Sociological recoveries of critical theories on technology
Cetcopra & CIES Université Paris 1 & ISCTE Lisboa, Portugal
From critical standpoints we can work towards insightful examinations of our modern times, while concurrently proposing their concrete transformation towards other potential courses. In contexts of omnipresent, diffuse and complex technologies, it seems essential to fully grasp the essential character and particular conditions of our technical realms, while at the same time recovering a group of concepts and theories that may aid us to rethink and restructure these realms. We can embark on this endeavour from the ideas earlier pursued by authors like Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse or Habermas, in face of a pungent diagnosis of modern rationality, its prevailing instrumental logic, and its technical means of control and domination. As a consequence we may insist on the task of social enquiries to acknowledge theoretically and empirically the resources of specific societies, realize their potentialities, and dialectically discuss other modes of organisation to improve our social existences. But we may especially engage in this critical enterprise by recovering views associated with other social critics like Mumford, Ellul, Anders, Arendt, Winner, Mitcham, Borgmann or Feenberg. With due differences, all these authors have critically analysed technique as a specific social phenomenon, thus largely recognizing its intrinsic processes and their relation to social directions and purposes.
This paper will explore how a resurgence of past and present critical routes, with concepts such as instrumentality, non-neutrality, control, choice or autonomy, may grant major contributes not only to our present accounts of technological embedded societies, but also to the larger collection of critical theories. Our particular outlooks on technology may help us to raise specific questions on its designs, constructions and uses, its political forms and economic models, its innovation requirements, rationalization principles, cultural consequences, etc. But by the same token, within our general sociological frameworks these outlooks may also contribute to elucidate the wide range of connexions between our modern social structures and our technical systems and objects. With this intertwinement we should reclaim renewed spaces for critical perspectives somewhat amiss from present studies of technology, but also bring these views of technology once more into the foreground of sociological knowledge.