This is the first monograph devoted to the work of one of the foremost contemporary advocates of contemporary critical theory, Andrew Feenberg. It focuses on Feenberg’s central concept, technical politics, and explores his suggestion that democratising technology design is key to a strategic understanding of the process of civilisational change. In this way, it presents Feenberg’s intervention as the necessary bridge between various species of critical constructivism and wider visions of the kind of change that are urgently needed to move human society onto a more sustainable footing. The book describes the development of Feenberg’s thought out of the tradition of Marx and Marcuse, and presents critical analyses of his main ideas: the theory of formal bias, technology’s ambivalence, progressive rationalisation, and the theory of primary and secondary instrumentalisation. Technical politics identifies a limitation of Feenberg’s work associated with his attachment to critique, as the opposite pole to a negative kind of rationality (instrumentalism). It concludes by offering a utopian corrective to the theory that can provide a fuller account of the process of willed technological transformation and of the author’s own idea of a technologically authorised socialism.
. Technology does not only exist as described but must be understood as involving objects that also act at the scene of design and elsewhere. A properly materialist philosophyoftechnology should be focused on opening up space in which objects may be heard. Retrieving the category of substantive bias, which Feenberg clarifies but then rejects, turns out to be a way to identify missing potential as well as identifying real evil in technologies of the past.
Secondly, the linkage from technical politics to civilisation change is fragile and requires some further support
earlier generations of critical theorists, who associated it with instrumental reason and the disenchantment of the world. Strangely enough, Feenberg also retains some of these negative ideas but incorporates them into an understanding of technology that grasps it in terms of its fundamental ambivalence. He presents a definition of technology that is both conceptually nuanced and at the same time sensitive to historical variation in a way that distinguishes his work and sets it above even the most sophisticated positions in contemporary philosophyoftechnology. 1
-human essence, stands.
Here it is useful to supplement Feenberg’s argument with ideas from post-phenomenological philosophiesoftechnology, which emphasise the role of technical artefacts as agents or quasi-subjects rather than more or less inert objects. Feenberg’s attempts to comprehend this are impeded by his framing of technology in terms of its association with a distinctive kind of societal rationality. Detached from a rationalisation-based historical perspective, technical politics becomes more messy and requires more diverse tactics than a battle between two
the long-term historical concerns of such essentialist philosophiesoftechnology. Feenberg has stated that the normative or critical imperatives of his theory are in fact grounded here, writing that ‘aesthetics provides the normative basis for the reconstruction of technological rationality’ (Feenberg 2005 : xv).
Section 1 places Feenberg’s ideas about aesthetics in the context of his technical politics, positioning them within his critical version of constructivism as part of the codification of technology – a process that includes technology’s ‘neutral
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position, however, which arises out of the argument made in the last chapter about the changed aesthetics of technology. The character of the technical inflection, or the way in which the technical object intrudes (obtrudes) on sense- or meaning-making activities seems to have shifted even in the years since Feenberg first made this accommodation with his substantivist precursors in the philosophyoftechnology. In particular, the notion that when encountering a technical object one is guided or steered by a reified function, and that this defines the interaction as