Saturday, 20 April 2013

Changing Things by Design

Changing Things by Design
The material dimensions of alienability, rivalry, and exclusion cost represent a
“given” or natural infrastructure in which informal institutions evolve, either by
chance or by design, and a set of background conditions against which formal
institutions are formulated and enforced. When those background conditions
change, by chance or by design, the entire significance of social institutions can be
altered. All of which raises the question: if changes in the formal institutions of
society are appropriate targets for political philosophies and theories of justice, why
not also the technological transformation of alienability, rivalry, and exclusion cost?
This is, I take it, a somewhat more focused restatement of a question that has been
asked many times before. Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man suggests that
the failure to subject technical systems to normative scrutiny is both a political and
a philosophical failure. The political failure resides in the increasing power of
capital and commercial interests to dominate all forms of discourse in industrial
society, while the philosophical failure consists in positivist doctrines that created
an epistemological space in which questions about technical efficiency were
regarded as “value free,” (Marcuse, 1966)

For most people involved in the practice of design, Marcuse’s characterization
of technology has seemed to be too metaphysical, too Heideggarian, and simply too
vague to be of much use. Langdon Winner has had more success in calling for critical
evaluation of technology and technical change by describing what he calls “the
technological constitution of society.” This is a material and organizational
infrastructure that predisposes a society toward particular forms of life and patterns
of political response. Winner illustrates his idea with a number of examples,
notably technological systems such as irrigation systems or electric power grids
that dispose societies toward centrally administered, hierarchical relationships of
political power (Winner, 1986). We should notice that what accounts for such tendencies
is the way that these systems affect the alien ability, rivalry, and exclusion
cost of the respective goods, water, and energy, that they produce and distribute

No comments:

Post a Comment