There can be no emancipatory politics without attention to technology

Excerpted from a very interesting interview by R.C. Smith of techno-philosopher Andrew Feenberg, who has been very influential on the formulation of p2p theory as well.

Andrew Feenberg:

“There is a long tradition of political theory in which technology is simply ignored. Politics is reduced to groups of people expressing their opinions. Philosophers don’t concern themselves very much with how the groups came to be and how the expression of opinion is made known to others. But these are not trivial questions.

In societies like ours many types of groups form around technologies, workers around machines and factories, medical personnel and patients around medical technologies and hospitals, students and teachers around educational technologies and schools, and so on. Even such categories as cities and neighborhoods make no sense out of the context of the communication and transportation technologies that bring their members into contact. We no longer live in a world of unmediated human relations, if we ever did.

As for the expression of opinion, it astonishes me that philosophers go on talking about politics without examining the role of the mass media. How can anyone take seriously discussions of democracy that ignore the single biggest elephant in the room, namely Donald Trump? Surely philosophers too get robo-calls and watch the news. The role of the media is now absolutely fundamental.

Technology is at the center of group and opinion formation. Philosophical arguments about politics need to be rethought with this in mind. The obstacle is the notion that technology, like science, is an expression of a non-social, purely rational relation to the objective world. This neutralizes technology and masks its political significance. A philosophy that addresses the real world must begin by criticizing this assumption. Technology is contingent on social forces as much as on scientific knowledge of nature. Society is a technological phenomenon as well as a social one, or rather, there are only social phenomena because technology is there to mediate human relations.”

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