Monthly Archives: February 2008
The term “determine” is often used rather lightly by those who write about the political dimension of technology. At the same time the accusation of “technological determinism” – albeit sometimes right on target – is being used as a means to exclude discussion of technological parameters from the humanities and the social sciences. But what is actually meant by “technological determinism”? In my view, there are three basic forms of thinking about determinism when it comes to technology:
The first is very much connected to French anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan and holds that technological evolution is largely self-determined. His notion of “tendance technique” takes its inspiration from evolutionary theory in the sense that the technology evolves blindly but following the paths carved out by the “choices” made throughout its phylogenesis (this has been called “cumulative causation” or “path dependency” by some). Leroi-Gourhan’s perspective has been developed further by Deleuze and Guattari in their concept of “phylum” and, most notably, by philosopher of technology Gilbert Simendon (who’s work is finally going to be translated into English, hopefully still in 2008) who sees the process of technological evolution as “concretization”, going from modular designs to always more integrated forms. “Technological determinism” would mean, in this first sense, that technology is not the result of social, economic, or cultural process but largely independent, forcing the other sectors to adapt. Technology is determined by its inner logic.
A more colloquial meaning of technological determinism is, of course, connected to the
- Look at design studies where determinism has been replaced by the quite elegant notion of affordance.
- Read more Actor-Network Theory.
- Think about what Roland Barthes meant by “interpretation”.
- Dust off your copy of Hall’s “encoding/decoding”.
- Work as a software developer and marvel at the infinity of ways users find to use, appropriate, and break your applications.