Posted by: soniahs | September 6, 2010

Exam reading: “Questioning technology”

Moving on to the next book, so no extra commentary… Andrew Feenberg’s “Questioning Technology”:

Summary: Feenberg proposes a middle ground between technological determinism and the belief that technology is a neutral force: the idea that technology does influence society, but that society can also influence technological development. Tech. development can either reinforce or be used to change existing power structures; design is itself a political act, because the choice between design alternatives takes place against an implicit background of social norms and codes. In order to counter tendencies toward technocracy, Feenberg proposes a “micropolitics of technology:” localized citizen or user involvement in making decisions about development choices. He calls this “democratic rationalization.” Key elements are communication channels (between user networks), dialogue between experts and the public, and attention to industry-externalized costs/tradeoffs. Finally outlines two poles or trends for technology: concretization (elegant design, combining multiple functions in one part) and differentiation (local adaptation of flexible(?) technologies into social systems). Concretization tends to occur in objects that have “primary instrumentalization” (decontextualization, reductionism, autonomization, positioning); differentiation occurs with “secondary instrumentalization” (systematization, mediation, vocation, initiative).

Comments: Politics: differentiates between “thin” (personal freedoms, mass-media driven) and “strong/deep” (emphasis on local collective action) democracy. Options to increase public participation are townhall meetings (limited use), influencing professional societies, and public participation in planning in areas with loose government control (utilities, hospitals, land use). Philosophy: skipping over philosophical basis of his model (big q: does controlling objects violate their integrity & make them “less”?).

Links to: Johnson (user involvement with tech.); Norman (tech. design); Liu (politics of tech.); Tomlinson (envt. & development)

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