Call for submissions on Critical Technology Studies

The following call for papers has just been released:

Minority Report: The Rise and Fall of Critical Technology Studies

Open Session CFP for the Joint Meeting of Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and Sociedad Latinoamericana de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (ESOCITE)


August 20 – 23, 2014 | Buenos Aires, Argentina
Organizers: Ben Brucato (RPI) & Gretchen Gano (ASU)

Technology Studies aims to render technology comprehensible in historical, social, and political terms. A subset of this work we call Critical Technology Studies (CTS), holds that technologies are forms-of-life with intrinsic features that produce or merge with certain political and social arrangements. Under this premise, technologies are not like a hammer that can used and put down at will; instead they represent a kind of embedded legislation that structures human behavior and ideas (Winner 1986). Central CTS thinkers such as Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Langdon Winner and others not traditionally cited in STS such as Verbeek and Borgmann have given us a framework to interrogate how technical demands can overrule capacities for civic comprehension and democratic control of complex technologies. Counter to the social constructivist narrative that relevant actors are ever busy negotiating our technological reality, CTS suggests that pervasive technological systems can tightly constrain and sometimes confound social and political action.

Although STS owes an intellectual debt to the trailblazing works of CTS, its key contributors’ methods and insights are marginalized in the field today. In an interdiscipline where scholarship is often embedded in its scientific and technical focus, with many in our ranks enrolled in the innovation enterprise, the time is ripe for a minority report on Critical Technology Studies. Organizers invite contributions that unpack and challenge the view that critical technology scholarship is merely anti-technological Luddism grounded in sidelined arguments of determinism.

We seek submissions that:

  • reenergize our understanding of the primary claims of CTS;
  • trace the critical reception of CTS within STS;
  • connect CTS with parallel political commitments, such as those of neo-Luddites (i.e. Kirkpatrick Sale) and social activists (i.e. the anti-nuke movement);
  • apply CTS to contemporary studies of innovation;
  • propose new areas of inquiry for CTS.
We encourage those seeking additional information to visit
Deadline for abstract submissions: March 3, 2014. 
Abstracts should be no more than 250 words.
Languages accepted: English
To apply, submit an “individual abstract” via the 4S portal at
Once you have a user name and password, go to submit proposal > submit new proposal > paper abstract. After entering your details, check the box beside Open Session #45. Minority Report: The Fall and Rise of Critical Technology Studies.
More conference information:
More panel information:
Contact: Ben Brucato ( or Gretchen Gano (

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On Technology and Human Agency

A perennial debate in technology studies is over the question of agency and determinism. Does technology drive history? Is technology socially constructed? Who or what exercises agency in sociotechnical development? In this blog, I summarize and analyze the ideas that have emerged from this debate that I find most useful. Specifically, I  touch on the work of Jacques Ellul and Langdon Winner.

For Ellul, “when technique enters into every area of life, including the human, it ceases to be external to man and becomes his very substance.”[1] Donna Haraway has taken this point to the extreme, suggesting that humans are cyborgs, inextricably linked to their devices, not only to participate in social life, but in their conceptions of self.[2] “This transformation, so obvious in modern society,” wrote Ellul, “is the result of the fact that technique has become autonomous.”[3] By autonomous, Ellul meant that “technique pursues its own course more and more independently of man.”[4] Humans are directed to technical ends by their reliance upon its means for every aspect of their lives, whereby humans are “reduced to the level of a catalyst…”[5] It is not technology alone that requires this relationship, but the role of technology in society. “When technique enters into the realm of social life, it collides ceaselessly with the human being to the degree that the combination of man and technique is unavoidable, and that technical action necessarily results in a determined result.[6] This characterization has led some to dismiss Ellul’s philosophy as “technological determinism.” Winner rejects that Ellul commits to determinism, and finds utility in this approach – that of autonomous technology – when he presents Ellul’s vision “that technology is somehow out of control by human agency.”[7] In this view, “far from being controlled by the desired and rational ends of human beings, technology in a real sense now governs its own course, speed, and destination.”[8] Ellul argued that “there can be no human autonomy in the face of technical autonomy.”[9] Continue reading

Autonomous Technics & Civilization: Mumford and Winner in conversation

In Technics & Civilization, among Mumford’s other work, he develops a rich historical account of technological development. Being “the last generalist,” I would imagine unfamiliar readers today might be surprised by Mumford’s ability to eloquently transcend disciplinary boundaries among sociology, anthropology and history. He was particularly skilled at conveying nuance and the important interactions among environment, artifacts, techniques, human organization, labor, infrastructure and so forth. Additionally, Mumford articulates an approach to ‘social construction’ that avoids the solipsistic idealism now popular. Instead, technics and society are constantly engaged in remaking one another – and confining and constraining one another. Certain innovations are either promoted with vigor and others stalled or abandoned because technics serves the worldview and values of the society that shapes it. Simultaneously, existing technics transform how we see and relate to ourselves, one another and our environment. This process is shaped by values, as specific paths are chosen among others because they fit the ethics and motives of those steering innovation, but also as the material, machinic and organizational demands of existing technics. Winner’s discussion of autonomous technology carries a similar theme to the latter point, addressing specifically how existing technical systems create demands of their users and the society in which they are embedded. Social reproduction in a highly complex technological society generates a considerable momentum for increasing the role of technology in social and individual life, an apparently out-of-control juggernaut. Mumford demonstrates that this has deep historical roots, particularly over the last 1,000 years. This is not the experience of industrial society, but the experience of civilization in toto. Continue reading