Technology and Organizations III
Politics of Technology
Dr Alison Stowell
Charles Carter Building (B09)
Office hours: Monday 13.00-16.00, Thursday
09.30-10.30 and 15.00-16.00
• The key idea behind Technological Determinism
Technology is black boxed, unconnected to society. When innovations occur, unmediated by any other influence, the artefact
[technology] triggers social and societal practices to change.
• Technology does not always happen in a linear sequence • Technology contributes to the division labour and the hierarchical nature of organisations
“Determinism is the view that there is an inevitable direction in which events move.
For technological determinists, the cause is technology. According to technological determinists, certain key technologies are the primary movers in developments in organization, the economy or even society itself” (Vurdubakis 2012: 449)
• Explore the politics of technological artefacts by looking at the,
– Technological arrangements as forms of order • and
– Inherently political technologies
“In controversies about technology and society, there is no idea more provocative than the notion that technical things have political qualities. At issue is the claim that the machines, structures, and systems of modern material culture can be accurately judged not only for their contributions of efficiency and productivity, not merely for their positive and negative environmental side effects, but also for the ways in which they can embody specific forms of power and authority.”
(Winner, 1999: 28, Winner 1980:121)
What is meant by political?
• “By “politics,” I mean arrangements of power and authority in human associations as well as the activities that take place within those arrangements” (Winner 1980: 123).
– 1. of or relating to the government or group in politics.
• Relating to ideas or strategies of a particular part or group in politics
• Interested or active in politics
• Motivated by a person’s beliefs or actions concerning politics
– 2. done or acting in the interests of status or power within an organization rather than as a matter or principle” (Oxford
Technological arrangements as forms of order - Robert Moses
(Winner 1980; 1999)
Do artefacts have politics?
Mosquito Noise Box
• Technological artefacts can appear to be morally and socially neutral if their politics has disappeared from view
• There is a danger of separating the political from the technological as examining the effects on ‘an organisation’ or ‘society’ would mask the complete story
• This leaves the question of how should we analyse embodied forms of power and authority in our technologies? The politics of technology
“I would offer the following general conclusions. The things we call ‘technologies’ are ways of building order in our world. Many technical devices and systems important in everyday life contain possibilities for many different ways of ordering human activity. Consciously or not, deliberately or inadvertently, societies choose structures for technologies that influence how people are going to work, communicate, travel, consume, and so forth, over a long period of time. In the processes by which structuring decisions are made, different people are differently situated and possess unequal degrees of power as well as unequal levels of awareness.”
(Winner, 1999: 32; 1980: 127)
Determinism versus choice
(Huczynski and Buchanan 2010: 92)
Technology as a political tool
(Huczynski and Buchanan 2010)
• Increase task specialisation,
– reduce the level of skill required in a job
– lower wages can be offered
– organisation no longer is required to rely on individuals. • Increase discipline in work
– improve surveillance
– gain tighter control of employees
– can lead to reduced discretion