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January 2019    Dennis R. DuBe'     702/3605

$s$ --Economic Determinism ()

4. TD as Historical Analysis ()

An Economic theory of Planned Obsolescence (Jeremy Bulow)

Joan Singer, Norms and the Network note:s ()

Langdon Winner notes: On the logic of the computer business ()

Politics & Technology; tech is deliberate and conscious use; it is also a set of decisions; the result of constant modification and adaptation; (John Street)

The Community Ear ()

Working draft ()

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Politics & Technology; tech is deliberate and conscious use; it is also a set of decisions; the result of constant modification and adaptation;
          John Street #3605   Created 04/20/2014   Updated 03/09/2016

"...ideas of autonomous technology or technological determinism, both of which make politics either an appendage to technology or redundant, are distortions of the truth. Instead, it seems more reasonable to conclude that political choices and structures have a definite impact on the form and effect of technology.5

The initial assumption, then, is that technology is constituted by human-mad objects which have instrumental value.

The pencil is technology; so too is a chemical used to fertilise the land or prolong the life of food. The technology does not itself have to be artificial (that is, manufactured); it may be naturally occurring . What determines its status as 'technology is the deliberate and conscious use of it by human agents. The general definition conflates the distinction Marx made between a tool and a machine. For Marx, a tool was something controlled by its human user, without whom the tool could not be operated. A machine, by contrast, did not depend on the human user, either for its power or its operation (Marx, 1954, p. 351-5). 8

'Technology', therefore, is not just the hardware which enable that technology to operate; it is also a set of decisions about how that technology ought to work.9

Daniel Bell also embraces this broad vision of technology: 'the organisation (stet) of a hospital or an international trade system is a social technology, as the automobile or a numerically controlled tool is a machine technology. An intellectual technology is the substitution of algorithms (problem solving rules) for intuitive judgements (Bell, 1973, p. 29). 10


[Marx adds in Chapter 15, Section 1, in the first volume of Capital [6]:]

"Darwin has interested us in the history of Nature’s Technology, i.e., in the formation of the organs of plants and animals, which organs serve as instruments of production for sustaining life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man, of organs that are the material basis of all social organisation, deserve equal attention? And would not such a history be easier to compile, since, as Vico says, human history differs from natural history in this, that we have made the former, but not the latter? Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them. "


Technologies do not come about at the expressions of some grand design, but as the result of constant modification and adaptation. 23

Galbraith works with the notion of 'technological imperatives'. He argues that modern technology demand the creation of a particular type of political state. Without it, technology will not function, and without technology no wealth can be generated; without wealth, political demands cannot be met and political legitimacy cannot be maintained. the development of technology, argues Galbraith, is essentially the progressive application of the division of labor. He writes:

Technology means the systematic application of scientific or other organized knowledge to practical tasks. It's most important consequent, at least for purposes of economics, is in forcing the division and subdivision of any such task in to its component parts (Galbraith, 1974, pl 31). 33

Political processes, rather than political outputs, are determined by the character of society's technological base. The base established the need for a particular division of labour and the accompanying political order to organise it. 35

The concept of determinism," writes Winner (1986, p. 10) is much too strong., far too sweeping in ins implications to provide an adequate theory. It does little justice to the genuine choices thata arise, in both principles and practice, in the course of technical and social transformation."

(Winner) begins with the simple observation that, almost by definition, change of technology entail changes in the social world. Technology always changes what people can do and therefore how their lives are organized. the point is to establish the character of the change involved. Winner distinguishes between been 'determined' and being 'conditioned' on the other hand, suggests a form of 'reverse adaptation': 'the adjustment of human ends to match the character of available means' (Winner, 1977, pp. 83, 229). 36

Nathan Rosenberg (1981) attacks the stronger form of technological determinism by arguing that technology does not 'determine' anything because its own role is itself the result of economic interests which call certain technologies into existence and which establish the relations around them. Technological determinism looks at the problem from the wrong end. It is not technology that determines political practices, put politics that determines the use of technology. 36-37

Stephen Marglin's (1978) account of the rise of the factory offers similar evidence to counter the idea of technological determinism. According to the determinist account, mass production techniques should predate the division of labour (workers and managers, skilled and unskilled that characterised the factory system. But Marglin shows that, in fact, the factory form of organization preceded the technology. Marglin's explanation is that the factory was not determined by technology but devised by capitalists. Their economic interests were served by the creation of that particular form of organization. the organization and implementation of technology was politically determined, rather than the reverse. 37

[Harry Braberman , Labor and Monopoly Capital (1974) argues that technology itself cannot be regarded as indepe4ndent of political or class interests. Science and technology, says Braverman, are themselves ordered according to capitalists interests. The driving force behind the funding of science and the development of technology is the reduction of labour costs and the workers' control over their work. 38

As W. G. Runciman (1989, p. 336) points out, an immensely complex set of cultural and structural conditions have combined with the new industrial technology to produce 'industrial capitalism'. 40


The politics of science cannot be confined to its practices and its concerns. It must also include the way in which the idea of science itself is used and perceived. Science has an ideological as well as a political dimension, as was demonstrated by the link beteen the language of science and the practices of society. Science is not just a set of ideas, it is also a set of activities. 88

But the key issue is less the misreporting of science (although this is important): instead it is the general impact of press coverage on the image and ideology as science. 'The reporting of technology, like the science,' writes Nelkin (p. 173), 'tends to be promotional. Many writers convey a fervent conviction that new technology will create a better world.' 89

Science constitutes a particular ideological response to the question of how we should live. Science provides a basis for controlling human behaviour, via a crude reductionism. In One-Dimensional Man , Marcuse (1968) argued that the scientific method was used, first, to dominate nature, and then to dominate humankind. Science an technology provide the ideological legitimation of 'expanding political power'. Behaviorism, sociobiology, management science and political science are all see as the children of science-as-ideology (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1979; Fay, 1975; Macintyre, 1981). It is a theme which continues in arguments about post-modernism (Foucault, 1980; Baudrillard, 1988). 89

If we take these claims seriously, then control of technology depends on, among other things, the degree to which science an be subject to control. 90

Insofar as science is a part of the development of technology, then a politics of technology must entail a politics of science. 91

...Winner suggests that the introduction of a technology shapes the surrounding political structure and serves (or subverts) certain political interests. Technology, by this account, has a direct political effect. 93

The effects of technology can be measured in a number of ways. They can be identified in people's dependence on technology....

Such dependence is closely allied to inequality, since dependence rarely allows for equal shares. 93

The effect of technology can also be see in the way in which technology can both increase and limit the choices available to individuals and groups. 94

Equally, technology can seem to affect political processes through the degree of control or participation it allows to individuals or groups.

Technology can alter peoples' life chances. It can increase the risks they face by introducing new dangers into their lives--from nuclear weapons to fast cars. Alternatively, technology can improve their prospects of survival. 94

Pollution is the classic example of this. Damage to the environment is rarely the intention of purpose of at technology; it is often, though, a consequence. 111

One of the most obvious political effects of the spread of certain technologies is the dependence relationships they create. 95

The introduction of technology changes the array of choices int he context of a set of social pressure and expectations which themselves may foreclose as many options as are opened up. There are no easy generalization to be made about how technology affects the choices available to groups and individuals, except to say that each new technology changes the pattern of possibilities.111

(about the issue of artificial insemination, etc.)

The Greens' solution to the problem is to subject the technology to their political principles. The technical fix answer is to allow the technology to lead the political. ... IN particular, the Greens highlight the need to connect political principles to technological practices, to see how technology can reflect certain political values while appear to exclude others. This it is that technology can be labelled as appropriate or inappropriate. 177

Although they differ in their weaknesses and strengths, the two arguments share a common flaw. Both create a false dichotomy between politic and technology. The Greens want to recreate a pure politics in which 'human' values can survive and flourish. For this to occur technology must first be reduced to a subservient position. The technical fix school, on the other hand, want to eliminate the 'irrationalities' of politics through the deployment of technological progress. While the two groups have drawn opposing conclusions, their arguments rest upon a common assumption that politics and technology can be separated . But such a separation is impossible to make. Technology cannot be parted from political processes, and politics cannot be analyzed independently of technology. 178

It's not just that politic shapes technology, but that technology shapes politics. 178

In integrating politics and technoogy in this way, there is a danger that teh wider context gets lost to view. It is not teh case that technolog is just what we make it, or that we are simply made by our technology. It s that who 'we' are needs careful scrutiny; 'we' do not exist separately from the technolgy and the politics.


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