Toward a Stark Utopia
Our thesis is that the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a
stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of
time without annihilating the human and natural substance of
society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed
his surroundings into a wilderness. Inevitably, society took
measures to protect itself, but whatever measures it took impaired
the self-regulation of the market, disorganized industrial life, and
thus endangered society in yet another way. It was this dilemma
which forced the
The final chapter looks more closely at Feenberg’s ‘instrumentalisation theory’, in which he defines technology in terms of two moments: a primary instrumentalisation that forces objects out of their natural settings to foreground their useful properties, and a secondary one that uses symbolisation processes to facilitate their cultural incorporation, making it possible for them to be used. The interaction of these two dimensions varies between historical civilisations, so that capitalist industrialism, for example, narrows secondary instrumentalisation around the singular value of efficiency, while other cultures decorate their tools and associate them with social functions that may be associated with individual identities and more or less esteemed. Feenberg presents this distinction as a framework for envisaging how technology might be transformed in the future; to set out what we might think of as the ‘historical essence’ of technology. Drawing on the argument of previous chapters, the chapter concludes by suggesting that, while he takes a significant step towards accommodating utopian projection within Marxian theory of technology, Feenberg could be more ambitious in thinking through some of the ramifications of the alternative ‘concretisations’ implied by this theory. The idea of technologically authorised socialism is advanced as a way to start addressing this.
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.
and monopolistic distortions. And
as liberal hopes for a pacific and technocratic utopia have taken leave of empirical reality,
the assumption of progress has been sustained primarily through myth-making and cognitive
gymnastics. Fake news is not the antithesis of liberal truth but its progeny.
Nonetheless, the notion of liberal order is useful to the extent that it signals the role of
liberal ideas and politics in the consolidation of Western hegemony and, more specifically, the
expansion of American power. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four
As such, the system should be thought of as a ‘universe in expansion’, in which
there never will be ‘perpetual peace’, nor ‘hegemonic utopia’. It is
a universe that requires war and crisis to order and ‘stabilise’ – always
in a transitory way – and sustain its necessarily hierarchical structures.
( Fiori, 2008 : 29–30)
Those analysts who now announce the end of liberal order tend to predict a great confrontation
between the Chinese hierarchical system, based on tributary relations, and the Westphalian
system, based on national
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Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis
Narrative contexts for
Bacon’s New Atlantis
When Bacon wrote the New Atlantis, he clearly had More’s Utopia
in mind as a model, offering a small homage to it in a comment
made by the ‘good Jew’: ‘I have read in a book of one of your
men, of a Feigned Commonwealth, where the married couple are
permitted, before they contract, to see one another naked’.1 With
great acuity, Susan Bruce has pointed out the significance of the
family, and of desire, as a link between the two utopias.2 Bruce
argues that in Bacon
The hygienic utopia in Jules Verne, Camille Flammarion, and William
Schulman argues that docteur Sarrasin in Bégum is ‘propelled by fear of microbial contamination’ in his preoccupation with health and hygiene,
while historian Georges Vigarello refers to Verne's text as ‘the first Utopia dominated by the war against the microbe’.
However, there are no references to microbes in Bégum , and neither Schulman nor Vigarello go any further in examining the medical context of the novel or in explaining what leads them to make these
Budd L. Hall, Edward T. Jackson, Rajesh Tandon, Jean-Marc Fontan, and Nirmala Lall
larger effort to understand and use knowledge and its construction and co-construction in ways that
are authentically linked to the struggles of everyday people for a better world.
The global neo-liberal economic agenda that has produced a kind of market
utopia has been supported by a canon of western, largely male, elite knowledge
systems and practices. As the failure of the global market to close the gaps between
the rich and poor or provide a platform for more democratic citizen engagement
becomes clearer every day, we are thinking of ways to decolonize knowledge