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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).


Chapter 50 ~ “Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto” by Chellis Glendinning September 28, 2009

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Chapter 50 ~ “Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto” by Chellis Glendinning (1990)

Though there are those that believed Luddites were “reckless machine-smashers,” that’s not the complete picture for Glendinning. Luddites were fighting against a capitalistic society bred on power, resources, and wealth while trying to support their view of a world that connected work, community, and family. Technology threatened their way of life, the quality of their lives, and so, in almost desperation, they fought the machine.

Neo-Luddites of the 20th century echo this calls in their roles as activists, workers, neighbors, social critics, and scholars.

Glendinning uses Mumford to illustrate a definition of technology. Technology, because it consists of machines, techniques, and social organizations that make a machine workable, is a worldview that supports a mechanistic way of life where humanity is replaced with efficiency, ownership, supremacy. In order to stop technology and its destructive ways, we must create a new worldview.

There are three principles of Neo-Luddism

  1. Neo-Luddites are not anti-technology; there are just against any kind of technology that strips humanity to nothing more than rationality.
  2. All technologies are political; all technologies are built with an agenda. Reading about television in this section definitely makes me think about the internet and its ability to bring entertainment and information to households, its offering to corporations “a surefire method of expanding their markets and controlling social and political thought” (604). And considering how much times families actually spend “together” anymore when they could easily touch base via text messages or Twitter, I can definitely see the breakdown of family communication and the mediation of reality.
  3. The personal view of technology is dangerously limited; we have to be technocritics. We have to examine technologies through their “sociological context, economic ramifications, and political meanings” (604). It’s not just about how we gain from technology but also how we lose, and how the technology will affect our overall life.

Glendinning illustrates a program for the future that entails four things Neo-Luddites are in favor of.

  1. The dismantling of destructive devices, to include as nuclear and chemical technologies, genetic engineering technologies, television, electromagnetic and computer technologies.
  2. The search for new technological forms; using Winner, Glendinning asserts that these technological forms should favor the creation of technologies by the people who use them. The technology shouldn’t be hard to understand and should be flexible in so to “foster independence from technological addiction and promise political freedom, economic justice, and ecological balance” (605).
  3. The creation of technologies in which politics, morality, ecology, and technics are merged for the benefit of life on Earth.
  4. The development of a life-enhancing worldview in Western technological societies.

Wonder if we can tag this on to Mitcham’s three ways of being-with technology chart. It seems the Neo-Luddites want the best of both worlds, the rationality with the creative expression; definitely is a way of being-with technology and isn’t connected fully with the three ways Mitcham describes.

Chapter 22 ~ “Social Constructivism: Opening the Black Box and Finding It Empty” by Langdon Winner September 2, 2009

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You get a sense that Winner, overall, isn’t too big of a fan of social constructivism. Although his article does offer points where social constructivism shines, a large portion of his article criticizes the use of social constructivism as a means to do philosophical studies on technology.

Winner begins his article posing several questions about philosophers: what do they need to know about technology, what kind of knowledge do they need to know, and how much knowledge. He suggests, perhaps, one could dedicate all her focus on a specific field, becoming an expert, but this would be too limiting. He suggests one could study different types of technology within a scholarly mode, “drawing upon existing histories and contemporary social studies of technological change as one’s base of understanding.”

He poses yet another question: “Where does one go to learn what one needs to know to write confidently about philosophy and technology?”

The importance of location comes up in his essay, location whether it be in the mind or in actual location. He mentions feminist writers who gave attention to the home, the office, and the hospital.

These musings, questions draws Winner into his praises of social constructivism. A major aim of social constructivism is to look at the reality of technology and its history; “we need to look very closely at the artefacts and varieties of technical knowledge in question and at the social actors whose activities affect their development” (234). Winner agrees with social constructivists that “to find more precise, detailed descriptions and explanations of the dynamics of technical change is a goal well worth pursuing” (235).

In addition to this, Winner also sees positives in social constructivism’s “calling into question the sometimes highly arbitrary distinctions between the social sphere and the technical sphere” and that they have helped “debunk the idea that new technologies spring full-born from the work of ‘great men’,” something that is touched upon in Pinch and Bijker’s work, too (236).

Despite these positive traits, Winner does see problems with social constructivism, particularly in its narrow perspective. To him, social constructivism “disregards important questions about technology and human experience, questions very much alive in other theoretical approaches” (237). Four main issues arise for Winner: 1) total disregard for the social consequences of technical choice, 2) social constructivists’ favored conception of social process, 3) its disregard of “the possibility that there may be dynamics evident in technological change behind those revealed by studying the immediate needs, interests, problems, and solutions of specific groups and social actors” (238), and 4) lack of anything resembling an evaluative stance or anything in regards to moral and political implications that could help people judge the technology.

Although social constructivists have opened the black box, for Winner, not only is the box empty, but social constructivists fail to provide any “general position on the social and technological patterns under study” (241).