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Chapter 52 ~ “Anti Anticonstructivism or Laying the Fears of Langdon Winner to Rest” by Mark Elam, with Langdon Winner’s Reply September 29, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR, Technology.
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Chapter 52 ~ “Anti Anticonstructivism or Laying the Fears of Langdon Winner to Rest” by Mark Elam, with Langdon Winner’s Reply (1994)

The first part of this piece is a write-up by Elam in which he discusses Winner’s anticonstructivist stance. Looking at Geertz and his thoughts on the “harmful pattern of intellectual dread” found in antirelativism, Elam picks up the gauntlet “to encourage a commitment to anti anticonstructivism” (612).

To try to define anti anticonstructivism, Elam states that “an anti antiposition entails a concerted effort to counter a view without thereby committing oneself to what it opposes (612).

To counter Winner’s view on constructivism, Elam examines one facet of Winner’s argument (makes sense) which that constructivists are hardly ever “prepared to take a stand ‘on the larger questions about technology and the human condition that matter most in modern history’” (613).

In his argument, Winner heavily critiques Woolgar for side-stepping “questions that require moral and political argument” (613); however, what Elam illustrates is Woolgar and Winner actually share many traits, thus the issues that Winner seems to have with Woolgar he could easily place upon himself.

At the end of his piece, Elam brings forth Rorty and the idea that not be illiberal we must separate private and public lives. It seems we have as much chance of doing that as we do in living in a utopian world where we and technology are so in harmony we forget what the “bad” life we used to have been technology dominated our existence. It’s just not going to happen. Not just because of technology, though that’s certainly a big reason, but because people aren’t wired that way. We connect to things, and when we do, our thoughts and opinions are often one of the first things to be displayed, for good or bad. To many, private and public lives are one and the same.

Winner’s response is quick and to the point, albeit a bit cheeky at times. He takes on most of Elam’s concerns and cuts them. For Winner, he’s not about being cruel or inflicting any kind of pain to anyone. He wants people to question technology and its existence in their world. He wants more than dissertations written and academic discourse on issues. He wants to be entrenched in the lives of people who are being affected to understand how this technological affliction occurred and how it can be remedied.


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).