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Inside the Politics of Technology

Inside the Politics of Technology: Agency and Normativity in the Co-Production of Technology and Society

Hans Harbers (ed.)
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Inside the Politics of Technology
    Book Description:

    Man is the measure of all things, an old saying goes. But it is a bad guide for understanding scientific and technological culture. Science and technology are not simply the means to reach human ends; they also actively shape human beings, their goals, meanings and social relations. This volume discusses the implications of this so-called 'co-production' of science, technology and society for our analytical as well as normative ideas about humanity, technology and the relations between both. Addressing issues such as cancer genetics, prenatal screening and ecological consequences of traffic and transport, contributors argue that technology has its own kind of sub-politics, which in turn calls for policies of technology: from steering and regulation to scenario studies, in order to achieve democratisation of technology. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0384-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 7-8)
    Hans Harbers
  4. Introduction: Co-Production,Agency,and Normativity
    (pp. 9-26)
    Hans Harbers

    The Netherlands, 9.50 a.m., 11 February 1992: A few minutes after take-off from the nearby Twente Air Force Base, an F-16 fighter plane gets into trouble, tries to turn around and return to the base, but crashes into the residential area of Hasseler Es in the town of Hengelo. Houses catch fire, cars are destroyed, summerhouses and sheds are ruined. Total material damage:€ 1 million. Plus an F-16 of course – a multiple of that amount. Fortunately, there were no personal injuries; even the pilot was saved by his ejection seat at the last minute. A “divine miracle”, according to...

  5. The Distribution of Agency

    • Back to the Drawing Board: Inventing a Sociology of Technology
      (pp. 29-60)
      Cornelis Disco

      One of the great lapses of the sociological imagination has surely been an appreciation of the role of technology in society. The “founding fathers” – if we may except Marx – paid it scant attention, and their intellectual descendents have done little better. Mark Shields says:

      The vital sociological traditions of theorising about phenomena such as the state, power, social class, ideology, division of labour, religion, revolution … have barely touched technology. This is a stunning omission. Shields 1997, 188)

      What is stunning is of course the lack of interest in a phenomenon which by all accounts has been one...

    • Artifacts as Social Agents
      (pp. 61-84)
      Philip Brey

      Do artifacts act? Should agency be assigned to them in accounts of social change? Or are human beings and social structures like groups and organisations the only social agents? This is a pivotal question for technology studies, but one that has not received an unequivocal answer so far. On the one hand, the literature in technology studies is filled with examples and cases that suggest that technological artifacts and systems do act: they have been claimed to prescribe behaviours, constrain political arrangements, induce cultural beliefs and practices, and shape aspects of their social context. On the other hand, the social...

    • Diversity and Distributed Agency in the Design and Use of Medical Video-Communication Technologies
      (pp. 85-106)
      Nelly Oudshoorn, Margo Brouns and Ellen van Oost

      Imagine a scene in a hospital. In the intensive care unit, a nurse is taking care of a tiny, premature baby that moves restlessly in the incubator. When the nurse has reassured herself that everything is okay, she installs the camera that watches over the baby in the incubator. The signals from the camera are sent to the central control unit in the hospital and to yet another location, thirty miles from the hospital where, connected by means of telephone cables, the parents of the child try to operate the video-communication system they have received from the hospital. If they...

  6. The Mediation of Agency

    • Choices and Choosing in Cancer Genetics
      (pp. 109-124)
      Dirk Stemerding and Annemiek Nelis

      Clinical genetics has established itself as a medical practice in which patients are addressed primarily as individuals who have to make informed choices (Bosk 1992; Steendam 1996). Historically, centres for clinical genetics in the Netherlands have a privileged position in offering genetic counselling and genetic testing, and function as “gatekeepers” for those seeking genetic consultation and diagnosis (Nelis 2000). In these centres, genetic diagnosis is embedded in a practice of counselling in which facts deemed relevant are separated out as “information” that is handed out to clients along with a few courses of action formulated as possible alternatives and between...

    • Artifacts and Attachment: A Post-Script Philosophy of Mediation
      (pp. 125-146)
      Peter-Paul Verbeek

      What should one think of things? This question is a pressing one, now that Technology Studies has discovered artifacts as the objects of inquirypar excellence. Societies are not only held together by social relations and institutions, as sociologists and anthropologists claim, but by things as well. Technology should be analysed not only in terms of the social processes in which it is constructed, but also in terms of the role it plays in social processes itself.

      Within Technology Studies, the predominant vocabulary for understanding the role of artifacts in society is offered by actor-network theory. Bruno Latour, one of...

    • Art and Technology Playing Leapfrog: A History and Philosophy of Technoèsis
      (pp. 147-168)
      Petran Kockelkoren

      Down through history, the relationship between art and technology has assumed many guises. With the present-day rise of new media and technologies, new art forms are appearing which are often situated outside the traditional circuit. The body and its prostheses are highlighted in performances, and the visual arts often link up with industrial design and ict applications. The formerly sharp dividing line between autonomous and applied art is gradually disappearing. Despite the increasing influence of technology on art, one still speaks of the autonomy of art. The relationship between art and technology is not without friction in contemporary art, but...

  7. The Politics of Agency

    • Taking the Socio-Technical Seriously: Exploring the Margins for Change in the Traffic and Transport Domain
      (pp. 171-198)
      Boelie Elzen

      A well-functioning traffic and transport system is a necessity for an industrialised and complex society. At the same time, the way our traffic and transport system is shaped and functions also causes major societal problems. Emissions of pollutants from vehicles worsen the quality of the air, causing health hazards to humans and other living species. Emissions of co2in particular contribute to global warming. The continuously increasing number of vehicles makes it ever more difficult for traffic to proceed smoothly, causing congestion, limiting the accessibility of many destinations, and threatening the livability of cities and other living areas.

      These problems...

    • Trapped in the Duality of Structure: An sts Approach to Engineering Ethics
      (pp. 199-228)
      Tsjalling Swierstra and Jaap Jelsma

      There was a remarkable increase in attention given to ethical issues concerning technology in the second half of the previous century. This increase followed the deepening societal impact of technology, and the growing insight into its benefits as well as its potential for disaster. More or less parallel to this development in ethics, sociological studies started to delve empirically into the contextual development of the substance of science and technology. This latter move from the philosophy of technology towards a more empirical type of science and technology studies has lead to a growing interest in everyday practicalities of technology development....

    • The Cultural Politics of Prenatal Screening
      (pp. 229-256)
      Marcus Popkema and Hans Harbers

      Maarten and Louella: Just a modern couple, expecting their first baby, pretty excited and a bit childish. Nothing special, the usual behaviour of future parents. Nonetheless, Maarten and Louella are pregnant in a different way than their parents were. They did not worry aboutLysteriabacteria and toxoplasmosis, let alone amniocentesis. Maarten and Louella do. They live in a techno-scientific world. It is this world of extended scientific knowledge and a whole range of medical technologies that generate a huge gap between Maarten and Louella and their parents. Future parents nowadays have to cope with all these new medical techniques,...

  8. Epilogue: Political Materials – Material Politics
    (pp. 257-272)
    Hans Harbers

    The starting point of this volume was the notion of the co-production of science, technology and society. Scientific knowledge and technological systems on the one hand and social, political and moral relations on the other hand are mutually constituted in one and the same historical process. This constructivist notion implies, first, a denial of any kind of autonomy of knowledge, power or morality. Cognitions, social relations and moral rules co-develop.¹ Second, the notion of co-production rejects any kind of reductionism or determinism. Developments in science and technology cannot be explained exclusively by their social and political context. But neither do...

  9. References
    (pp. 273-292)
  10. About the Authors
    (pp. 293-296)
  11. Index of Names
    (pp. 297-302)
  12. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 303-312)