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And further "it would be possible to write quite a history of inventions, made since , for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working class" Marx, reprint: These passages suggest the contingency of science and technology on the interests of the capitalist class. The industrial revolution is the first time in history that basic economic production concerns members of the upper classes. Capitalists possess literate skills and access to scientific knowledge. At the same time they are in touch with the crafts in which lower-class people are engaged.

Their familiarity with these two worlds of knowledge was one factor enabling them to restructure the labor process in order to eliminate costly craft labor and to introduce machines. Smith emphasizes the technical increase in efficiency, but there are other considerations of a political nature. Competition drives the process of deskilling, but it would not be an effective economic strategy in the absence of the specific social relations of capitalism.

Once labor becomes wage labor and its tasks are parceled out, production units no longer have a quasi natural character, rooted in community and family and supported by craft guilds and their traditions. The workers have no interest in production in both senses of the word, and even understanding the work plan becomes more and more difficult for those who implement it. The capitalist is thus technically necessary.

Foucault explains this aspect of factory work with explicit reference to Marx Foucault, Once craft work is broken down into its simplest elements and each element assigned to a specific worker in a new division of labor, the potential role of machines in performing it becomes evident. Thus a social demand, in this case of capital, presides over the Industrial Revolution and orients much innovation throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Deskilling is such a general feature of invention over the last few centuries that it appears to be essential to progressive economic development. But in fact the history of capitalist enterprise shows just how contingent it is on peculiar social conditions and class conflicts, just as Marx supposed. What makes this difficult to perceive is the technically rational form taken on by these contingent developments. David Noble followed with influential studies of the role of deskilling in American industrialization.

Machine tools can be automated in two different ways.

18th & 19th Century Methods for Change

Management held out for digital systems that would translate directly from engineering drawings to machine movements, completely cutting craftsmen out of the loop. Noble does not claim that management got what it wanted nor that the sort of deskilling prophesized by Smith and Ure was actually achieved. In fact, the digital systems could not be operated without help from skilled workers.

Furthermore, the detailed working out of this example does not reinstate the humanistic notion of sovereignty criticized by Foucault.

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According to the new approach forces and relations of production co-construct each other. The technical underdetermination of artifacts leaves room for social choice between different designs that have overlapping functions but better serve one or another social interest. This means that context is not merely external to technology, but actually penetrates its rationality, carrying social requirements into the very workings of gears and levers, electric circuits and combustion chambers.

These concepts were introduced in an influential article by Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker that made the connection between constructivism in science studies and a parallel approach to technology. They illustrated their argument with the history of the bicycle. One of these designs looked a lot like bicycles today. It was relatively safe to ride but slow, useful only as a means of transportation. The other had a high front wheel and was faster but less stable.

It appealed to young sportsmen who liked to race. The different designs thus corresponded to the requirements of the different social actors. The triumph of the low wheelers resulted from the introduction of air filled tires to reduce vibration. When these were tried out in bicycle races, the low wheelers proved fast as well as stable and soon became the preferred design. This appears to parallel a similar constructivist relativism in science studies but the parallel is misleading.

Although similar in many respects, as constructivists argue, facts and artifacts are quite different in the most important respect. Of course the elements of engineering are often firmly established by scientific methods and long empirical experience, but they are a far cry from a finished artifact. The underdetermination of the outcome is radical and obvious to technologists. Its demonstration requires no subtle epistemological arguments. As the deskilling contest clearly shows, the social construction of technical artifacts is an intervention into the lives of their users.

Users are configured by artifacts but in turn influence their design. Interactions played out in the course of the diffusion of technologies co-construct both human beings and the technologies themselves Woolgar, ; Akrich, ; Oudshoorn and Pinch, I have studied several cases in which these complex relations between users and designers played a key role.

In my study of the French Minitel I showed how the very meaning of the system was transformed by hackers who turned an information network designed to rationalize French society into a communication network for the exchange of instant messages between users seeking dates Feenberg, chap. This very brief sketch of constructivist technology studies does not do justice to the rich body of research in the field but it gives a hint of its relevance to issues of great social and political consequence.

The central achievement of these theories is the liberation of technology studies from deterministic models and the introduction of a hermeneutic perspective. The new question of technology is not about efficiency but about meaning. From this standpoint, the history of deskilling as Marxists analyze it is a hermeneutic contest between two different visions of work and the worker , one promoted by capital and the other by workers.

Deskilling involves the realization of the capitalist interpretation of work in the technical specifications of factory equipment.


A new type of society is built around this transformation. In earlier work I explored this concept in relation to child labor, a consequence of deskilling which led to the construction of machines sized for operation and maintenance by children. The meaning of labor and hence of technology was at stake in the expulsion of children from the factory Feenberg, Although such arrangements tend to be exported to China these days, we are surrounded by other examples of technical codes.

Environmentalist concern with climate change is translated into the specifications of engines and building codes. To automotive engineers, safety literally means seatbelts, airbags, electronic skid control, and so on. Among those so mobilized are technical experts whose technical discourse mobilizes the non-human actors required to carry out programs such as fighting climate change or building safer cars. Deskilling is a technical code expressed on the one hand in discursive form as an ideological preference for the replacement of skilled labor by machinery, and on the other hand, expressed in technical specifications that determine machines with precisely this function.

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The technical code of capitalism translates the requirements of control from above into technology Feenberg, Marx hints at the possibility of a socialist technical code that would liberate intelligence and skill. In the Grundrisse , for example, he writes that labor under socialism must be "of a scientific and at the same time general character, not merely human exertion as a specifically harnessed natural force, but exertion as subject, which appears in the production process not in a merely natural, spontaneous form, but as an activity regulating all the forces of nature" Marx, This implies a very different evolution of technology under socialism.

A different technical code would be imposed by workers, who would appear as actors in the technical domain. I want now to address the development of the politics of technology critique in more recent times. The structure of wage labor and technology requires just such a critique.

Karl Marx (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In the 20th century they spread to state institutions and eventually to communist societies. This shows that the factory was simply the initial site of a more general technical politics. The first place in which technology was widely deployed was the factory and so it was there that technical resistances first manifested themselves. But today technology is involved in every aspect of life, including domains unimagined by Marx such as leisure, education and even dating as we saw with the Minitel. Once technology spreads over the whole surface of society, a much wider range of technical struggles emerge, as is clear from the contemporary politics of the environment, medicine, and computerization.

By operational autonomy I mean the freedom of the owner or manager to make independent decisions regardless of the views or interests of subordinate actors and the surrounding community. Operational autonomy positions management in a technical relation to the world, safe from the consequences of its own actions.

There it is able to reproduce the conditions of its own supremacy at each iteration of the technologies it chooses and commands. Technocracy is an extension of such a system to society as a whole in response to the spread of technology and management to every sector of social life. A self-perpetuating dynamic emerges. Unfortunately, the socialist movement remained fixated on ownership and expected miracles from nationalizations without democratization of technical relations. The neutrality of technology became doctrine among Marxists as it was among capitalists and direct transfers of the most oppressive Western technological designs formed the underpinnings of industrialization in the Soviet Union.

The failure to place the problem of operational autonomy at the center of the theory of transition led to a catastrophic centralization of power in Russia , China and other communist countries. By the s this approach was discredited among most Marxist theorists in the West.

Revisionist Marxism in the s and 70s developed a radical critique of modern civilization as a whole. The most famous representative of this trend was Herbert Marcuse. In the dominant ideology technology was represented as a pure application of knowledge of nature, above political and social differences.

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The rational character of technology served as its alibi, freeing it from responsibility and placing it beyond controversy. Marcuse contested this image of neutral, value free technology. Modern technology does differ from traditional crafts, bound to the service of specific culturally secured values. But its liberation from such values simply places it in the service of the dominant actors. Marcuse was less concerned with the problem of authority that preoccupied Foucault than with the intrinsic limitations of modern scientific-technical rationality.

His argument reprised certain themes of the romantic critique of reason, such as its suspicion of quantification, albeit in a political form. Marcuse contrasted a science and technology of domination with an alternative realization of rationality respectful of the developmental potential of nature and human beings. Such an alternative, Marcuse argued, would be rooted in the imaginative understanding of the world and the sense of beauty, themes that resonated with the counter-culture of the day Feenberg, chap.

He argued for "rupture with the continuum of domination, the qualitative difference of socialism as a new form of way of life, not only rational development of the productive forces, but also the redirection of progress toward ending of the competitive struggle for existence, not only abolition of poverty and toil, but also reconstruction of the social and natural environment as a peaceful, beautiful universe: total transvaluation of values, transformation of needs and goals. This would mean not to regress in the technical progress, but to reconstruct the technical apparatus in accordance with the needs of free men, guided by their own consciousness and sensibility, by their autonomy" Marcuse, Marcuse's ecstatic projection sounds shockingly utopian today, but it provides a vision of a very different technological future, and some sort of vision is needed if we are ever to see the fundamental changes required by an adequate response to the environmental crisis.

The activists of this time called for the pursuit of happiness in other than commodity forms. He argued that the civilizational project that shapes modern technology can be replaced by another way of life based on a technology that respects nature. The disappearance of the counter-culture has not refuted this message which is reiterated today more moderately by the environmental movement. This historical background explains the decline of the positivist rationalism and technocratic determinism that achieved intellectual hegemony in the English speaking world after the Second World War.

The dramatic events of the s , followed by the long slow rise of environmentalism, eroded the hegemonic certainties of the post-war period. The possibility of alternatives, repeatedly illustrated by successful environmental regulation, sapped the authority of technocratic experts who claimed to know the one best way to do things.

Rationality was no longer one but multiple, at least in its socially concrete realizations, and so subject to politics rather than over-ruling it in the name of a superior truth. The changed situation of rationality explains the credibility of the new social studies of technology that emerged to prominence in the s. By the end of the century academic study of technology had abandoned determinism and instrumentalism in favor of various constructivist alternatives.

This depoliticized version of a critique of technology introduced important methodological innovations as we have seen. But constructivist social science was remarkably inhibited when it came to studying itself. If it had violated this taboo it would have discovered the background discussed here earlier and especially the importance of social struggles over technology in giving its theoretical innovations significance beyond a specialized audience.

Social change

The stakes were raised when attacks came from the left, the natural home of most constructivist scholars. For example, Meera Nanda argues that post-modernism and constructivism are operationalized by Hindu nationalists. Whether these attacks on constructivism were entirely justified is a question I will not address, but the weak response in the STS community revealed real problems.

It had evidently not occurred to constructivists that the relativism that made their theory effective against technocracy made it useless against fundamentalism and traditional forms of racism and sexism. It took a while to find the way back but eventually students of technology such as Bruno Latour and Bijker himself engaged more openly with the core political issue, the relation of technology to democracy Latour, ; Bijker, If this theme is pursued, the encounter of technology studies and political theory may bring about a major reconfiguration of the social sciences.

As Latour has argued, the exclusion of technology from the social scientific concept of society is untenable. But once technology enters the picture, the issue of rationality appears in a new guise. It was Weber who introduced the concept of rationalization to explain many of the processes Marx had earlier identified as central to modernity. But whereas in Marx such processes were conceived as potentially multiple—capitalist or socialist—Weber argued that they were the same for all modern societies. Because of the underdetermination of technology, rationalization must reproduce the multiplicity of the social.

There is no single homogeneous outcome to technological development and so none to social development either. The future, that seemed closed by the certainties of social science, opens up anew. The question of democratization concerns the form in which social influences on development will be exercised and institutionalized in the rationalized domains.

This paper has concerned critical strategies for addressing the resistance of rationality to rational critique especially with respect to technology. There are hints of a critique of capitalist technology in his writings as well. Rather than identifying factual errors, they enlarge the context of explanation of the workings of underdetermined rational systems in such a way as to reveal hidden biases. They argued that the design of technologies such as the assembly line is shaped by capitalism.

At about the same time neo-Marxists and post-structuralists demanded radical changes in the technological rationality of advanced societies. The spread of technology into every nook and cranny of social life provided a context in which the thought of Foucault and Marcuse achieved widespread popularity. The subsequent political reaction reduced the influence of their radical theories but also saw the emergence of an environmental movement that focused attention on technology in new ways.

Other social movements appeared in medicine and around computerization that sharpened the technological focus. In this changed context academic study of technology took new paths. Bijker, Wiebe E. Braverman, Harry New York : Monthly Review Press. Feenberg, Andrew Critical Theory of Technology. New York: Oxford. Feenberg, Andrew, Los Angeles : University of California Press. Questioning Technology. New York : Routledge.

Transforming Technology. New York : Oxford University Press. Foucault, Michel Discipline and Punish , A. Sheridan, trans. New York : Pantheon. Marxism defended modernity with a view to another, more fully developed modernity. Marxism was the theory of this dialectic of modernity, as well as its practice. After its main lines had been drawn in bold strokes, in The Communist Manifesto , the Marxian dialectical method also paid attention to the gender and national dimensions of modern emancipation.

As passionate political analysts, Marx and Engels closely followed the national politics of their time, although most of their writings about it were responses to particular circumstances. The concrete case was England, the most advanced capitalist country, where, Marx and Engels concluded, social revolution was impossible without a preceding national revolution in Ireland. Marxists of the multinational Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires soon had to pay more systematic theoretical attention to the concept of nation and its relation to class.

But the strategic vision and the political practice connecting Marxism and capital—labour conflict with anti-colonial and other struggles for national self-determination were first fully developed by Vladimir Lenin, in a series of articles written just before World War I, and then consolidated in his wartime study Imperialism Email required. Password required.