Instrumentalization Theory

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Source: booknote on Technology, Modernity, and Democracy.

From the reading notes of Michel Bauwens on the writings of technology theorist Andrew Feenberg:

Primary instrumentalization has four 're-ifying moments':

1. Decontextualization: f.e. sharpness is abstracted from rock edges and made technically useful in a knife: loss of meaning occurs.

2. Reductionism: things are simplified to their primary qualities, while secondary are eliminated, f.e. wood-in-a-wheel has lost its quality of providing shade. All of reality is hence simplified in technical society.

3. Autonomization: The subject isolates itself from the effects of the action of the object. F.e. the hunter using his bow, does not feel the pain of teh dying rabbit, i.e. we are more and more isolated.

4. Positioning: Alll technical action presumes the acceptance of natural laws, but requires strategic positioning in order to take advantage of it.

Secondary Instrumentalization also has four aspects:

1. Systematization: the combining of technical objects in an embedded system. Premodern tech was better embedded in nature and less to each other; modern technology is the opposite.

2. Mediation: Objects are aesthetically and ethically formed for insertion in a social web of meaning, a process thta was much stronger in premodern societies.

3. Vocation: i.e. the acquisition of craft, or the adaptation of the subject to the object

4. Initiative: users are not just passive recipients of technical objects.

"Secondary instrumentalization support the re-integration of object into subject, object with context, primary with secondary qualities, and leadership with group through a reflexive meta-technical practice."


Source: booknote on Technology, Modernity, and Democracy.

From the reading notes of Michel Bauwens on the writings of technology theorist Andrew Feenberg:

"Instrumentalization Theory holds that technology must be analyzed from two levels:

  - 1)  at the level of our original functional relation to reality,  i.e. attention to the de-worldling of objects, torn from their original context, subject to control and manipulation
  - 2) at the level of design and implementation

The primary level simplifies objects for incorporation in a device, while the secondary level integrates the simplified objects to a natural and social environment.

Analysis of the first level is inspired by categories introduced by Heidegger and other substantivists critics - but without its anti-modernism, while analyses at the second level is inspired by the empirical stud of technology in a constructivist vein.

Constructivism presupposes that there are different solutions to technological problems, which reflects the different interests of the various actors involved, but usually favors isolated experts working for the corporate and political elites. It denies efficiency is the primary method of meta-ranking. "Technology is 'undetermined' by the criterion of efficiency". Technical codes already incorporate the dominant values and interests, and 'hide' them. Marx had already discovered the impersonal domination inherent in capitalism which differs from the personal domination of earlier social formations.

He did not foresee the extension of the technical mgt of human resources to the entire social field: "The whole life environment of society comes under the rule of technique.". Feenberg calls this the operational autonomy of management, which does not integrate subordinated actors in decision-making. It reproduces itself through technology. But this technology is only one possible path of development, truncated as it is by the demands of power.

A different power structure would bring differential technological paths into existence. There is no such thing as technology as such. Therefore, Feenberg calls for a democratic movement in the technical sphere to create alliances that would take into account the destructive effects of the technology on human beings and the environment.

He relies on De Certeau for this account of democratic resistances, because he incorporates the viewpoints of those subordinated to technical management, something Heidegger fails to do. An example is pollution control for automobiles, something implemented only after a political subject arose who demanded it to be mandatory. The same failure can be seen in the anti-modernist critics of the de-worldization seen in computerization and internetization, for example as online education. They see only a 'terminal subject', i.e. user, being controlled.

They do not see what the subjects are doing in the technological lifeworld, and the meanings, processes and relations they are constructing:

- "As computer networks developed, communication functions were often introduced by users." The collective itself re-constituted itself around the contested formation of the computer." (Latour) "