from this premise, Commoner constructed what are, in effect, ideal-typical models of class-determined attitudes toward the environment.
(63) Conclusion: capitalism will resist environmental controls until they become unavoidable and then attempt to get others to bear the burden.
When it comes to the spiritual pollution of using technology systems that do not offer freedom, or only narrow degrees of freedom within fixed configuration options, both workers and consumers suffer.
Workers' objective position with respect to the environment is quite
different because for them pollution
is not an exogenous but an endogenous factor.
(64) When he wrote The Closing Circle Commoner was convinced that the intensified class conflict generated by the ecological crisis would be a great school in environmental policy. . . . In fact, labor environmentalism never played the central role he predicted. The failure of his strategy raises serious questions about his whole approach.
CULTURE AND CONSCIOUSNESS
(64) One simply cannot predict the future beliefs of a class from its objective interests.
(67) What is needed then is a theory not of individual lifestyle, nor only of social control over production, but also of cultural change.
THE LIMITS OF MORALITY
(68) Ehrlich suggested a shift in the scene of fulfillment, from the material or economic domain, to the spiritual or ideological domain. . . . Commoner envisaged a resolution to the environmental crisis not through restricting the supply of material goods, but rather through changing the definition and delivery of them.
CONCLUSION: BEYOND THE
POLITICS OF SURVIVAL
(70) The environmental crisis, in short, brings not peace but a sword. .. it is a new terrain on which the old issues will be fought out, perhaps this time to a conclusion.
4. The Limits of Technical Rationality
TECHNOLOGY AND DEMOCRACY
(75) According to Weber, modernity is characterized by the increasing role of calculation and control in social life, a trend leading to what he called the “iron cage” of bureaucracy.
(75) “Democratic” rationalization is a contradiction in Weberian terms.
This ambivalence of technology plays out in his differentiation of primary and secondary instrumentalizations.
of technology can
be summarized in the following two principles.
1. Conservation of hierarchy: social hierarchy can generally be preserved and reproduced as new technology is introduced.
2. Democratic rationalization: new technology can also be used to undermine the existing social hierarchy or to force it to meet needs it has ignored.
DETERMINISM TO CONSTRUCTIVISM
Determinism defined as belief that technical necessity dictates path of development, which is discovered through pursuit of efficiency; based on premises of unilinear progress and determination by base.
Faith in progress has been supported for generations by two widely
held deterministic beliefs: that technical necessity dictates the
path of development, and that that path is discovered through the
pursuit of efficiency.
(77) Determinism is based on two premises which I will call unilinear progress and determination by base.
(77) social institutions must adopt “imperatives” of the technological base. . . . Railroads require scheduled travel.
(78) These two theses of technological determinism present decontextualized, self-generating technology as the foundation of modern life.
Findings in sociology undermine unilinear progress, historical precedents repudiate determination by base; constructivism argues choices depend on fit between devices and interests and beliefs of social groups influencing design process.
contemporary sociology undermines the idea of unilinear progress
while historical precedents are unkind to determination by base.
(79) underdetermination means that technical principles alone are insufficient to determine the designs of actual devices.
(79) Constructivism argues, I think correctly, that the choice between alternatives ultimately depends neither on technical nor economic efficiency, but on the “fit” between devices and the interests and beliefs of the various social groups that influence the design process.
The importance of fit developed by Pinch and Bijker is evident in the selection of electronic technologies such as personal computers, their operating systems and software, mobile electronic devices, automobiles, and so on.
(79) Pinch and Bijker illustrate this approach with the early evolution of the bicycle (Pinch and Bijker, 1987).
With software the embodiments of political implications is very rich while at the same time concealed by familiarity and the sense of necessity when engaging in them by users already constrained by their overall computing environments, for instance, having to agree with a EULA or other click-through agreements in order to enable use commodity applications and websites that are now part of everyday life, made clear by Lessig; here Latour idea that technical devices embody norms that serve to enforce obligations literally enforce them, arriving at Feenberg notion of technological hegemony.
(80) But what if the various
technical solutions to a problem have different effects on the
distribution of power and wealth? Then the choice between them is
political and the political implications of that choice will be
embodied in some sense in the technology.
(81)(Chart 2: How Artifacts Have Politics)
Function or Meaning
Parallel development of critical constructivism emphasizing technological hegemony, technical regimes and codes, Kuhnian perspectives on change, culminating in reflexive design to development of critical programming.
(85) According to Latour,
technical devices embody norms that serve to enforce obligations. He
presents the door closer as a simple example.
(85) He adapts the linguistic distinction between denotation and connotation to describe the difference between the functions of technical objects and their many other associations. . . . The engineer may think these connotations are extrinsic to the device he or she is working on, but they too belong to its social reality.
(85) Baudrillard's approach opens technology to quasi-literary analysis. . . . However, his model still remains caught in the functionalist paradigm insofar as it takes the distinction between denotation and connotation for granted.
(86) hegemony is domination so deeply rooted in social life that it seems natural to those it dominates.
(87) The legitimating effectiveness of technology depends on unconsciousness of the cultural-political horizon under which it was designed. A critical theory of technology can uncover that horizon, demystify the illusion of technical necessity, and expose the relativity of the prevailing technical choices.
Regimes and Codes
(88) Technical codes define the object in strictly technical terms in accordance with the social meaning it has acquired. These codes are usually invisible because, like culture itself, they appear self-evident. For example, if tools and workplaces are designed today for adult hands and heights, that is only because children were expelled from industry long ago with design consequences we now take for granted.
(89) These hermeneutic congruencies offer a way to explain the impact of the larger sociocultural environment on the mechanisms of closure, a still relatively undeveloped field of technology studies.
Perspectives on Technical Change
(89) But in reality technical professions are never autonomous; in defending their traditions, they actually defend the outcomes of earlier controversies rather than a supposedly pure technical rationality.
Ironically, reflexive design takes calculative thinking to its logical conclusion, being as inclusive and comprehensive as possible in the analysis of requirements so that the social dimensions are necessarily part of design.
(90) A reflexive design process could take into account the social dimensions of technology at the start instead of waiting to be enlightened by public turmoil or sociological research.
PROGRESS AND RATIONALITY
The Tradeoff Model
Rational dread public response to imponderable risks.
(92) I call the public's response
to new and imponderable risks it is not equipped to evaluate
(93) Fear usually does not kill new technology; for the most part, it simply changes the regulatory environment and the orientation of development.
(94) Exchange is all about tradeoffs: more of A means less of B. But the aim of technical advance is precisely to avoid such dilemmas by devising what the French philosopher of technology, Gilbert Simondon, called “concrete” designs that optimize several variables at once.
(95) What a boiler “is” was thus defined through a long process of political struggle culminating finally in uniform codes issued by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
(95) The illusion of technical necessity arises from the fact that the code is thus literally “cast in iron.” (at least in the case of boilers.)
(95) Conformity is no ideological extravagance but an intrinsic production cost.
Fetishism of Efficiency
(96) Violating the code in order to lower costs is a crime, not a tradeoff.
(96) Design is only controversial while it is in flux.
Fetishism of efficiency.
Non-economic values intersect the economy in the technical code. . .
. The legal standards that regulate workers' economic activity have a
significant impact on every aspect of their lives. In the child labor
case, regulation widened educational opportunities with consequences
that are not primarily economic in character.
(97) The economic significance of technical change often pales beside its wider human implications in framing a way of life. In such cases, regulation defines the cultural framework of the economy; it is not an act in the economy.
Concept of Potentiality
(98) In anticipation, theory may situate itself imaginatively on the boundary of the new civilizational configuration that will give a concrete content to its speculations, judging this society from the standpoint of a possible successor. .. As progress unfolds on the basis of the constrained choices that have shaped technology in the past, lines of development emerge with a clear direction.
Suboptimizations rooted in technical code where there is systematic underemployment of major resources on part of cultural hegemonies.
rooted in the technical code, we are dealing not with a specific or
local failure but with the generalized wastefulness of a whole
technological system. In economic terms, unrealized civilizational
potentialities appear as systematic underemployment of major
resources due to the restrictions the dominant economic culture
places on technical and human development.
(98) The speculative claims of morality become ordinary facts of lie through such civilizational advances.
5. The Problem of Agency
THE RETURN OF POLITICS
(101) The fundamental problem of democracy today is quite simply the survival of agency in this increasingly technocratic universe. This is the central problem the Frankfurt School thematized in Adorno's concept of “total administration,” Marcuse's “one-dimensionality,” and Habermas's “technization of the lifeworld.”
(102) [Latour writes] Prescription is the moral and ethical dimension of mechanisms (Latour, 1992: 232).
(103) The prescriptions contained in devices define a division of labor.
(103) it [technocracy] relies on the consensus that emerges spontaneously out of the technical roles and tasks in modern organizations.
(103) actors in command of technically mediated institutions, whether private or public, capitalist or communist, subordinate their technical choices to the implicit meta-goal of reproducing their operational autonomy.
Recovery of Agency
(104) Micropolitics has no general strategy and offers no global challenge to the society. It involves many diverse but converging activities with long-term subversive impacts.
Feenberg talks about soviet rationalizations in Transforming Technology; here micropolitics are the domains where individuals can make changes by selecting, voting, commenting, and participating, which is the sort of activism that powers the FOS movement, and it is greatly aided by the Internet.
(105) What we have learned is
that even if no totalizing approach makes sense, the tensions in the
industrial system can be grasped on a local basis from “within,”
by individuals immediately engaged in technically mediated activities
and able to actualize ambivalent potentialities suppressed by the
prevailing technological rationality.
(105) I call this “democratic rationalization.”
NONINSTRUMENTALIST THEORY OF AGENCY
Cultural Studies and Critical Theory
(107) He [Roger Silverstone] and his collaborators have developed a reception theory of the appropriation of technology in the household. Just as TV viewers impose their own interpretations on the shows they watch, so users can resignify and even modify the devices they use in accordance with their own codes and values. This process, called “domestication,” yields a technical object adapted to the home environment.
(107) Merete Lie and Knut Sorensen (1996) have indeed attempted to extend the range of the term. .. They hope to join domestication theory to social constructivism in a synthesis explaining the active role of users in design.
(108) Perhaps we can get used to nuclear power plants in our neighborhood much as we get used to a television in the dining room, but it is far from clear in what sense significant agency is involved in either case.
(108) I have proposed the term “democratic rationalization” to signify user interventions that challenge undemocratic power structures rooted in modern technology. With this concept I intend to emphasize the public implications of user agency.
(108) the solution now is to find radical political resources immanent to technologically advanced societies.
(109) This argument recalls Ulrich Beck's theory of the “risk society” and the associated notion of “sub-politics.” .. Normal politics increasingly loses its political character as it becomes a form of system management, while new “sub-political” forces emerge in the interstices of the society, contesting the consequences of reflexive modernization in many spheres, and most especially in relation to technology and the environment where the contradictions appear with particular clarity.
Counter-hegemony revision of critical theory based on Foucault, de Certaeu and Latour detailing regimes of truth of subjugated knowledges.
(110) The middle writings of
Michel Foucault and two other French thinkers, Michel de Certeau and
Bruno Latour offer fruitful starting points for this revision of
(111) To regimes of truth correspond subjugated knowledges that express the point of view of the dominated. Subjugated knowledges are “situated” in a subordinate position in the technical hierarchy. They lack the disciplinary organization of the sciences, and yet they offer access to an aspect of the truth that is the specific blind spot of these sciences. . . . Logically implied but insufficiently elaborated, this notion of counter-hegemony offers the hope of radical change without reliance on traditional agent-based models such as the class struggle, which Foucault believes have outlived their usefulness.
(112) De Certeau found games to be a useful model of society. Games define the players' range of action without determining their moves. .. The technical code is the most general rule of the game, biasing the play toward the dominant contestant.
(112) De Certeau defines “strategies” as institutionalized controls embodied in modern social organizations such as corporations or agencies.
(113) Tactics thus differ from outright opposition in that they subvert the dominant codes from within by introducing various unexpected delays, combinations, and ironies into the application of strategies.
(113) Tactics thus belong to strategies the way speech belongs to language. The technical code of society is the rule of an exorbitant practice, a syntax which is subject to unintended usages that may subvert the framework it determines.
An example of margin of maneuver in many businesses is the use of telephones, email and instant messaging to conduct business communications, while at the same time offering workers an outlet to gossip, chat with distant friends, and otherwise recover a social dimension that had been repressed by the cubicle office design; possible that the proliferation of cross-functional teams and other subordinates initiatives owe some of their success to such maneuvering.
That power expresses itself in plans which inevitably require
implementation by those situated in the tactical exteriority. But no
plan is perfect; all implementation involves unplanned actions in
what I call the “margin
of maneuver” of
those charged with carrying it out.
(114) Successful administration today consists in suppressing those dangerous potentials in the preservation of operational autonomy. . . . In this context, the claim that the technical base of the society is ambivalent means that it can be modified through tactical responses that permanently open the strategic interiority to the flow of subordinates' initiatives.
THE THIRD SYMMETRY
Actor Network Theory
(114) Latour invites us to study technology as the embodiment of “programs,” i.e. intentional structures with a close resemblance to de Certeau's strategies. .. Actor network theory argues that the social alliances in which technology is constructed are bound together by the very artifacts they create. Thus social groups do not precede and constitute technology, but emerge with it.
Machines inscribe stories in actor network theory.
(114-115) Machines are comparable
to texts because they too inscribe a “story,” i.e. a prescribed
sequence of events which the user initiates and undergoes. This
analogy then authorizes a semiotics of technology drawing on concepts
developed in linguistics, several of which play an important role in
(115) In the first place, Latour adapts the concept of “shifting out,” or change of scene, to describe the process of “delegating” functions to humans or nonhumans through technological design.
(115) Secondly, he adapts the distinction between the syntagmatic and paradigmatic dimensions of the phrase to sociotechnical networks.
(115) Latour calls the disaggregating forces the network must resist or turn aside, its “anti-progam.”
(118) Systems, as self-reproducing wholes, are fragile subsets of much more loosely organized complexes of interacting elements that may support several overlapping systemic projects. I call these larger complexes “networks.”
(119) In sum, the system concept reflects the spontaneous representations of owners, managers or organizers in charge of an apparatus that implements their program. They have a natural tendency to bound the apparatus conceptually in terms of their strategies, and to consider everything which is not under their control as “environment.” .. A network theory of the technical politics in which these unofficial actors engage needs new categories that do not depend on the self-understanding of managers.
(119) We must supplement these with the symmetry of program and anti-program, at least in those cases where the anti-program is taken up by actors able to build a new system around it. This third symmetry is the basis of a democratic politics of technological rationalization.
(120) Democratization of modern technically mediated organizations is not fundamentally about the distribution of wealth or even formal administrative authority, but concerns the structure of communicative practices.
(120) Only in the local situation are nonprofessionals likely to be motivated to learn enough about a technical issue to intervene.
(120) In other cases, professionals themselves may open what Arnold Pacey calls an “innovative dialogue” with those affected by their activities (Pacey, 1983: chap. 8).
(121) In still other cases users appropriate technologies creatively, reinventing existing devices through innovative applications. The computer field offers striking illustrations of this new politics of technology. . . . R&D opens branches, and the determination of the “right” branch is not within the competence of engineers because it is not inscribed in their narrowly conceived field of activity. This is the context in which amateur hackers and ordinary users were able to transform the computer from an information processor into a communications medium.
(122) Information control strategies come up against the widespread access to expertise and publicity in democratic societies.
Innovative Dialogue and Participatory Design
Heterogeneous engineers from micropolitical boundary of innovative dialogue and participatory design that extends to general public of users enabling democratic rationalizations.
(123) Specific intellectuals
constitute a new class of heterogeneous engineers whose tactical
labors extend the recognized boundaries of networks, often against
the will of managers, through initiating innovative dialogues with a
(125) Innovative dialogue and participatory design promise a fundamental solution to the conflict between lay and expert. . . . In the long run, a technology continually revised and advanced through innovative dialogue would incorporate different values reflecting a broader range of interests and a more democratic vision.
Appropriation: Reinventing Computers and Medicine
(126) The design of the Minitel invited communications applications which the company's engineers had not intended when they set about improving the flow of information in French society. .. The “cold” computer became a “hot” new medium. A somewhat similar story could be told about the Internet although in this case there was no central control, but rather a cultural shift that ocurred unexpectedly among the user community.
(126) The new interpretation of the technology was soon incorporated into its structure through design changes and, ultimately, through a change in its very definition. Today, it would not occur to someone describing the principal functionalities of the computer to omit its role as a communications medium although communications applications were regarded as marginal by most experts only twenty years ago.
(128) AIDS patients and network users intervened in each case to accommodate the system to excluded interests. As patients gained access to experiments, FDA regulations and experimental designs were forced to change. Similarly, the Minitel was transformed in response to its unexpected use for communication.
(128) Instead of a technocracy in which technology everywhere trumps human communication, we may yet build a democratic society in which technical advance serves communicative advance.
Favored examples of the French Minitel system and the Internet itself have been eclipsed by the activities of the FOS movement, especially the proliferation of GNU/Linux in government and business computing environments; furthermore, these development communities foreground the underdetermination of technical codes and devices in their largely transparent, easily reviewed transactions and toolsets. Notice should be given to the Request For Comments nature of Internet technologies. Indeed, this style of public comment and iterative design of communications protocols as well as hardware standards so permeates the Internet today that it is hardly noticed. And just a Feenberg shifts his critique from essentialism to capitalism, the struggle today is between large, capitalist ventures like Microsoft, and the user/developer-mediated FOS movement, or, as Raymond characterizes it, “the cathedral versus the bazaar.” Does the emphasis on communicative advance carry forward, too?
(128) the role of communication in design can serve as a touchstone of democratic politics in the technological age. This is why I have been at pains to work out the relation between my position and Habermas's communication theory, despite the fact that he ignores technology.
TECHNOLOGY AND POWER
To a large extent we do apply democratic standards, such as in the selection of open document formats; nonetheless, just as in normal politics, those initiatives are influenced by lobbies from powerful corporations like Microsoft.
(131) technology should be considered as a new kind of legislation, not so very different from other public decisions (Winner, 1995). . . . But if technology is so powerful, why don't we apply the same democratic standards to it we apply to other political institutions? By those standards the design process as it now exists is clearly illegitimate.
(134) One of the most prominent advocates of the new populism is Benjamin Barber. Barber argues for a theory of “strong democracy,” by which he means a participatory politics that relies primarily on local collective action (Barber, 1984).
(135) What he [Richard Sclove] adds to Barber's argument is the notion that this is not merely a matter of political arrangements but also requires appropriate technology.
(135) Sclove argues for adjusting technological design to the requirements of strong democratic community.
SPACE, AND REPRESENTATION
(137) The problem we are up against has to do with the nature of representation in the technical sphere.
(138) The accumulation of specialized knowledge and expertise implies a necessary specialization of personnel and function. The direct creation and appropriation of technology by users, characteristic of premodern societies, is no longer possible. Thus here it is temporal parameters rather than spatial ones that determine the shape of authority.
Passage from open direct democracy of technique to covert representative form.
the differentiation of specializations gives specialists the illusion
of pure, rational autonomy. This illusion makes a more complex
reality. In reality, they represent the interests which presided over
the underdetermined technical choices that lie in the past of their
profession. The results are eventually embodied in technical codes
which in turn shape the training of technical personnel. We have, in
a sense, passed
from an open direct democracy of technique to a covert representative
. . . Is there an equivalent in the technical domain of the
global/local dichotomy and the associated notion of testimony?
(139) The emergence of large-scale technical systems suggests an alternative principle of organization: the technical network itself.
(139) If the technical “global” is taken to refer to the larger networks, then its “local” correlate becomes the basic institutional settings in which tactical resistances emerge.
(140) Where the individuals deliberate and act in those “local” technical settings, they reenact in the technical domain the very sort of populist participation so prized by advocates of strong democracy when it appears in local geographical settings.
Exemplar of participant interests is the global, open source development community/network like Sourceforge, where users and developers interact in steering the evolution of products, with feature requests, bugs reports, support forums, shared documentation; even commercial, proprietary software companies invite their users to participate in beta-testing, discussion forums, and voice of the customer activities. It is important to point out the studies of FOSS suggest a host of economies in operation, from gift cultures to cults of personality.
(140) Insofar as they are
enrolled together, they have what I call “participant interests”
in the design and configuration of the activities in which the
networks engage them.
(141) World-defining technical struggles emerge around these considerations. They are the technical equivalent of major legislative acts. As they become more commonplace, the democratic significance of technical politics will surely become clearer.
(141) There is no more compelling example of this phenomenon than the movement of disabled people for barrier-free design (Sclove, 1995: 194-195).
(141) The example of the struggle over AIDS discussed in the last chapter is a more complex case, revealing how life inside a technical network gives rise to participant interests in changing a technically constituted world.
(142) Technical representation is not primarily about the selection of trusted personnel, but involves the embodiment of social and political demands in technical codes.
In addition to professional ethical standards and other forms of structuring technical areas with normative components that have little to do with efficiency per se, FOS licenses like the GPL play a powerful role as technical codes in actualizing this transformation in a permanent manner.
the most important means of assuring more democratic technical
representation remains transformation of the technical codes and the
educational process through which they are inculcated.
(143) Taking administration into account, as Habermas does more or less on the terms of systems theory, adds a welcome element of realism. If the word “technology” is substituted for “administration” in many contexts of his argument, the resulting paraphrase makes good sense and supports the position taken here.
(144) Habermas's solution is participatory administration, administration open to influence from public inputs of one sort or another.
(145) We have other less ambitious models than strong democracy of alternatives to technocratic control, such as the collegial organization of certain professionals. These collegial forms of organization of teachers and physicians have distant roots in the old craft guilds. . . . Refined and generalized, collegiality might be part of a strategy for reducing the operational autonomy of management and creating systematic openings for democratic rationalizations.
(146) The summits of the technical bureaucracies could and should be chosen by conventional democratic means.
(146) What is perhaps more worrisome is the lack of pressure to democratize public technical institutions in which everyone has a large stake, institutions such as utilities, medicine, and urban planning that are only loosely controlled by elected officials today, if at all.
(147) As distinct from “strong” democracy, I will call a movement for democratization “deep” where it includes a strategy combining the democratic rationalizations of technical codes with electoral controls on technical institutions.
TECHNOLOGY AND MODERNITY
7. Critical Theories of Technology
INTRODUCTION: TWO TYPES OF CRITIQUE
(151) The substantivist critique of technology as such characterizes the Frankfurt School and especially its leading members, Adorno and Horkhiemer. In Dialectic of Enlightenment (1972) they argue that instrumentality is in itself a form of domination, that controlling objects violates their integrity and distorts the inner nature of the dominating subject.
(152) Design critique holds that social interests or cultural values influence the realization of technical principles.
(153) what can we learn from Marcuse and Habermas assuming that we are neither metaphysicians nor instrumentalists, that we reject both a romantic critique of science and the neutrality of technology?
“SECRET HOPES' TO NEW SOBRIETY
“All Power to the Imagination”
(154) In Heideggerian terms, as Dreyfus explains them, Marcuse proposes a new disclosure of being through a revolutionary transformation of basic practices (Dreyfus, 1995). This would lead to a change in the very nature of instrumentality, which would be fundamentally modified by the abolition of class society and its associated performance principle. It would then be possible to create a new science and technology that would place us in harmony rather than in conflict with nature.
Neutrality of Technology
(157) Technology, in short, will always be [to Habermas] a non-social, objectivating relation to nature, oriented toward success and control. Marcuse argues, on the contrary, that the very essence of technology is at stake in ecological reform (Marcuse, 1992).
(157) Habermas's theory could accommodate a critique of technology in principle, but the index of The Theory of Communicative Action does not even contain the word. This oversight is related to his treatment of technology as neutral in its own sphere.
RATIONALITY IN THE CRITIQUE OF
Weber and Habermas
(158)(Chart 3: World Relations and Basic Attitudes)
(159) Habermas argues that the pathologies of modernity are due to the obstacles capitalism places in the way of rationalization in the moral-practical sphere.
(160) As a general rule, formally rational systems must be practically contextualized in order to be used, and as soon as they are contextualized in a capitalist society, they incorporate capitalist values.
(160) This approach is loosely related to Marx's original critique of the market.
(161) Marcuse adopts a similar line in criticizing Weber's notion of administrative rationality, a fundamental aspect of rationalization. Economic administration presupposes the separation of workers from the means of production, and that separation eventually shapes technological design. .. Marcuse thus insists on distinguishing between rationality in general and a concrete, socially specific rationalization process: “pure” rationality is an abstraction from the life process of a historical subject. That process necessarily involves values that become integral to rationality as it is realized.
(162) Because design is technically underdetermined, this “blending” of the technical and the social is not extrinsic and accidental as Habermas assumes, but is rather defining for the nature of technology.
(162) A plausible interpretation of what Marcuse meant by his term “technological rationality” would be the most fundamental social imperatives in the form in which they are internalized by a technical culture. This is what, in a constructivist framework, I have called the “technical code.”
Phenomenology, and Critical Theory
(164) The issue is not, as Habermas thinks, whether to revive a philosophy of nature; it concerns our self-understanding as subjects of technical action.
Vogel built environment domain of normative relations to the objective world.
This is the argument of Steven Vogel,
who points out that Habermas's chart omits an obvious domain of
normative relations to the objective world: the
(165) nature would be treated as another subject where humans took responsibility for the well-being of the materials they transform in creating the built environment. The values in terms of which this well-being is defined, such as beauty, health, free expression and growth, may not have a scientific status and may not be the object of universal agreement, but neither are they merely personal preferences as modern value nihilism would have it.
THE MEDIA THEORY
The Media Theory
To Habermas colonization of lifeworld by system is central social pathology.
Habermas distinguishes between system,
media regulated rational institutions, such as markets and
administration, and lifeworld,
the sphere of everyday communicative interactions in which such
functions as child rearing, education, and public debate go on.
to Habermas, the central pathology of modern societies is the
colonialization of lifeworld by system. This
involves the overextension of success-oriented action beyond its
legitimate range and the consequent imposition of criteria of
efficiency on the communicative sphere. The lifeworld contracts as
the system expands into it and delinguistifies dimensions of social
life which should be mediated by language.
(167) But, surprisingly, even though he protests what, following Luhmann, he calls the “technization of the lifeworld,” Habermas scarcely mentions technology.
(168) this argument repreats the functionalist error criticized in chapter 4. In fact technology has several different types of communicative content. Some technologies, such as automobiles and desks, communicate the status of their owners (Forty, 1986); others, such as locks, communicate legal obligations; most technologies also communicate through the interfaces by which they are manipulated.
(168) it is quite possible to suggest as Habermas appears to that action coordination in the rationalized spheres of social life can be completely described by reference to money and power.
as a Medium
(171)(Chart 4: Coordination Media)
VALUE AND RATIONALITY
A Two-Level Critique
(174) What we need is a two-level critique of instrumentality. At one level I will follow Habermas in claiming that the media have general characteristics which qualify their application. .. But a second-level critique is also needed because media design is shaped by the hegemonic interests of the society it serves. .. critique cannot cease at the boundary of the system but must extend deep inside it; it must become design critique.
Bias of the System
(175) The crux of the problem is not the system/lifeworld distinction per se, but the identification of one of its terms with neutral formal rationality. Contemporary feminist theory, organizational sociology, and sociology of science and technology have abundantly demonstrated that no such rationality exists.
A fundamental insights of Feenberg approach, also apparent to Drucker and McVarish in their study of the history of graphic design.
(176) We are unaccustomed to
the idea that institutions based on system rationality realize
objectified norms in devices and practices, and not merely in the
individual beliefs or shared assumptions.
(177) By contrast, the hermeneutic approach distinguishes system and lifeworld not as matter and spirit, means and ends, but in terms of the different ways in which fact and value are joined in different types of social objects and discourses. From this standpoint, there is no need for an unconvincing notion of pure rationality.
Theory of Technology
(178) Our technical disciplines and designs, especially in relation to labor, gender, and nature, are rooted in a hegemonic order.
Critical theory of technology possible at concrete level by analyzing social dimensions of technology.
(178-179) Is it possible to develop a critique of technical rationality at that concrete level while avoiding the pitfalls of Marcuse's theory? I believe this can be done through analysis of the social dimensions of technology discussed in earlier chapters. These include delegated norms, aesthetic forms, work group organization, vocational investments, and various relational properties of technical artifacts. In chapter 9, I call these “secondary instrumentalizations” by contrast with the “primary instrumentalizations” that establish the basic technical subject-object relation. Their configuration, governed by specific technical codes, characterizes distinct eras in the history of technical rationality.
Boundaries and Layers
Technical devices and programs must be informed by collective choices about the good life or they have no reason to be conceived; there can still be much confusion here, such as when the Microsoft slogans Your Potential, Our Passion and Where Do You Want to Go Today seemsto leave ideals of the good life up for grabs by enabling the pursuit, whatever it is.
Concretize moral norms through publicly debated conceptions of the good life.
moral norms are insufficient to define a society; they must be
concretized through choices about the good life.
(180) Pure technical principles do not define actual technologies. They must be concretized through a technically realized conception of the good which particularizes them and establishes them systematically in the life process of a society. Every instantiation of technical principles is socially specific, just as Habermas claims of law.
(180) Now it is clear even on Habermas's own terms why it is insufficient merely to bound technical systems; they must also be layered with demands corresponding to a publicly debated conception of the good life.
Technology and Meaning
HEIDEGGER'S CRITIQUE OF MODERNITY
(183-184) Heidegger claims that technology turns everything it touches into mere raw materials, which he calls “standing reserve” (Bestand) (Heidegger, 1977a). .. Modern technology is based on methodical planning which itself presupposes the “enframing” (Gestell) of being, its conceptual and experiential reduction to a manipulable vestige of itself.
(184) The willful making that comes to fruition in technology has been the ontological model for Western metaphysics since Plato .. Heidegger calls for resignation and passivity (Gelassenheit) rather than an active program of reform which would simply constitute a further extension of modern technology.
(186) Macro-systems take on what Thomas Hughes calls “momentum,” a quasi-deterministic power to perpetuate themselves and to force other institutions to conform to their requirements (Hughes, 1987). Here we can give a clear empirical content to the concept of enframing.
(186) how is the break with “technological thinking” supposed to affect the design of actual devices? By osmosis, perhaps?
Recall Heim claim that scholarship needs a cybersage, not more Heideggers resigned to the nostalgia of hunching over writing tables in their mountain huts leading to high level of abstraction blind to details.
(187) Unfortunately, Heidegger's argument is developed at such a high level of abstraction he literally cannot discriminate between electricity and atom bombs, agricultural techniques and the Holocaust.
Technology and Meaning
(187) identification of the structural features of enframing can found a critique of modernity.
(187) Borgmann identifies the “device paradigm” as the formative principle of a technological society which aims above all at efficiency. In conformity with this paradigm, modern technology separates off the good or commodity it delivers from the contexts and means of delivery.
(188) The device paradigm offers gains in efficiency, but at the cost of distancing us from reality. .. But what Borgmann calls “focal things” that gather people in meaningful activities that have value for their own sake cannot survive this functionalizing attitude.
(188) Where means and ends, contexts and commodities are strictly separated, life is drained of meaning.
(188) Borgmann's critique of technological society usefully concretizes themse in Heidegger.
(189) However, Borgmann's approach suffers from both the ambiguity of Heidegger's original theory and the limitations of Habermas's. .. And as a result, Borgmann imagines no significant restructuring of modern society around culturally distinctive technical alternatives that might preserve and enhance meaning.
Interpreting the Computer
To Borgmann individuals demoted to disposable experiences where they were once commanding presences part of tale of dividual subjectivity.
Borgmann ignores role of social context in appropriation of technologies; struggle within realm of possibilities.
Hyperintelligent communication offers unprecedented opportunities for
people to interact across space and time, but, paradoxically, it also
distances those it links. No longer are the individuals “commanding
presences” for each other; they have become disposable experiences
that can be turned on and off like water from a faucet.
(190-191) Borgmann's conclusions are too hastily drawn and simply ignore the role of social contextualizations in the appropriation of technology. . . . the real struggle is not between the computer and low tech alternatives, but within the realm of possibilities opened by the computer itself.
(191) In the first place, the computer was not destined by some inner techno-logic to serve as a communications medium.
(191) In the second place, Borgmann's critique ignores the variety of communicative interactions mediated by the networks.
(192) [Example of how] democratic rationalization of the computer contributes to a parallel transformation of medicine.
(193) His theory hovers uncertainly between a description of how we encounter technology and how it is designed.
(194) Heidegger's doctrine of the thing is a puzzling combination of deep insights and idiosyncratic esotericism.
(195) Heidegger's poetic notion of the “fourfold” [earth, sky, mortals, divinities] seems to be an attempt to capture in abstract terms the essential elements of the ritual structure of the thing, the human being, and the world they inhabit.
(195) The jug is not primarily a physical object which has gathering relations. It is these relations and is merely release to its existence as such by production, or known in its outward appearance by representation.
(196) The disclosure takes place form out of the thing as much as from Dasein.
Devices are things too, not just Heidegger chalice.
(196) Devices, Heidegger complains, race toward our goals and lack the integrity of his favorite jug or chalice. But by what rights does he make this summary judgment on the very thing that surround him? Devices are things too. Modern and technological though they may be, they too focus gathering practices that bring people together with each and with “earth and sky,” joining them in a world.
Place of meaning is in lifeworld of technology; get off forest path.
Heidegger's modern technology is seen from above. This is why it
lacks the pathos of gathering and disclosing. The official discourse
of a technological society combines narrow functionalism with awe in
the fact of the technological sublime.
(197) This lifeworld of technology is the place of meaning in modern societies. Our fate is worked out here as surely as on Heidegger's forest paths.
(198-199) The problem with Heidegger's critique is his unqualified claim that modern technology is essentially unable to recognize its limit. That is why he advocates liberation from it rather than reform of it. . . . Could it be that old disciplinary boundaries between the humanities and the sciences have determined the fundamental categories of social theory?
This brief return to Heidegger sets the stage for Feenberg synthesis of all of the positions he has reviewed so far, as well as his initial discussions about the May Events and the environmental debate; gathering aspect of technology in secondary instrumentalizations integrate it into surrounding world.
Beyond those boundaries we discover that technology
also “gathers” its many contexts through secondary
instrumentalizations that integrate it to the surrounding world.
. . . When modern technical processes are brought into compliance
with the requirements of the environment or human health, they
incorporate their contexts into their very structure as truly as the
jug, chalice, or bridge that Heidegger holds out as models of
authenticity. Our models should be such things as reskilled work,
medical practices that respect the person, architectural and urban
designs that create humane living spaces, computer designs that
mediate new social forms.
(199) These promising innovations are the work of human beings intervening in the design of the technical objects with which they are involved. This is the only meaningful “encounter between global technology and modern man.”
THE IRONY OF PARMENIDES
(201) I will define the essence of technology as the systematic locus for the sociocultural variables that actually diversify its historical realizations.
A Two-Level Theory
Two level theory of primary and secondary instrumentalization needs to be considered as layer model along with others.
(202) On this account, the essence of technology has not one but two aspects, an aspect which explains the functional constitution of technical objects and subjects, which I call the “primary instrumentalization,” and another aspect, the “secondary instrumentalization,” focused on the realization of the constituted objects and subjects in actual networks and devices.
Primary Instrumentalization: Functionalization
Four reifying moments of technical practice in primary instrumentalism: decontextualization, reductionism, autonomization, positioning.
(203) The primary instrumentalization consists in four reifying moments of technical practice.
(203) The isolated object reveals itself as containing technical schemas, potentials in human action systems which are made available by decontextualization. .. Nature is fragmented into bits and pieces that appear as technically useful after being abstracted from all specific contexts.
(203-204) Reductionism refers to the process in which the de-worlded things are simplified, stripped of technically useless qualities, and reduced to those aspects through which they can be enrolled in a technical network. .. The tree trunk, reduced to its primary quality of roundness in becoming a wheel, loses its secondary qualities as a habitat, a source of shade, and a living, growing member of its species. The Heideggerian enframing is the reduction of all of reality to the most abstract primary qualities through formalization and quantification.
(204) A friendly remark is likely to elicit a friendly replay, rudeness, rudeness. By contrast, technical action “autonomizes” the subject. This is accomplished by interrupting the feedback between the object and the actor. In an apparent exception to Newton's law, the technical subject has a big impact on the world, but the world has only a very small return impact on the subject.
(204-205) the subject's action consists not in modifying the law of its objects, but in using that law to advantage. .. By positioning itself strategically with respect to its objects, the subject turns their inherent properties to account. The management of labor and the control of the consumer through product design have a similar positional character.
Secondary Instrumentalization: Realization
Underdetermining moments of secondary instrumentalization: systematization, mediation, vocation, initiative.
(205) The underdetermination of technological development leaves room for social interests and values to participate in this process. As decontextualized elements are combined, these interests and values assign functions, orient choices and insure congruence between technology and society.
(205) To function as an actual device, isolated, decontextualized technical objects must be combined with each other and re-embedded in the natural environment. Systematization is the process of making these combinations and connections, in Latour's terms, of “enrolling” objects in a network (Latour, 1992).
(206) Ethical and aesthetic mediations supply the simplified technical object with new secondary qualities that seamlessly embed it in its new social context.
(206) These human attributes of the technical subject define it at the deepest levels, physically, as a person, and as a member of a community of people, engaged in similar activities. “Vocation” is the best term we have for this reverse impact of tools on their users.
(207) Finally, strategic control of the worker and consumer through positioning is to some extent compensated by various forms of tactical initiative on the part of the individuals submitted to technical control.
Reflexive meta-technical practice of secondary instrumentalization treats functionality as raw material for technical action.
The secondary instrumentalization constitutes a reflexive
meta-technical practice which
treats functionality itself as raw material for higher-level forms of
(207) Substantivism identifies technology as such with a particular ideology hostile to reflection.
(208) In contrast with Heidegger, I distinguish premodern from modern historically, rather than ontologically and I break with Habermas as well in arguing that the differentiation of modern technology from other world orientations is relatively superficial and does not reveal the truth of the technical.
(208)(Chart 5: Instrumentalization Theory)
THE LIMITS OF
The Problem of Progress
(209) Essentialism argues that a quasi-transcendental process of functionalization is differentiated from what I have called the secondary instrumentalizations in the course of technical and social development.
(209) Once technology is differentiated from other social domains, its interaction with them appears to be external. This is particularly clear in the case of mediations. Art is no longer an intrinsic part of technical practice but something added on a posteriori.
(209) Heidegger and Habermas have taken such differentiation to be the essence of modernity. In the course of it the mediations lose their concrete links to technical reality and become ineffectual ideals. . . . Heidegger's despair may in the end be a more realistic indication of the paltry reforms possible in this framework.
(210) From the standpoint of that theory, attempts at radical technical change can only lead to dedifferentiation and regression.
(210-211) We need to know why differentiation appears as an indicator of progress in the essentialist framework.
(211) I will argue here that essentialism reflects the reified form of objectivity of technology in modern societies. By “form of objectivity” I mean a culturally determined frame of reference rooted in a way of seeing and a corresponding way of doing, a system of practices. Forms of objectivity might be thought of as socially necessary “illusions” with real consequences. Such illusions are constituting for social reality insofar as we constantly act on them.
Fetishistic perception of technology masks relational character as node in social network.
(211) Marx offered the original analysis of this phenomenon. In his usage, the fetishism of commodities is not the love of consumption but the practical belief in the reality of the prices attached to goods on the market. As he points out, price is not in fact a “real” (physical) attribute of goods but the crystallization of a relation between manufacturers and consumers; yet the movement of goods from seller to buyer is determined by price just as though it were real. The fetishistic perception of technology similarly masks its relational character: it appears as a non-social instantiation of pure technical rationality rather than as a node in a social network.
Perception of technology oriented toward a use feeds back into the notion of reified value (price) based on the extent to which use is met.
What explains the persistent self-evidence of the reified concept of
everyday practical affairs, technology presents itself to us first
and foremost through its function.
encounter it as essentially
toward a use.
(211) Thus an initial abstraction is built into our immediate perception of technologies.
(212) Both users and technologists act against a background of assumptions that belong to a lifeworld of technology which need not be thematized in the ordinary course of events. A hermeneutic of technology must clarify that background. From that standpoint, the secondary instrumentalizations are just as inseparable from technology's intrinsic nature as its function.
(212) our examples tend to be simple things like hammers. With such examples in mind, we elaborate a functionalist model in which society relates externally to technology, posing demands that are implemented by technical means.
(212) Insofar as structures have an internal causal logic, they can be abstracted from their social surround as an instance of causal principles. All systematic knowledge of technology rests on this type of abstraction. Professional technical disciplines arise to explain and perfect the structures of technologies. As the prestige of these disciplines spreads, their approach to technology becomes the model for common sense and philosophy alike. Eventually, it seems obvious that technical devices are their structure.
(213) Whereas social attributes such as the place of technologies in vocations are relational and seem therefore not to belong to technical artifacts proper, function looks like a non-technical property of technology “in itself.” But in reality function is just as social as the rest. .. As Don Ihde writes .. “The technology is only what it is in some use-context” (Ihde, 1990: 128).
and Reality: Degrees of Differentiation
(215) The difference between the degree and type of differentiation characteristic of theories and the real-world objects they study gives rise to serious confusion.
(215) The differentiation of technical disciplines opens cognitive access to rational structures like those economics discovers in markets. But, again like economics, those structures are abstractions from a far more complex and far less differentiated reality.
Selection of simple examples such as hammers and jugs as leading to oversimplified analyses of technical objects and their situation within complex networks for which the division into primary and secondary instrumentalizations makes sense; likewise, the complex, multilayered supply chains that make up typical technologically-oriented business processes differ radically with the simple, two-step movement between technically-oriented producer and non-technically-oriented consumer, where there is normally a number of intermediaries in the movement between producers and consumers: in intermediary positions, technologists work together, albeit in producer/consumer roles.
(216) Although philosophy of technology has often attacked the narrow horizons of engineering from a humanistic standpoint, paradoxically, its concept of technology is equally narrow. Its key mistake has been to assume that technical disciplines reveal the nature of their objects, not just in a certain respect for certain purposes, but generally, fundamentally. . . . But an adequate definition of real technology, as opposed to the narrow, idealized cross-section studied by engineering, involves much besides the formal-rational properties of devices.
CONCRETIZATION AND TECHNICAL
(216) The problem at this point is to reconstruct a concept of progress without relying on a process of purification to explain it. .. I have found a starting point in the work of Gilbert Simondon. Although his approach is deterministic, it grants technology a history in a way that we can recover for a constructivist concept of progress.
Associating Simondon concretization, elegance, and multipurposiveness. I run up against something often discussed with Danyell reading a book printed in 1999. His distinction between technicity and usefulness opens the possibility of cultural analysis, something quite different from Manovich's use of the words when he discusses cultural software, or does it? I was having a great deal of difficulty reading this sentence, thinking initially that Feenberg as being sloppy here.
calls the fundamental law of development “concretization,” by
which he means something like what technologists themselves call
contrast with a design restricted to a single function, an elegant
design serves many
purposes at once.
(217) According to Simondon technology evolves through such elegant condensations aimed at achieving functional compatibilities. Concretization is the discovery of synergisms between the functions technologies serve and between technologies and their environments. Here the functionalization of the object is reconciled with wider contextual considerations through a special type of technical development.
Justification for Feenberg based on the affordances of complexity versus a single interpretation invites the study of technological concretizations, and for him democratic rationalization; my choice working code seeks to study the technological unconscious not from the relaxed, spectral perspective of the Freudian analyst, but rather from hacker (bricoleur) methodologies in the midst of the activity as a key participant, which requires nontrivial familiarity with the default technologies in use, which current are FOSS and TCP/IPv4 networking.
(218) But unlike a simple development criterion such as growth in productivity, concretization involves the reflexive accommodation of technologies to their social and natural environment. It describes a complex trajectory of progress, richer than simple growth. It is this higher order of complexity which makes it significant for the issues under discussion here in a way mere growth is not.
Democratic rationalization way to introduce Simondon concretization to Ihde technical pluricultures.
(218) Ihde proposes the concept of technical “pluriculture” as an alternative to the notion that development leads inevitably to a unique planetary technoculture. . . . The theory of democratic rationalization suggests a way of introducing Simondon's concept of concretization into the pluricultural model.
Concretization is especially apparent in shifts in the methods, functions, and other designs through iterating systems of versions of software system components.
(218) Thus in uniting many
functions in a single structure, concretizing innovations offer much
more than technical improvements; they gather social groups around
artifacts or systems of artifacts. . . . Concretization thus refers
not merely to improvements in efficiency, but also to the positioning
of technologies at the point of intersection of multiple standpoints
(218) [Example 1] Simondon contrasts the alienated modern worker with the craftsman, whose body is actually the “milieu” within which traditional tools function.
(219) A general return to craft labor is impracticable, but is deskilling the last word in technical progress? It turns out that work can be redesigned to take advantage of human intelligence and skill. .. Concretizing innovations affecting work organization are in fact becoming more common as information technology reveals its full potential.
(219) [Example 2] In both the AIDS and the Minitel cases the original design of the systems reflected the interests and concerns of technical and administrative elites. .. Concretizing innovations incorporated the new functions into the initial structures.
Reaching Feenberg from web presence public cyberspace being influence reach control affect bend diffract, contrasted to Zizek parallax metaphor of knowing, media is the message taken for granted and leveraged in data streams between high speed interprocess and internetworked processes; add a fourth example to Feenbergs three that do not deal directly with software engineering to allows a different image for commercial versus FOSS like the computer as component, as alliance.
(219-220) [Example 3] The stratified charge engine, developed by Honda in the early 1970s, offers a suggestive illustration from the domain of environmental politics (Commoner, 1990: 99ff; Maruo, 1993). Since the inherent structure of this engine reduces pollution by 90%, it requires no external add-on such as the catalytic converter to meet minimum environmental standards.
While Feenberg claims technological unconscious it is only present in the sedimented form expressed in the final products, noted as well by software historians, I think this view is superseded by FOSS examples whose entire history is documented. It is a necessary consumer position taken by anyone for whose preferences have been determined by reasonable taught helplessness of programming, TCP/IP networking, and electronics. You can do critical code/software studies to probe technological unconscious; the historians of software have already been doing it but they conceal their work in not free (as in not meeting the four freedoms encoded in the GPL, or the weaker FDL version) texts. Concretization and [(something)] you do you do, what do you learn? This is the connection to Applen late 2009.
This point again relates to the opacity of the iterations of design processes that take place in the creation of technical objects: the free, open source option provides epistemological transparency into the history of the concretizing process and foregrounds the underdetermination present in the unfolding of most technical operations. Unfortunately, Feenberg's concept is complex and we must address his phenomenological distinction between primary and secondary instrumentalizations, as well as what he means by something being technically and normatively progressive, for it is not just like technicity and usefulness, is it? Applen can be remediated as a program that creates the research project consumable product from custom software and the existing journal 'content assets' as (is it Mateas?) calls them.
(220) Once social constraints are internalized in this way, there is a tendency to lose sight of them. Technical devices are then seen as pure of social influences, which are conceived as essentially external, as values, ideologies, rules. The internalized social constraints concretized in design are read off the reconfigured device as its inevitable technical destiny. The concretizing process is thus a technological unconscious, present only in the sedimented form of technical codes that appear asocial and purely rational (Feenberg, 1991: 79ff).
(221)(Chart 6: Differentiation and Concretization) Under modern conditions, the primary and secondary instrumentalizations are increasingly differentiated. . . . The confusion is compounded by the fact that there is a constant transition from the first case [primary] to the second [secondary] through concretizing advances that incorporate formerly excluded values into the technical code.
Reading a hidden but discernable history of democratic rationalizations within the evolving state of the art, despite its appearance of inevitable progress via asocial forces; what he does not give much detail about is how to study this phenomenon: he talks about political solutions, focusing on manipulating human opinions, rather than hacker solutions directed at the machines in a computer as component alliance.
(220-222) These considerations allow us to identify a type of development that is both technically and normatively progressive. The normative standards of that development are immanently derived from the resistances evoked by the technical process itself. Reified forms embodied in devices and systems which reflect a narrow spectrum of interests encounter resistance from beyond their horizon as irrationalities, inefficiencies. In reality, those resistances are reflexes of designs that suppress aspects of nature and social life the affected individuals mobilize to defend or to incorporate into improved designs through democratic rationalizations.
CONCLUSION: THE POSSIBILITY OF
(222) the error of substantivism is not so much in the details of its description of modern technology as the failure to acknowledge its historical contingency.
(222) That history shows that modern Western technology has been profoundly shaped by capitalist enterprise. .. To define technology as such on there terms is ethnocentric.
(223) Contrary to Heideggerian substantivism, there is nothing unprecedented about our technology. .. It is the exorbitant role of these features that is new, and this does have unprecedented consequences.
(223) If we define technology exclusively in modern capitalist terms, we ignore many currently marginalized practices that belonged to it in the past and may prove central to its future development. .. This link with things was broken when capitalist deskilling transformed workers into mere objects of technique, no different from raw materials or machines. Here, not in some mysterious dispensation of being, lies the source of the “total mobilization” of modern times.
Possibility of alternatives in social systems that restore role of secondary instrumentalizations must address claims of more systematic hegemony in closed world discourses (Edwards) and computational culture (Golumbia).
(223) A different type of social
system that restored the role of the secondary instrumentalizations
would determine a different type of technical development in which
these traditional technical values might be expressed in new ways.
Thus social reform involves not merely limiting the reach of the
media, as Habermas advocates, but building a different technology
based on a wider range of human and technical potentials.
(224) For the most part the socialist movement has failed in this task. It has focused on the crude opposition of market and plan, rich and poor, and overlooked the question of technology.
(224) It is this capitalist technical rationality that is reflected unwittingly in the essentialism of Heidegger and Habermas.
(224) But unexpected struggles over issues such as nuclear power, access to experimental treatment, and user participation in computer design remind us that the technological future is by no means predetermined.
Feenberg, Andrew. (1999). Questioning Technology. New York: Routledge.
Feenberg, Andrew. Questioning Technology. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.