in Technical politics


I could not have written this book without the assistance of many people, principal among them Andrew Feenberg, who, ever since I first turned up on his doorstep in 2002, clutching an apple tart from one of the bakeries near his apartment in Paris, has been unstintingly generous with his time and unbelievably patient when listening to my criticisms of his ideas. We haven’t always agreed on the finer points of critical theory and technology but of his kindness there has never been any doubt. I will have succeeded if, based on our conversations, this book clarifies some of his arguments, or persuades more readers of the relevance of his intervention. On points where he and I disagree, I hope to have provided material for further discussion that might itself clarify and develop the critical theory of technology.

Parts of some chapters have been presented as papers to different audiences, who have made comments and suggestions that helped me reach the version presented here. Chapter 2, on formal bias, benefited from a critical discussion with Yoni Van Den Eede and participants at the ‘Technology, Society, Change’ symposium he organised at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Summer 2011, and I am grateful to them. Chapter 1 was the basis of a sociology seminar in the University of Manchester in spring 2017, attended by several colleagues in the sociology department and some people from elsewhere in the university. In summer 2019, I presented parts of Chapter 5 at the annual conference of the Utopian Studies Society in Prato, where the comments and questions received helped me when it came to writing the final draft. I’d like to thank everyone who participated in these events. I’d also like to record my appreciation of the students on my undergraduate course, Technology & Society, which ran at Manchester from 2007 to 2014 and included many fascinating discussions of Feenberg’s work, often initiated by their criticisms and suggestions.

It is increasingly difficult in the modern university to find time for one’s own ideas, still less anyone else’s, so it is humbling when people read or discuss your project and think about it enough to enthuse, disagree, or point out things you missed. The following people have been generous in this way with their time, ideas and encouragement, so I am grateful to them: Alice Bloch, Lars Brondum, Bridget Byrne, Alan Carling, Colin Craig, Garry Crawford, Nick Crossley, Simin Fadaee, Susan Halford, Steve Hall, Helen Kennedy, Lars Kristensen, Clive Lawson, Cheryl Martens, Peter McMylor, Nadim Mirshak, Angela Ndalianis, Richie Nimmo, Cristiana Olcese, Tom Redshaw, Nick Thoburn and Feng Zhu.

For their extraordinary patience and constant support for the project I’d also like to thank Caroline Wintersgill, who suggested that I write this book in the first place, and Alun Richards at Manchester University Press. An anonymous reviewer for MUP made a number of useful suggestions and I’m grateful to them as well. All remaining faults with the work are, of course, my own responsibility.

My greatest thanks are to Sarah Carling for her support, encouragement and unfailing intellectual curiosity.

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Technical politics

Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology


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