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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 35 ~ “The New Forms of Control” by Herbert Marcuse October 7, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR, Technology.
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Chapter 35 ~ “The New Forms of Control” by Herbert Marcuse (1964)

“A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress” (405).

In the earlier stages of industrial society, according to Marcuse, rights and liberties were an extreme importance; but now, they are losing their traditional rationale and content.

When Marcuse states, “Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of the individuals through the way in which it is organized” (405), I can’t help but to wonder if this means society is now “creating” a pseudo-independence for people.

At a time, it seemed as if autonomy could be realized through technology; if technology could be harnessed to take care of people’s needs, then people could move beyond necessity toward a freedom that enveloped autonomy.

Marcuse asserts that actually the opposite of this occurs; “the apparatus [technology, machine] imposes its economic and political requirements for defense and expansion on labor time and free time, on the material and intellectual culture” (406).

Talks of the political world and its stronghold on technology, a stronghold that mobilizes society over any one individual or group, but this can be reversed, creating a potential basis of a new freedom of man. This freedom requires us to redefine traditional terms of economic, political, and intellectual liberties.

In Marcuse’s discussion on true and false needs, he realizes there is a need to figure out what exactly are false needs and what are true needs. If Man must be “free” in order to give his or her distinction, how do we free ourselves in order to differentiate?

Marcuse states “as long as they [man] are kept incapable of being autonomous, as long as they are indoctrinated and manipulated (down to their very instincts), their answer to this question cannot be taken as their own” (407).

So, how do those who have been manipulated and dominated for so long create conditions of freedom for themselves?

For Marcuse, this comes from the “replacement of false needs by true ones, the abandonment of repressive satisfaction” (407), but I wonder if that can even be done. Would be this individually based? Feels like, at some point, even true needs of one could ultimately become false needs of someone else.

Advanced industrial societies, by their nature, suffocate liberation. The ability to choose disintegrates because those in control select the choices as oppose to the individual deciding “what can be chosen and what is chosen” (407). If the choices are connected to the sustainment of society control, then they are not really choices FOR the individual.

This domination has been so enforcing that to even think outside of societal norms is to seem “irrational,” and even though Marcuse makes note of the idea of “inner freedom,” even that he says “has been invaded and whittled down by technological reality” (408).

This consuming of individual thought is a disturbing one…but not a new one. In some ways, I liken it to Foucault’s thoughts on the Panopticon. Everyone who is a part of the Panopticon plays a part in its running, from the warden to the prisoner to the society who watches it all. The Panopticon is a framework to which all its “participants” actively play a particular role. In the society Marcuse discusses, there is a similar “play.” Society, with its technological progress, blankets individuals with a way of living and after being indoctrinated into that way of life come to see it as “normal.” Once you have been trained to see society’s thoughts as your own thoughts, how can you possibly break away from that?

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

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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).