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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]