Team 2 Synthesis

Feenberg explores the tension between the technical and nontechnical by examining functions and meanings; rational systems and lifeworlds; reason and experience; and domination and aesthetic. This final section is more like a literature review of the two epochs/categories wherein Feenberg situates himself in the literature, and traces the epistemology of his critical theory, beginning with Marx. There are three fundamental questions for the class:

1. Where do Feenberg’s norms lie?
2. We have problems in society, so how do we define and use values to reinscribe problems and values of society?
3. What is the role of STS?

If STS can study modernity reflexively, then we can re-imagine life-world and the way that technology impacts our lives in a positive way.

Feenberg repackages elements of modernity theory and technology studies and adds his own framework. Consumer ideology and destructive technologies threaten us because they exist and are fostered within a domination regime. But society has an ever-increasing influence in the development and management of technologies. Herein, he creates a paradox: normativity can help us understand and deal with domination, but we can assert our agency in the design of technologies. The Internet provides a possible resolution for this paradox, although the ‘net alone may be inadequate. Ultimately, Feenberg does not provide a roadmap for his normative position.

STS scholars need to be critically aware of the problems and tensions of normativity, as well as the opportunities that it offers. We must always be aware that science and technology operate in society.

Class Synthesis: (Jen)
Small-group discussion in the class focused on the broader categories, “Modernity Theories” and “Science/Technology Studies,” which included most of the main concepts identified from the readings from the question formation and the keyword write-up. Specifically, both groups fleshed out the ways Modernity has differentiated science, society, and especially the university through disciplinary structures. As with many classes, the conversation moved from the particulars of Feenberg’s theory, which everyone seemed to agree was a move in a helpful direction in terms of getting us back to some ability to make normative claims. However, what seemed to bother us the most was the particulars—how, where, and with whom we might put his theory into practice.

Questions that critiqued Feenberg’s argument centered mainly on the type of forum he envisions for his democratic technological theory, the process for how to bootstrap from particular cases to larger generalizations, and how to understand the basis for the development of norms. While we appreciated his attempt to synthesize what he felt was the best from those thinkers and concepts in the Frankfurt School and in Technology Studies, the synthesis lacked a certain specificity. This raises the question, which wasn’t really addressed, if theories such as Feenberg’s that reflect a critical theory position ought to include specific blueprints for moving forward. Another way to think about this question is this: For those scholars that attempt to reconceptualize the technoscientific aspects of society in order to recapture or make transparent attending values and norms, ought they also provide a "how-to" manual that includes a more specific programmatic step we can take? Or is it enough that they point to the types of questions we ought to keep in mind as we approach our various and sundry case studies, during which we construct our own normative way forward?

Interestingly, the discussion ended on a note about a potential transcendent norm, education, as the means and the university as the possible site or forum for a pedagogy of normativity; however, some argued that the university is outmoded as a place for instilling ethics and norms in engineers, designers, scientists, much the same way that norms of the Hippocratic oath frame medical practice. The question still remained: So where to locate norms if not in the practice of disciplines? If not at the university? Feenberg points to the internet and its more democratizing potential as a model way forward, but there was some dissatisfaction with this technology as an example forum.

At the end of the day, we still seem to be stuck between reason and experience. While Feenberg adequately maps the dynamic landscape that, as STS students, we find ourselves walking, it’s not clear what we’re walking towards, what we’re negotiating as we go along. As the class concluded the sentiment on the table was a familiar one: We’ve demystified science, we’ve demystified technology, now what? Feenberg offers a suggestion based on his experience of what is worth retaining from his own teachers. In what ways do we agree with him? Where are we dissatisfied? Perhaps that is where we take up the work ourselves.

(See my concept map of these chapters under "files" below…a personal visual synthesis)

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