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Chapter 55 ~ “Democratic Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Freedom” by Andrew Feenberg October 16, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR, Technology.
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Chapter 55 ~ “Democratic Rationalization: Technology, Power, and Freedom” by Andrew Feenberg (revised – 1992)

Reading chapter 55 was like reading a Who’s Who in the Philosophy of Technology. Many guest stars, to include Ellul, Heidegger, Marcuse, even hackers, make an appearance in this piece; I will say that it feels appropriate to have read this piece after Haraway. Though they tackle the idea of technology in two distinct ways, a bridge between them is that of embracing technology to better self and society.


“Technology is one of the major sources of public power in modern societies” (652) and the “masters of technical systems” – to include corporate and military leaders and professional associations for groups such as physicians and engineers – have far more control over parts of society than all of governmental institutions.

Feenberg notes that this issue is at the heart of Marx and socialism, for there is the argument, found in socialism, that “democracy must be extended from the political domain into the world of work” (652).

Why haven’t we truly democratized industrialism?

Feenberg states two rationales behind this:
1- Modern technology is incompatible with workplace democracy. There can be no democratic theory that would destroy the economic foundations of society.
2- Technology is not responsible for the concentration of industrial power; that is a political matter.

Feenberg argues that technology is neither determining nor neutral; it is, in a sense, a mediator of a variety of social activities, and as such, Feenberg believes that democracy must be extended beyond its traditional bounds to include technology for society (and its relationship with technology) to sustain and actually do better than sustain.

After presenting an overview of various theories that link themselves to technological determinism, Feenberg presents his alternative approach, a non-deterministic theory of modern society: “critical theory of technology.” This approach follows the logic that:
1- Technology is not just the rational control of nature; both its development and impact are intrinsically social.
2- This view undermines the typical reliance on efficiency as a criterion of technological development.
3- Because of this, broad possibilities of change can be realized.

[Discussion Questions]

Chapter 51 ~ “Luddism as Epistemology” by Langdon Winner September 29, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR, Technology.
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Chapter 51 ~ “Luddism as Epistemology” by Langdon Winner (1977)

Winner begins his piece with a brief discussion of various suggestions (from Goodman, Bookchin, Marcuse, and Ellul) on how we can eliminate the problems that technology has brought (“brought” being a weak work in that we actually brought the technology into existence) into our lives.

Winner’s proposal contains the following suggestions:

  • The search for new technological systems
  • The development of these forms participation of those concerned with their everyday employment and effects.
  • Integration of specific principles to guide further technological construction: Technology be intelligible to non-experts, Technology be flexible and mutable, Technology be judged according to the degree of dependency they tend to foster
  • The understanding of technology as a means that can only be used when there is an understanding of “what is appropriate.”

Winner immediately offers up faults that might be seen in the suggestions, such as utopianism and unreality. Two barriers he sees with this notion are those people who ignore problems by not focusing on the problems with the system but by adding new features to the existing system and the fact that no one truly knows how to actually create a new system because no knowledge is present to do this.

He uses the example of the counterculture of the 60s to show how we can change the outward appearance of a problem, but it doesn’t eliminate the problem.

For Winner, the question of “means” must be examined for true change to take place, and here, he brings up the idea of dismantling systems in order to understand. However, this is not the breaking off machines or the smashing of machines and some believe Luddites to do. This is more self-reflection and examination because “the most interesting parts of the technological order in this regard are not those found in the structure of physical apparatus anyway. I have tried to suggest that the technologies of concern are actually forms of life – patterns of human consciousness and behavior adapted to a rational productive design” (608-9).

Luddism, in Winner’s mind, calls for using self as research. Disconnecting one’s self from technology and noting the needs, habits, or discomforts that arise because of the disconnection is important to understand how much we need a particular form of technology in our life and if there are other, more effective, less obtrusive forms of technology that can be built to blend better with our lives.

The most significant alternative in Luddism is not this, however. It is simply not fixing technological systems as they break down. To Winner, society seems to see this “fixing” as “growth,” but if we actually refused to fix these systems, we could possibly develop new technologies that benefit us.

Winner concludes his essay by taking us back 2,500 years to Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” to illustrate that these problems are not new. We just find new ways to reinvent the problems, or to escalate them. And perhaps it’s time to truly think about what we can do to help ourselves. “Perhaps means can be found to rid the human world of our self-made afflictions” (610).

Chapter 16 ~ “On the Aims of a Philosophy of Technology” by Jacques Ellul August 31, 2009

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In reading Ellul’s preface in the French edition of his book (1954) and the foreword in the revised American edition (1964), I can’t help but wonder what transpired in the decade because Ellul’s tone seems so fervent, so now in the ’64 foreword.  From the preface, to the note to the reader, to the foreword, you can see the evolution of Ellul’s defining of technique, his discussion on technology, but in the ’64 foreword, there is almost a defensive tone to his words, as if he’s truly trying to wake the reader up, to show him/her that this isn’t about professors and researchers, but about each individual taking the initiative to understand the technological phenomenon so that each person can determine for him or herself how to use it. Only then will an individual be truly free and not trapped within the technological confines. These comments also connect with Ellul’s thoughts on the importance of conducting research on this phenomenon. He won’t even dare to offer solutions because he himself doesn’t fully understand the magnitude of the problems that has and may befall society because of the technological phenomenon and before we as a society can begin to shout solutions, we need know what we’re dealing with and how it can and will potentially affect us.