The nomad contains the history of the diaspora and the refuge, but also the colonial settler and conqueror. Interestingly, while domestication often signifies being bound to property, the narratives we frequently pull from as regards nomadicism are after agrarianism and the development of civilization. The uprooted one is either unseating others or the unseated other. Even the nomadic trader signifies both surplus production and specialization, accumulation and division of labor. In a century of the climate refuge and the migrant laborer, one that will see hundreds of millions moving for safety and work, and in an era of social theory that is suffused with Deleuze’s nomad and Agamben’s refuge, what does it mean to “prefer flows,” to “Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic” (as Foucault famously wrote)?
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
When Kirkpatrick Sale was finishing up Rebels Against the Future, he was interviewed by Kevin Kelly for Wired. This interview, however, became more of a debate, between a technophile and someone urging caution and limits with regard to technology – a neo-Luddite.
Kelly begins by wondering whether the Luddites accomplished anything “other than arson and a lot of vandalism.” Perhaps a brief history is in order for some of my more casual readers. Even Kelly doesn’t seem to understand the Luddites, as he claims:
The Luddite cottagers thought it was inhuman to be put out of work by machines. But what’s really inhuman is to have cloth made by human labor at all. Cloth should be made by machines, because machines make much better cloth than humans. Making cloth is not a good job for humans… Continue reading
In The Techno-Human Condition, Allenby and Sarewitz confront the growth of transhumanism as a movement and the history of humans engaging with technics that have shaped the species’ evolution. They additionally issue a particular critique of the Enlightenment. The limits of reason in complex, global technosystems is deeply explored and effectively trounced upon. In reading this text, one might be inspired to recall Horkheimer and Adorno’s The Dialectic of Enlightenment. However, in such a comparison, we might realize a primary weakness at the heart of Allenby and Sarewitz’s project. Horkheimer and Adorno found in the Enlightenment not simply the limits or reason, but a commitment to domination of nature, which extends to the complete domination of humankind. The pinnacle of the Enlightenment is not found in transhumanism (as in Allenby and Sarewitz), but in the concentration camp. If we might update this scenario, we could say the pinnacle of the Enlightenment is perpetual war for oil fought by drone planes and cyborg soldiers in which millions of civilians are murdered (only on the enemy side, of course). Continue reading
I have begun a formal inquiry into social theories that are radically critical of technology. This is involving a re-reading of some of my favorite texts and authors, and exploring new territory. My goal is to write and publish a brief theoretical and methodological guide for social criticism and research that problematizes technology.
Classic sociological texts were frequently and vehemently critical of technology. In recent times, the formal study of human culture, particularly sociology, has a general ambivalence toward technology. Positivist and post-positivist postures of objectivity have led to a stated neutral view of technology that is ultimately positive, in that it fails to test its neutrality. Further, the ubiquitous nature of advanced technology is assumed to be evidence of its general functionality.
Below is the introduction to a 15,000 essay I just completed, summing up the theoretical and historical basis for my critique of UN environmental discourse, particularly the UNCED documents. This was completed for a graduate social theory course, and will be used in different sections of my thesis. I have only provided the first 3 of 61 pages here. People who wish to discuss these points more specifically may email me, and will send the entire document for further discussion.