Theory Of Technology by David Clarke (Transaction Publishers) The history of technology is often troubled by good ideas that do not for one reason or another, take off right away—sometimes for millennia. Sometimes technology comes to a standstill, and sometimes, it even reverses itself. Thus unlike science, which seems to proceed at a reasonable and calm rate, the progress of technology is difficult to theorize about. While in science many developments are predictable to a certain extent and this predictability may. at times, direct or stymie science's progress—as with stem-cell research and cloning—technological advances. such as the Internet. are often sudden and unpredictable. and therefore frightening. In Theory of Technology, David Clarke brings together ten authors who try to understand technology from a variety of viewpoints.
Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs, and Steel (Norton, 1997), often draws attention to troubling hiccups in the history of technology. His favorite is the Phaistos Disk of 1700 B.C., a still-undeciphered document with characters stamped (not scratched) into soft clay. It is clearly "printed" yet it took another 2,500 years for printing to "take off" despite its obvious benefits. A more popular example is Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of a helicopter that lay fallow until Igor Sikorsky designed a successful model in the twentieth century. But sometimes technology gets stuck or even reverses itself. The Chinese just up and quit the merchant marine business one day. After the fall of the Roman Empire "we" forgot how to make glass and concrete for a while. And we have been stuck with the QWERTY keyboard, despite its disadvantages, for fifty years more than necessary.
In contrast, science seems to proceed reasonably and calmly, progressing at the same rate whether there is government support or not (as Terence Kealey has shown). Popular imagination has it that the change from Classical Mechanics to the Theory of Relativity was revolutionary in the earlier part of the last century. But the hullabaloo was really concentrated in circles of artists, architects, and literary types. Classical Mechanics still explained 99 percent of phenomena and worked perfectly well for most applications of physics. Of course, relativity changed the field and opened new areas of research, but it didn't set off a causal chain leading to Political Correctness among physicists. That came from the science-challenged side of the campus.
In short, the orderliness of science doesn't make it better or classier—but it does make it easier to theorize about. But there is a more menacing side to technology, too. In science one can see things coming to a certain extent and, within limits, invoke policies, for better or worse, that direct or stymie science's progress—especially if science has adapted to government funding. Thus has stem-cell research and cloning been proscribed in certain ways. But the Internet came upon us like a summer storm. It even took Microsoft by surprise. DDT unexpectedly made birds' eggshells thinner. Technology is currently unpredictable and therefore scary. A better fundamental understanding, if possible, might make it less scary.
The first chapter comes from Rias van Wyk and is a good whack at parsing "technology," the thing, from several different angles. Rias' continued stimulating discussion of the Innovation Management Network Listerv, moderated by Christopher Bart of the Technology & Innovation Management SIG of the Academy of Management, has been instrumental in bringing this volume to life.
Next comes Karol Pelc's effort at mapping the discipline—but now we are moving away from technology considered purely on its own towards management of technology. This hybrid, usually of business and engineering, has been a fast-growing academic field for fifteen years now. Next Jon Beard pursues a similar mapping endeavor but limits himself to looking after patterns of the literature of management of technology. Next Tom Clarke takes us on a tour, based on long-term empirical experience, of how the people of technology present unique challenges to not just management but whole organizations (hint: they don't want to be managed).
Then Richard Howey, a student of Rias van Wyk's, tries to place enterprise software—of which he is a reflective practitioner—into a meaningful pattern of technology management.
Turning the lens around are authors Fred Foldvary and Daniel Klein. They take a rather more teleological view, not really caring what technology is but rather what it does—and, better yet, what it makes possible. Is this not another route to definition? And what they claim it is capable of is eliminating mountains of meddlesome, noisome, expensive mediators, in the forms of regulations, regulators, and dirigisme in general.
Then queen-of-the-arts parade-rainer John Cogan maintains that our Aristotelian search for the essence of technology is doomed. And all because of some clever tennis shoe marketing.
Peter Bond looks at technology from a biological angle. There's been a school trying to do this to the whole universe since the writings of Köhler, Bertalanffy, Lewin, and Hempel. New to this thread are concepts such as "autopoiesis," "radical constructivism," and "actor-network theory."
Finally, late arrival Kelvin Willoughby drags us through the semantics morass, and a funky fen it is indeed. The core thesis is that, in the sphere of technology, good semantics can lead to good practice and, conversely, poor semantics can lead to poor practice. This claim supported by some analysis of the semantics of an international technology-related social movement that rose to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s. Before addressing my thesis and its supporting evidence directly, however, it will be helpful to reflect briefly about the prominence of technology and technological semantics in contemporary industrialized societies.
Appropriating Technology: Vernacular Science and Social Power edited by Ron Eglash (University of Minnesota Press) (Hardcover) From the vernacular engineering of Latino car design to environmental analysis among rural women to the production of indigenous herbal cures—groups outside the centers of scientific power persistently defy the notion that they are merely passive recipients of technological products and scientific knowledge. This is the first study of how such "outsiders" reinvent consumer products—often in ways that embody critique, resistance, or outright revolt.
Most social studies of science and technology have focused either on production of science and technology by established professionals or on the impact of science and technology on the general public. But what about the lay public as producers of technology and science? From the vernacular engineering of Latino car designers to environmental analysis among rural women, groups outside the centers of scientific power persistently defy the notion that they are merely passive recipients of technological products and scientific knowledge. Rather, there are many instances in which they reinvent these products and rethink these knowledge systems, often in ways that embody critique, resistance, or outright revolt. This book presents the first collection of case studies of such instances of appropriated science and technology. For shorthand we refer to these as "appropriated technologies," but keep in mind that they are often as much about scientific knowledge and ideas as they are about gadgets and technical methods—that is, they encompass the entire realm of "technoscience.."'
What Are Appropriated Technologies?
Sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and other researchers have recently con-verged in a new field termed science and technology studies (STS). Many of the studies undertaken in this field have been framed in terms of "social impact," examining how science and technology change our personal lives or cultural attitudes or environment. Another approach to STS, dating back to the work of Robert Merton in the 1930s, studies science itself as a social phenomenon. Recently this has produced some heated debates about just how much social processes actually influence scientific and technological research. Other STS research clusters have been built around policy studies, ethics and values in science, the anthropology of medicine, and so on.
Even with such a simplified view, there are many instances that do not fit this picture. The best known are those of the ethnosciences, for example, ethnomathematics or ethnobotany. The members of an indigenous society may be at the margins of political and economic power, but their knowledge systems can produce information that winds up in a first world high-tech laboratory. For example, indigenous herbal cures developed through ethnopharmacology can lead to high profits in the biotechnology industry. That does not necessarily mean high profits for the indigenous herbalists; in fact, their knowledge is often appropriated without compensation.
Appropriation, however, can be a two-way street, and it is the traffic in the opposite direction that concerns us. The case studies presented in this book show how people outside the centers of social power—from white middle-class homemakers to rural Native Americans—have been able to use materials and knowledge from professional science for their own kinds of technological production. In these instances of appropriated technologies, we begin with production at the usual professional locations, but it is followed by a second phase in which this technoscience is reinterpreted, adapted, or reinvented by those outside these centers of power. Of course the trajectory need not stop there. Such innovations can reappear in professional contexts, be mixed with indigenous knowledge, and enter into further appropriations from either the top or the bottom of the scale.
Why Study Appropriated Technologies?
Many of the researchers in social studies of science have entered the field because of their concern over the real and potential dangers involved in science and technology. For this reason the field has gained a reputation for pessimistic views, and critics sometimes accuse them of being technophobes or Luddites. Appropriated technologies offer a rich resource for combining a critical analysis of social issues with an eye toward the positive application of science and its artifacts. Not all of these case studies are happy stories: neo-Nazi groups are also outside the centers of scientific production, and they too adapt and reinvent the products of such centers to gain power. The stories of technological appropriations are multifaceted; they are both painful and joyous, reassuring and shocking. They are complex enough to warrant study for their own sake. But their primary importance is in terms of their potential contribution to sociopolitical resistance and social reconfiguration.
Part 1 Body Tech edited by Jennifer L. Croissant
The five chapters in this section are representative of only a small subset of all possible topics concerning appropriated technologies, health, sexuality, and identity. From each we get some sense of the various meanings of the word appropriated and a sense of the centrality of knowledge and artifacts in constructing identities. Each is concerned with the body on a different scale, from that of publicly held theories of health, illness, and identity to that of privately enacted practices.
Part 2 Information Technologies edited by Ron Eglash
In the hope that information technology (IT) will serve as a force for beneficial social change has a longstanding tradition, dating back at least to the telegraph (Carey 1989), but a distinctive discussion on popular appropriation of IT emerged in the late 1980s. Chatfield (1991), for example, optimistically concludes that IT appropriations will "offset the control mechanisms of both governments and corporations." Halleck (1991) offers a more grounded analysis of U.S. community media, outlining many possibilities for IT appropriation in political activism. Fang (1997) provides several examples from national revolutions, such as the use of audiocassettes in the movement that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, and videocassettes in the Philippine revolt against Marcos. His detailed description of the use of IT in the Tiananmen Square protests include accounts of the use of the Pixilator, which allows video transmission over a phone line, an 8 millimeter camera hidden in a shoebox tied to a bicycle, and a portable satellite uplink left over from CNN's coverage of Gorbachev's visit to China. Tiananmen student protesters also creatively adapted the fax system: they collected every fax number they could find—about fifteen hundred—and sympathetic office and hotel workers at the receiving end of these messages passed them along for photocopying and public display. Jones (1994) gives a broad survey of the use of IT, which includes accounts of Tibetan monks smuggling video tapes of Chinese government repression, New York lawyers combining use of Polaroid cameras and fax machines for grassroots human-rights organizations in their "Witness Project," affluent protestors in Thailand using cellular phones to aid anti-regime demonstrations, and many other examples.'
Part 3 Environments edited by Giovanna Di Chiro
In a sobering assessment or the worsening social and ecological problems facing the earth and its human and nonhuman inhabitants at the "cusp of the millennium," Environmentalist and Native American activist Winona LaDuke observed:
Somewhere between the teachings of western science and those of the Native community there is some agreement on the state of the world. Ecosystems are collapsing, species are going extinct, the polar icecaps are melting, and nuclear bombings and accidents have contaminated the land. According to Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, 50,000 species are lost every year. . . . Tropical rainforests, freshwater lakes, and coral reefs are at immediate risk, and global warming and climate change will accelerate the rate of biological decline dramatically. . . . [E]ven scientists themselves seem to recognize the necessity of finding new strategies and understandings. In an unusual gathering in late 1998, for instance, NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] scientists met with Indigenous elders to discuss global warming and to hear the elders' suggestions on possible solutions... . According to Indigenous worldviews, there is no easy fix, no technological miracle. [T)here is[, however,) . a great optimism for the potential to make positive change. Change will come. As always, it is just a matter of who determines what that change will be.
LaDuke expresses what has become a commonplace perspective held by many grassroots environmental activists in the United States and internationally: solving the planet's vast environmental problems will necessitate a blending of different knowledge traditions, life-maintenance practices (or ways of life), and sustainable technologies. The wisdom, understandings, and, ultimately, the technological expertise that emerge from various traditions, whether "Western" or "indigenous;" shape particular relationships between humans and nature and bring about different environmental outcomes; in effect, they produce one kind of world or another. As LaDuke suggests, however, who decides which knowledges, ways of life, or technological innovations take precedence has the power to determine whose "worlds" and environmental aspirations have a chance of surviving. At the dawning of what Edward O. Wilson (1996) has called the "Century of the Environment," the importance of expanding the discourse on the meanings and scope of environmental problems and developing sustainable solutions from a multitude of sources, both lay and professional, has become increasingly obvious to many scholars and activists alike.
The chapters in this section focus on the strategic use and transformation (or appropriation) of science and technology by marginalized groups in order to protect their families and communities from the dangers of hazardous pollution and ecological degradation at the turning of the "Century of the Environment." For many community-based activists, differences in social and technoscientific power between members of their communities and those of the corporate or government institutions that are contaminating or neglecting their local environments often result in the delegitimation of their everyday and personal experiences of environmental decline. Determining what constitutes an authentic environmental problem that requires action is at the center of environmental and technological politics; the capacity to make authoritative pronouncements on the state of the environment has typically been the privilege of the scientifically credentialed. Beginning in Stockholm at the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, and reaffirmed twenty years later at the UN "Earth Summit" conference held in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders called for a system of global governance informed by a class of international experts in the so-called planetary sciences (cf. climatology, atmospheric chemistry and hydrology, oceanography, terrestrial ecology) to safeguard the global commons from future overuse and abuse. The new scheme to protect "our common future" from certain ecological catastrophe would be led by scientifically trained "global resource managers" equipped with knowledge of the new technologies of monitoring, measuring, and modeling global environmental change (Taylor and Buttel 1992). To what extent, however, would this international managerial body and its new global ecological sciences and technologies recognize and make intelligible the localized environmental predicaments of communities around the globe that have long suffered from the externalities of modern industrial society?'
Part 4” Invention edited by Rayvon Fouché
These chapters deal with cultural appropriations, but more specifically with cultural redefinitions, of technologies. Each chapter probes the different ways in which marginalized individuals redirect or reshape the natures of technologies that powerfully impact their everyday existences. These chapters also discuss the multiple negotiations that take place between the dominant and the marginalized and what is at stake for each.
Rayvon Fouché questions the myth of the African American inventor. Fouché argues that in post–Civil Rights America black inventors are deployed to show that African Americans have always possessed the skills necessary to be productive members of American society. Yet in the desire to debunk the stereotypes of black inferiority, the accomplishments of black inventors are often embellished; this results in the myth of the race-championing, race-overcoming, "American dreaming" African American inventor. Fouché uses Lewis Latimer, one of the most heralded black inventors, to destabilize the myth of the black inventor. He describes how Latimer used technological means to appropriate some of the advantages of whiteness. How-ever, Fouché's goal is not to destroy the importance of black inventive efforts. He wants to create "real" narratives about African American inventors' lives—ones that include their hard-fought successes as well as those potentially negative events that are seldom discussed during Black History Month.
Lisa Gitelman moves us from Lewis Latimer, who worked with Thomas Edison, to the phonograph for which Edison received several patents. Gitelman argues that the phonograph and specific phonographic recordings were technological sites at which ethnic groups were reified into what she calls cultural "morsels." But rather
than dismiss these instances as contrived acts of consumption, Gitelman asks us to think about them as intercultural experiences in which a variety of reflections and refractions of experience were possible. Gitelman's account shows that since its origins the phonograph—originally marketed as a device for business dictation, but appropriated for musical recordings by consumers—has always simultaneously enjoyed status as a normalizing force and a transgressive potential.
Richard Benjamin moves to the present day to examine how technologies are appropriated in the self-shaping of human identities. Benjamin probes the greatly underexamined connections between gay male culture and technological artifacts, practices, and knowledge. He uses the cyborg theoretical apparatus to explore how young gay men are "mobilized . . . as libidinal beings, purveyors of fantasy, and consumers of technology." Benjamin reads through the stereotyped connections between gay male youth culture and technological obsession to describe how technological products—cellular phone, beepers, and automated bank teller machine—are not just benign objects of a young gay man's material world, but "fetishes" that become internalized components of his existence. He argues that young gay men are not just at best passive consumers and at worst technological victims, but actively appropriate technological products to redefine their bodies, sexualities, identities, subjectivities. This chapter sheds new and important light on the marginalized experiences of young gay men.
Paul Rosen transitions us from Benjamin's localized study to the large sociotechnological sphere. He discusses the bicycle as less a technological product unto itself than part of a large constellation of sociotechnologies. Rosen provides three case studies that take us through the issues of control, innovation, and gender. He first discusses the control of the Shimano Corporation, currently the world's dominant bicycle components manufacturer, and how it has become the "obligatory point of passage" for the cycling industry. Rosen's next case study argues that the conservative policies of Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body of world cycling, have greatly limited creative innovation within the dominant cycling industry. Finally he asserts that the dominant cycling industry has ignored the needs and de-sires of female cyclists. Consistently running through Rosen's argument is the theme of countercultural resistance. It is this countercultural appropriation of the bicycle that Rosen wants us to take seriously. It is at these peripheral sites, most powerfully shown in the creation of bicycle frames and components for females, that we find the most potent liberatory inroads into the organizational, institutional, and distribution systems that maintain the dominant cycling industry.
Science and Technology Ethics edited by Raymond E. Spier (Professional
Ethics: Routledge) Our world has been radically transformed
during the past 200 years with the industrial revolution and development of mass
production techniques and recently the plethora of technological advancements in
medicine, engineering, computation, communication and entertainment products.
These have made major changes in the ways that we live our worlds and in our
expectations of the future.
Technology and Ethics: A European Quest for Responsible Engineering edited by P. Goujon and B. Heriard Dureuil (Peeters) Throughout its successes technical progress has accumulated so much power and assumed such proportions that many regard it as the modern‑day equivalent of ancient tragedy. For Heidegger, for instance, 'Technik' is the fate that relentlessly drags along man in a process of total rationalisation in which modernity is accomplished and annihilated. The Greeks feared that human power would provoke the anger of the gods if it exceeded a certain limit: Prometheus was punished for stealing their fire; the transgression of the boundary unleashes divine vengeance. As such, modernity seemed to have shattered all boundaries: nothing stands opposed to the unlimited growth of human competence. Consequently, there is a growing anxiety in our conscience with regard to the means technical progress places at our disposal. For reasons that appear to be more mythical than real, this anxiety has crystallized out on to, among others, nuclear energy. This has conferred an increased responsibility on the actors in the techno‑scientific universe with individuals having to assume responsibility for decisions that entail grave human, economic and social consequences. These decisions are all the more difficult to take since the same actors find themselves at the point where various spheres overlap (existential and institutional, economical and political, administrative or judicial), each frequently imposing its own constraints and pressures. The anxiety comes from the particularity of these actors who are at one and the same time endowed with conscience and confronted with the monumental challenges of modern 'Technik'. The construction of the handbook underlines their difficulties and the proposed examples illustrate a painful complexity.
This painful complexity strains the European culture itself. The latter carries a radical suspicion that, in the history of thought and in the history of humanity, weighs upon the modern programme and upon the belief that reason is the positive agent in both the management of the city and in the control of nature. The beginning of the 20th century finally presents us with the sad privilege of a double worldwide confrontation of societies with a sophisticated modernity and with the creation of totalitarianisms, whose relentless character is directly linked to the rational mechanisms of technical management.
From these difficult experiences proceeded a crisis of modernity where reign derision or even Nihilism, a quoting and pastiche of the preceding styles, a multiplicity of 'dogmas' which establishes and separates, flight to and refuge in the past as an unlimited reservoir of pseudo‑references. This movement that is sometimes referred to as 'postmodernity', brings into doubt the concepts of rationality and questions the beneficial nature of technical progress. Eventually, the Western claim to universality which relativises every experience and all cultures, may wipe out the awareness of the very future which the unlimited development of technical skills have made possible and which have given this very development its 'raison‑d'etre'.
In a world that questions everything, 'Technik' becomes – or tends to become ‑ the ultimate reference point for a pragmatic truth, in spite of the suspicions it comes under and the criticism to which it is subjected. 'Technik', not 'Science', because the latter remains abstract, whereas the former imposes itself concretely and orientates the sciences towards remunerative and spectacular applications. The totality of the production apparatus pulls the sciences towards efficiency; the sciences end up coinciding with technology, in the global sense this word has acquired under Anglo‑Saxon influence. This has resulted in the decline of the question of truth in the name of an immediate and superficial efficiency.
The teaching of technology does not even transmit the value of objectivity entailed by the teaching of sciences. It only carries out an act of faith in the advent of new technologies: this indicates a double blindness if technological innovation is tied up with the invisible process that animates market economy, and if, in addition, technoscientific knowledge cultivates the oblivion of ultimate meaning and sense. Technology is an assembly of means and intentions, which surpasses each of its constituents: it is a way of thinking, of acting, of transforming the world, and therefore technology cannot be dissociated from a vision of society. The question posed by this philosophical analysis ‑ which has a European background ‑ is to know whether technology will, by definition, due to its own difficult to regulate growth become a factor of dehumanisation, in the same way that, as an extension of nature, it has become a factor of denaturisation.
However, these questions cannot be asked simply at such a general level.
That is why this handbook tries to specify some of the mediations between the moral agent and the consequences of the technological system that they are operating in. Certainly, the use of technical methods has become systematic and it is important to face up to the consequences of these systems on the economy, on politics and on world ecology. Since technological systems are social systems, people maintain them. Since the systems compete with each other, they allow people to choose between them, even if the scale of any technological system generates consequences of considerable significance.
The constant evolution of technological systems could lead one to believe that a more or less natural and inevitable dynamic of progress regulates the phenomenon. Technical developments would be seen to occur more or less autonomously within the confines of its world. In other words, it could be assumed that technical progress advances under its own self‑generated momentum.
For the individuals who maintain or depend on technological systems, they create a fallacious impression of autonomy. This book tries to refute this vision of the world following three lines of arguments that reflect our convictions.
Out of Realism
This book has provided the opportunity to highlight the competitive environment in which the different technical developments are always implicated. If the first factor of tension appears to be economic, we must add that the technical debate cannot avoid the social and political dimensions. If we neglect to do this, the whole issue risks being relegated outside the decision‑making field altogether.
To put it another way, the technical actors can situate themselves in two ways with regard to their actions. They can choose to limit their observations to the purely technical field and decide not to take into account the interactions in other areas. However, this is not a realistic attitude to take, as the chapters written by specialists in the social sciences have attempted to show. Neglect of these other areas springs from an idealising of the technical process.
On the contrary, they can decide to pick out the main interactions which their actions will have with other fields. These can then be taken into account in the decision‑making process. In this second context, an ethical question arises; realism assumes a global perception of the world. So the choice of the technical means used to contribute to its development automatically raises the global question of the final goals and the coherence of the decisions.
A Liberty to Be Negotiated
The realism mentioned above demands, in fact, of the engineer, as of the other social actors, to be present in the world. They must be able to gauge the ties between the possible choices and the current or future reality. It is in the negotiation of this future that they will find room for manoeuvre, whose distinguishing feature is to be a space shared by several actors.
Even if technology were to become autonomous, it would have to find the means to become self‑regulatory. Further, it would have to find public spaces in which technicians could discuss the social problems they encounter and find the political means to make sure that power would be divided and counterbalanced. It would also have to find the means for economic regulation in order to put its goods and its services at everyone's disposal. Finally, it would have to find the means not to exhaust the planet's resources.
Realism evokes an ethics of responsibility; to the latter also ‑ and perhaps above all ‑ one has to add an ethics of conviction, as ethics must not let itself be resolved into economy or sociology, nor reduced to a self‑justification. The fundamental thesis, which runs through this
book, consists in maintaining that technological development is far too important to be confided solely to technicians. At the very least, they have to worry about humanity as a whole and to assume responsibility as human beings, which means that they have to choose between those possibilities that constitute the horizons of the world.
An Educational Conviction
Technologies cannot exist without technicians; technical workers often profess it openly, but hide their personal responsibility behind that of the institution where they work. Even engineers feel constrained by the internal development of technical means and their ignorance of economic and social forces. They do not realise their own power.
This book has been written with a very definite aim: to provide an education for the exercise of technological power. Engineers first of all have to become conscious of their power, of its strengths and of its limits. Then they have to become conscious of the fact that they have been confided this power in the name of a technological expertise. Finally they have to enlarge the notion of expertise to include the political, the economic and the cultural fields which are intimately intermingled.
This companion of European contributions would like to stir up in its readers a consciousness by assuring them that in spite of pressure and determinism there is, and there always will be, room for liberty. Throughout the descriptions, the examples and their philosophical analyses, the idea gets reinforced that to use this available liberty means taking a decision of conscience.
The three levels that give structure to this work ‑ micro, mezzo, macro ‑ tend to lead the engineers or the future engineers to shake off their neutralist conception of sciences and their pragmatic view of technologies. In the same movement these actors are invited to establish a possible correlation between accepted or dominant norms and their own human activity for which these norms should serve as a regulating device. Practice must dedicate itself to being understood as an existential way of life of a human being belonging to the world and open to the construction of meaning.
Technologies cannot but limit themselves to the game that is played with their rules ‑ if they develop freely. Beyond this, the game causes vertigo. Being fully conscious of this fact, the technological actors can maintain a relation of responsibility with their experience, they can pass from knowledge to conscience, from awakening to a life open to the world of meaning. To play with the tension between norm and experience, between responsibility, conviction and reality, is much more liberating than to rid oneself of norms that are guided by an all encompassing illusionary truth.
Toward New Social Contracts
Can one claim that a work of this kind suffices to get a clear conscience and to believe that the difficulties will be overcome before long? Of course not, but it can be of assistance in getting out of the confusion. Such a confusion was expressed in all innocence by the organisers of a prestigious conference organised in the spring of 1999 by the National Council of Engineers and Scientists of France (Conseil National des Ingenieurs et Scientifiques de France) and the Society of Civil Engineers of France (Societe des Ingenieurs Civils de France) on the occasion of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the latter. The themes of the activities reveal the contradiction in which engineers find themselves at the end of this millenium.
First theme: 'How to master the dynamism of progress in order to offer the best possible service to the consumer and the citizen?'
Second theme: 'The industrial imperative of France.'
The program does not offer a synthesis and the organisers are perfectly right: it would be a vain as well as a purely academic exercise. How to draw up a synthesis between the mastering of dynamism and the imperatives of the growth of that same dynamism? Between a service to be rendered and a competition to be won? Between attention for the other and a cultivated aggressiveness? Between prudence and recklessness?
Nevertheless, one has to observe that not so long ago the first term of the contradiction would not even have been expressed; the evolution of our wits is a sure thing even if the imperatives of growth still impose their laws. This companion participates in this growing consciousness. Today it introduces the reflections of engineers, social scientists and philosophers when humanity finds itself confronted with troubling situations like genetic manipulations, nuclear energy or unforeseen capers of the international stock exchange. Up to now engineers saw themselves working rather in the margin of these great interrogations, leaving it to the doctors, the researchers and the financiers to deal with the vertigo involved. Many were satisfied to function as serving‑hatches, at best being more preoccupied with their social responsibilities within the company than with the effects induced by their ever so reassuring technical competence.
Is it possible that a serving‑hatch begins to think? For some forty odd years this somewhat preposterous idea seems to emerge. Since technologies imply all its actors, a serving‑hatch that starts to think runs the risk of causing great amazement. Does one clearly calculate all the consequences?
If technical training incorporates these tendencies, changes will accelerate. Teaching technology at secondary school level is a big step forward. Note in passing that the increasing use of the term technology in accordance with Anglo‑Saxon usage is symptomatic of an attitude change. Technical development presupposed the use of external means; technology brings in the idea of a system within which the person finds themselves and which they seek to regulate. There remains the question of the meaning of these systems, which is what this book attempts to do.
Even if the study of ethical questions is not yet included on technology courses as such in Europe as it has been recently in the USA, the change of vocabulary and the change in teaching methods it implies could well be introduced progressively. All that remains is to ask about the meaning of these systems, which is what this handbook sets out to do.Doubtless the answers history will give to these questions will in no way be those one would expect. This work may be read by future generations with the same incredulous curiosity with which they may read moral treatises of the 17th century. However, this need not deter us. In those domains in which thought tries to understand the world to find its liberty, the important thing is the space of discussion opened by this book and the new social contracts that the latter seeks to establish.
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