Question Forum 2

Colleagues: Please feel free to re-word and otherwise tweak these questions so that they reflect the issues you'd like to discuss in the way you'd like to discuss them. —Jen (this is a work in progress until 6 pm on Thursday)

1. What are the benefits of a synthesis between technology studies and theories of modernity and what does this synthesis get us (in STS)? Does hermeneutics get us there? (pp. 151-155)

2. Why is rationality / are modes of rationalization so important to Feenberg's critical theory of technology? Ought/must a critical theory of technology include/address/critique rationality? (p.169)

3. Functions and meanings, rational systems and lifeworlds, reason and experience, Feenberg explores the tension between the technical and nontechnical throughout the book; this duality is significant enough to be used as his title. What role does this duality play in his argument? (see esp., pp. 170-180)

4. Wynne raises this observation in the forward to this book (xi): Feenberg has been "reserved and ambiguous" about how much his critiques/theories might apply to scientific knowledge, in addition to technology; society, he argues, seems biased toward discussions of technological innovations. Ought we follow suit with a critical theory of scientific knowledge? A critical theory of technoscience?

• Does Feenberg’s view of modernity preclude normativity?
• What are some of the technological developments that make Feenberg’s modernity possible?
• Feenberg restricts the development of technological advance to the pursuit of wealth and power, and his concept of modernity is impersonal, asocial, and technical. From this, he claims that modern society has no culture, and that modern technology disrupts institutions and destabilizes culture. But isn’t this a contradiction? If modernity is the “project of building a rational society,” then doesn’t it follow that its social structures would be in a state of flux, as a matter of necessity?
• Feenberg’s assessment of “culturally acceptable artifacts” references Marcuse (presumably) and relegates aesthetic considerations to commercial calculations, but the advent of the industrial revolution marked an explosion in the arts—media, styles, genres, and modes—that far exceeded any previous movement in the arts, even during the scientific revolution. Can normativity be expressed through aesthetics, and if so, what are the parameters for such norms? Is “technical know-how” the equivalent of craftsmanship?
• Feenberg states, “We would like to reform organizations that command the technology and make them serve enlightened purposes.” Who says they aren’t serving enlightened pursposes? Is this an example of underdetermination on Feenberg’s part?
• What does cognitive science say about Heidegger’s model of consciousness?
• Is Feenberg’s interpretation of Heidegger’s domination argument a legitimate norm in modern technology?
• What norms can we pull from Feenberg’s concept of rationality?
• What are the implications of Feenberg’s rationality?
• What norms would arise from Marcuse’s technological reform?
• If Lukacs is right, and “all human relations (viewed as the objects of social activity) assume increasingly the objective forms of the abstract elements of the conceptual systems of natural science and of the abstract substrata of the laws of nature,” then can we also assume that norms are irrelevant within modernity?
• Feenberg looks to a “closer connection between politics and technology” to resolve his problem with “the degraded form of consumerist ideology.” How does society (and government) make that move?
• Feenberg describes the aesthetic as a personal disposition (204). How, then, can norms be formed or judged?

In addition to your answer to one of the above questions: If you have time and are willing, please post the page number and paragraph placement of the quote you'd like to discuss in class on Monday. (Example: Page 68, middle of first full paragraph on technical codes).

Remember this can be a quote that is confusing, that clarifies a point, that you disagree with, that is insightful, etc. Please post this information at the end of your answer to your chosen question.


David Winyard, March 22, replying to Question 2, incorporating a partial answer to Question 4, and ending with my notable Feenberg quote:

Andrew Feenberg wisely focuses on the contested concept of rationality as a (the?) key to critical theory. Its various meanings and definitions seem to drive tensions in today’s technological world, especially as they change from one level of society to another. Rationality at the lowest levels, where technological artifacts are designed and produced, is less comprehensive than definitions at high levels, where basic personal and social beliefs and value commitments are at work.

The Techno-Human Condition, by Braden R. Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz, follows this line of thought. They identify three physical and social levels at which technology operates: “on the shop floor” (Level I), the broader technological and natural environments in which they operate (Level II), and ultimately in world systems (Level III). They associate problems with rational decisions made at Levels I or II with transgressions of rationality at higher levels.

At issue is the question of what counts as rational. At the lowest levels of technology, the relatively pure rationality of mathematics, scientific knowledge, finance, and management science operates to achieve goals set at higher levels of society. Extraneous beliefs and values, such as those expressed by religion or political ideologies, rarely apply. However, at higher levels, the calculus of the engineer must be integrated with the fuzzy logic of the marketplace, government, church, and/or other social institutions. The same logic applies to science, especially as it becomes more directed toward determining socially useful applications. In some way(s), scientific research is connected to the society in which it operates.

Feenberg notes that more than efficiency is involved; there are multiple scales of good and bad outcomes that are socially negotiated. Ultimately, things come down to what can be defined, under some form of rationality, as morally good or bad. Feenberg dances around this issue of virtue, in contrast to Alasdair MacIntyre, who expresses the dilemma well in After Virtue: “The interminable and unsettled character of so much contemporary moral debate arises from the variety of heterogeneous and incommensurable concepts which inform the major premises from which the protagonists in such debates argue.” And why can’t we sort things out? MacIntyre explains: “The conditions of contemporary public debate are such that when the representative voices of those subcultures try to participate in it, they are all too easily interpreted and misinterpreted in terms of the pluralism which threatens to submerge us all.” [226]

Sadly, Feenberg’s interest in democratic opening of technology to scrutiny by higher levels of rationality do not seem to extend to the highest levels. Commenting [xxiii] on his analogy of M.C. Escher’s God-like “supervision” of Drawing Hands, Feenberg reveals his theological perspective: “Only in our fantasies do we transcend the strange loops of reason and experience.”


Smith Question 1 Response

For the sake of argument, let us hold that artifacts do, in fact, have politics (Winner, 1980). Rather, that artifacts are fully capable of storing political, social, and cultural positions and norms. Technology Studies provides us with a means of investigating the construction, evolutions, and revolutions of technologies and by technologies. However, such examinations seem to ignore or blackbox economic and design rationalities in capitalistic enterprises. Theories of modernity, working in concert with Technology Studies, extend and refine our understanding of embedded influence, bias, and sociocultural contextual rationality.

Efficiency, particularly in market economics, heavily relies on the position of the defining party as they triangulate their place and power using political, technological, and resource access. Accepting Feenberg’s definition of “rationality” as “the introduction of calculation and control into social processes with a consequent increase in efficiency,” we must challenge prevailing ‘laws’ and ‘forces’ affecting and bounding models for decision making (p.130). Rosen’s bridges, examined by Winner, discuss the intentionality of design to shunt and restrict mobility by class-geography. Adding modern models of rationality to the spectrum of influences, another set of factors should be examined to determine not simply whether the artifact has politics, but the levels or concentration of various politics. For example, which laborers were selected for construction (e.g., Italian, Irish, etc.) and how were the cost variances accounted for (i.e., rationalized).

Hermeneutics do not –sorry about this phrasing- feel sufficient, as a supplemental component in Technology Studies, when compared to a even a partial or shallow incorporation of modern theory work. Although, given that I am frequently charged with “inappropriately” deploying or repurposing STS theories and frameworks, perhaps I lack appropriate perspective on the matter…

Reference Article: Do Artifacts Have Politics?
(http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/stable/20024652)

Class Quote
Loc: p.156 – Top, first partial paragraph
“Rationality is not an alternative to culture that can stand alone as the principle of social order for better or worse. Rather rationality in its modern technical form mediates cultural expression in ways that can in principle realize a wide range of values. The poverty of the actual techno-culture must be traced not to the essence of technology but to other aspects of our society such as the economic forces that dominate technical development, design, and media.”


Regna Question 2 Response and quote

According to Feenberg, critical theory of technology provides a framework for analyzing technologies at both primary and secondary levels. On the primary level, the natural object must first be decontextualized in order to determine affordances. Then the object must be put back into the natural world. Rationality plays an important role in the criticial theory of technology because it is necessary in order to remain morally neutral. It is important for critical theory of technology that the driving force behind understanding these technologies be rational. Rationality allows one to reach the best conclusion in a reproducible way, given the same set of circumstances.

Feenberg says, “The differentiation of knowledge of nature from other cultural spheres leads to the development of science, based on rational procedures and experiment and validated by an expert community.” (pg. 164) Rational thought and procedures are critical to the “development of science” and technologies. Rationality is required in order to understand how technologies came to be and why they developed to into what they are.

“Today we confront a world of artifacts so elaborate and complex that it overshadows our lives in every domain. But this world is not shaped by essences. Its structures correspond to the various disciplines and organizations that make up modern societies.” (pg. 193 Conclusion)


Jennings response to Question 4:

Contrary to Wynne, I did not find Feenberg’s critiques of science all that “ambiguous” and they were only “reserved” in the sense that Feenberg is, in comparison, sort of obsessed with technology and especially innovation (but aren’t we all, perhaps unfortunately, to some degree?). I mean obsessed in the sense that Feenberg’s ontology of technology is, from the start, interested in participating in innovation in a responsible/democratizing way. In this way, his work to some degree normativizes technology and performs it, and he seems to do less so for science per se. Feenberg tends to discuss rationality more than science as an activity, but this domain clearly unites his theories of science and technology in that rationality is at the heart of the Modern manifestations of both. Feenberg argues that an important project of STS has been to demonstrate that reason is historically and cultural situated (178). He is proud that STS has worked to temper science’s positivism and to reinvigorate it with values (since it “always already” had them, but has tried so hard to hide/eradicate them). “Today we no longer expect technical progress to resemble the old image of scientists bending over an experimental apparatus and nodding their heads in agreement. Indeed we no longer believe that even scientists find their agreement so simple. Our model of technical advance increasingly resembles ordinary politics. Diverse interests now contend for influence over the design of technologies just as they have always fought for influence over legislation” (167). I would offer that this is as hopeful/performative as it is reflective, and I’m sure Feenberg would agree that his theory of technology is framed with this democratic normativity in mind.

Following Marcuse, he advocates a turn to something like a science of beauty, an aestheticization of knowledge, which would entail theorization of a harmonious (ecological?) lifeworld. This could never be a “purely” epistemic affair though. To rationally reconstruct Feenberg, he probably does not address science as a “separate” domain because this would be redundant. He asserts that knowledge is forever bound up with practice, and this “necessarily” includes devices that enable and even help constitute knowledge. To focus on science without discussing technology would be to engage in the a priori reasoning and value-foundationalism against which he argues. To the degree knowledge must be lived and practiced, I think he would advocate the term technoscience and see that the implications of his work applied to both “domains,” (and he does argue against modern differentiation as well). Still, his work overall seems more concerned with continually redesigning such a world rather than slowing down technology to evaluate it. He seems more concerned with innovation than controlling or relinquishing current technologies. For Feenberg, it seems evaluation can only come through lived modification. As I usually would at this time, I would just urge us to tread lightly given that this ontology seems to normativize technological experimentation in self-modification.

Other random quote, p 217:
“We have articulated technical practices in theoretical knowledge in modern times while eliminating the experiential dimension of artifacts from our theories. We cannot recover the normativity of technique by a simple act of will. Norms can emerge only from the shared experience of a community with its world. Worlds in this more or less Heideggerian sense must be understood as realms of practice rather than as a passively observed nature to which ‘values’ are ascribed. …meanings are not things we have at our disposal, but frameworks, perspectives that we inhabit and that contribute to making us what and who we are. Meanings are enacted in our perceptions and practices. They are not chosen, but rather they ‘claim us’ from ‘behind our backs’ (Simpson 1995, 47). What might be the source of such meanings today? …The prevailing technological rationality is thus deficient not only in its indifference to life but also, underlying that difference, in its very structure. …When meanings become marketing devices, anything goes, and rationality is threatened…”

Gregory Nelson Synthesis

Apologies for lack of response to questions. I know Jen and Merc are preparing a synthesis. I thought I would also offer a bit of a synthesis to this week’s reading in order to contribute though late.

In class we discussed Feenberg’s last 3 chapters in through the division of theories of modernity and science and technology in society. This exercise was incredibly useful because it forced our group to understand that norms in STS direct our approaches. Theories of modernity therefore co=construct the program of the study of science and technology. How we view modernity and understand it make necessary a programme of study for science and technology in society. Feenberg states, “Of course some social theorists have made contributions to the theory of modernity that do not touch on technology interestingly. Ulrich Beck has proposed a theory of ‘reflexive modernity’ in which the role of technology is discussed in terms of transformations in the nature of social rationality” (139). Reflexive modernity and Ulrich Beck’s thesis concerning risk society as a theory of modernity allows us to understand STS as a response to the necessity of studying the effects of science and technology upon society and vice versa. We live in a world where we rely upon science and technology to deal with the consequence of science and technology. We need science and technology to determine the risk of radiation exposure when we cannot perceive radiation without technological apparatus. Therefore if we adopt Beck’s theory of modernity STS becomes absolutely necessary as a programme of critical inquiry in order to understand how science and technology affects society.

Therefore if modernity is understood in Beck’s conception we can understand how science and technology are necessary to our continued survival in technoscientific world. We cannot abandon the enterprise. However, we can begin to critique the norms which surround these human activities. Feenberg states, “This critique of value neutrality is not entirely compatible with contemporary views, but it can be reformulated in a way that preserves Marcuse’s essential point. Value neutrality is not an achieved state of purity but a tendency with a history” (213). Therefore if the norms of science and technology posit that they are value neutral we must understand that this is a norm in itself. STS scholars who are formulating a critical theory of technology must understand how technology and science embed and encode norms even when the enterprise’s rhetorically claim to be free of norms. Feenberg articulates, “Meaning is thus the precondition not just of the scientific rationality but also of technology’s very existence within a lived world” (212). The meaning of science and technology in society is normative. Once STS scholars understand this we can begin to attempt to articulate norms for the conduct, practice, and implementation of science and technology in society which could potentially alleviate the problems caused by these human activities in the sociobiological world. Rather than being doomed to control or liberated to freely construct we must understand how the norms of science and technology are articulated shape our range of choices.

At the end of the day we are left with the question of how to imbue new norms in the conduct of science and technology. One central question is where is the forum for imbuing norms and what does the structure look like? Clearly, Feenberg sees the internet and the computer as a place to begin, however, what does the architecture of participation consist of in the digital environment? While Feenberg’s architecture is inadequate for the clear formulation of how to alter the norms of science and technology he does allow us to begin to imagine new directions and architecture by making us aware how critical theory can inform our thinking about science and technology. Feenberg explains, “In this we moderns are left on our own. We must decide in terms of our imaginative sensitivity to the requirements of the good life….We cannot recover the normativity of technique by a simple act of will. Norms emerge only from the shared experience of a community with its world.” (216-17). So we beget the question of the architecture of designing norms to redirect technoscience. In this way normativity allows scholars to ponder questions about the directions which can and ought to serve society the best possible way to ensure the continued expression of democracy to ensure the ability of those who wish to participate in design and expression of life in a socio-biological-technoscientific milieu have an ability to encode norms into artifacts and facts.

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