Do Artifacts Have Politics

2285 Words Oct 9th, 2005 10 Pages
"Do artifacts have politics?"
Discuss Langdon Winner's question and give some examples.

Iva N. Ivanova ivai@ifi.uio.no First semester at UiO Word count: 2103

Introduction

The objective of this paper is to discuss Langdon Winners theory on the politics of technology. In his book "The Whale and the Reactor" Langdon Winner asks the question "Do artifacts have politics?". That question has provoked many to look for different dimensions of technology. Winner argues that technologies hold specific forms of power and authority and that they should be taken seriously as their own political phenomena. According to him technological innovations are similar to legislative acts or political foundings, which
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In this view, the study of technology and politics that focuses only on political behavior or political institutions as conceived even in the more broad-based neo-institutionalist approaches, would be incomplete, or worse, misleading, as it would imply that material artifacts do not themselves matter from the standpoint of understanding political constraints and influences. Constructivists are instinctively suspicious of political arguments which assume that new technologies will necessarily work as intended by their promoters. This means that there will typically be more than one possible form that the technology could take, with different political consequences. Rather, they aim to unravel how different groups with conflicting interests and expectations negotiate the specific form of a technology, including not just its material design but also how it is used. (Sujatha Raman, 2003).

Bruno Latour also opposes Winners theory and argues that if one begins to read artifacts not as neutral objects indifferent to goals and values, but as the central node of a power struggle, it's true that you enter into politics, but the question then becomes which sort of politics. According to him technology (buildings in his example) does nothing of its own, but is simply carrying forth the pure effect of domination and thus technology should be perceived as purely neutral. However Winner argues that technologies can be

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