Langdon Winner


Langdon Winner

Langdon Winner is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York since 1990.

In 1973, Winner graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He was assistant professor in Leiden, at MIT, at the University of California, Los Angeles and at the University of California, Santa Cruz. From 1985 onwards he worked at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; he was a visiting professor at Harvey Mudd College.

Winner lives in New York. He is married to Gail P. Stuart and has three children. His interests include philosophy of technology, American popular culture, and theories of sustainability.

Winner is known for his articles and books on science, technology, and society. He also spent several years as a reporter and contributing editor for "Rolling Stone" magazine. ["Brief Biography". http://www.langdonwinner.org/main.html]

Technology and politics

In 1980 Winner proposed that technologies embody social relations i.e. power ["Do Artifacts Have Politics?" in "Daedalus", Vol. 109, No. 1, Winter 1980. Reprinted in "The Social Shaping of Technology", edited by Donald A. MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman (London: Open University Press, 1985; second edition 1999)] . To the question he poses "Do Artifacts Have Politics?", Winner identifies two ways in which artifacts can have politics. The first, involving technical arrangements and social order, concerns how the invention, design, or arrangement of artifacts or the larger system becomes a mechanism for settling the affairs of a community. This way “transcends the simple categories of ‘intended’ and ‘unintended’ altogether, representing “instances in which the very process of technical development is so thoroughly biased in a particular direction that it regularly produces results heralded as wonderful breakthroughs by some social interests and crushing setbacks by others” (Winner, p. 25-6, 1999). It implies that the process of technological development is critical in determining the politics of an artifact; hence the importance of incorporating all stakeholders in it. (Determining who the stakeholders are and how to incorporate them are other questions entirely.)

The second way in which artifacts can have politics refers to artifacts that correlate with particular kinds of political relationships, which Winner refers to as inherently political artifacts (Winner, p. 22, 1999). He distinguishes between two types of inherently political artifacts: those that require a particular sociological system and those that are strongly compatible with a particular sociological system (Winner, p. 29, 1999). A further distinction is made between conditions internal to the workings of a given technical system and those that are external to it (Winner, p. 33, 1999). This second way in which artifacts can have politics can be visualized as a [http://flickr.com/photos/10282031@N02/2070050419/ 2-by-2 matrix] , consisting of four ‘types’ of artifacts: those requiring a particular internal sociological system, those compatible with a particular internal sociological system, those requiring a particular external sociological system, and those compatible with a particular external sociological system.

As are all typologies, this matrix is a simplification-by-boundary-work – in this case, the two boundaries are drawn between requiring and compatible, and between internal and external. It is this boundary-work that makes the typology useful for avoiding extreme technological determinism, social constructivism, and noetic flatness in conceptualizing an artifact’s political qualities, and for thinking about how these qualities change through time.

Applied to Wikipedia itself, the Winner’s first way in which artifacts can have politics asks about the process of an Wikipedia’s development and whether it was/is somehow biased. The second way asks whether Wikipedia requires or is compatible with particular internal or external sociological systems.

Winner's thesis has been criticized by other scholars, including Bernward Joerges. [An important rebuttal to Winner’s argument is Bernward Joerges’ “Do Politics have Artifacts?” online at http://www.wz-berlin.de/alt/met/pdf/do_politics.pdf [http://www.wz-berlin.de/alt/met/pdf/do_politics.pdf] ]

elected articles

* "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" in "Daedalus", Vol. 109, No. 1, Winter 1980. Reprinted in "The Social Shaping of Technology", edited by Donald A. MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman (London: Open University Press, 1985; second edition 1999).

* "Social Constructivism: Opening the Black Box and Finding It Empty," "Science as Culture", Vol. 3, part 3, no. 16, pp. 427-452.

* "How Technology Reweaves the Fabric of Society," "The Chronicle of Higher Education", 39, Issue 48, August 4, 1993, pp. B1-B3.

elected books

* "Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought", M.I.T. Press, 1977. (ISBN 978-0262730495)

* "The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology", University of Chicago Press, 1986. (ISBN 978-0226902111)

* "Technology and Democracy", (editor), Dordrecht and Boston: Reidel/Kluwer, 1992.

* "Technology and Democracy: Technology in the Public Sphere", co-edited with Andrew Feenberg and Torben Hviid Nielsen, Oslo: Center for Technology and Culture, 1997.

References

External links

* [http://www.rpi.edu/~winner/ Langdon Winner's homepage]
* [http://www.sniggle.net/ludd.php Several articles by Langdon Winner at the Online Luddism Index]


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