Philosophy

“Do Artifacts Have Politics?” By Langdon Winner. A reflection.

Landon Winner is a political theorist whose work focuses on contemporary political thought, race, technology, and social theory. “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” is a journal article by Winner published in 1980. Through this thorough [and to some extents alienating] research paper, the authour claims that artifacts, here intended as technical objects, have political properties and can embody forms of authority and subordination. He suggests that we pay close attention to the properties of the technologies that surround us and the meaning of those properties.

Winner provides examples of technical systems of various kind which at first sight may not explicitly express any form of political intent, but have in reality been designed to produce concrete social consequences. See the parkways erected around Long Island by Robert Moses in the 1930s and the introduction of the Mechanical Tomato Harvester in 1949.

These examples show how some technologies have been deployed to discriminate, pose threats, and maintain a regime of power where skilled leaders are those making choices. Workers are not given the right to participate in the decision-making process which rules how technology influences the way people connect with each other.

While some artifacts are widely believed to require social structures in which those can operate, others are thought to work well in conjunction with specific systems of power and authority (Winner, 1980). However, the author states that certain technologies are inherently autocratic and must require particular social structures for their implementation. The atom bomb in one of those.

Winner contrasts nuclear power with solar power, which is decentralized and doesn’t represent a security risk. It is inherently democratic and populist (Innovation Group, University of California, n.d.).


References:

Winner, L. (1980). Do Artifacts Have Politics?. Daedalus, Modern Technology: Problem or Opportunity? (Winter, 1980), [online] Vol. 109,(№1), pp.pp. 121–136. Available at: http://innovate.ucsb.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Winner-Do-Artifacts-Have-Politics-1980.pdf[Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].

Innovation Group · University of California, Santa Barbara. (n.d.). Innovation Group — Langdon Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”. [online] Available at: http://innovate.ucsb.edu/463-langdon-winner-do-artifacts-have-politics[Accessed 2 Oct. 2018].


Originally published at francescoimola.tumblr.com.