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6) General Assignment Sheet: Critique of Technologies

At the heart of Andrew Feenberg's "Critical Theory" of technology, that is, the theory outlined in the book Critical Theory of Technology, is that all technology is shaped by ideological interests and that we cannot divorce ourselves from (or opt out of) our relationships with technology. Consequently, in order to transform the implications of technology on ourselves and larger social structure, we must work from within the technology. Feenberg suggests that if we examine and analyze the ideology that shapes certain technologies-an ideological analysis that takes into consideration the interests served and implications beyond the original intent of the technology-we will find points at which that technology can be subverted or perhaps reshaped according to other ideological frameworks. This analysis and subversion requires an awareness of our own ideological frameworks as well as the interests we seek to serve in order to disrupt and mitigate the dominant mode of technology.

Your assignment works from this theory of technology. This assignment asks you to consider the ways ideology informs and shapes technology and to envision alternative understandings of technology.

Assignment Description:

For this assignment, you will identify a "technology" to analyze, examining the ideological apparatus behind the technology and the interests served by it. You will then "invent" a related technology that serves alternative interests. The assignment will require you to write an essay in which you write up your analysis of the existing technology, articulate the alternative values and interests that you are committed to (which may not be all that different from those that shaped the original technology, but will be in some ways at least problematized), describe the technology you "invent" in enough detail that the reader can understand it, and analyze the implications of your new technology. Will your technology subvert larger systems? How will it be different from other technologies in terms of the ideological work and implications of it? How will your technology serve the interests you have identified as needing to be served?

For this assignment, please think broadly about, technologies. You might consider architecture a technology, office technologies, information technologies, tools in general. The readings for this assignment provide both a theoretical angle on the ideological implications of technology and examples of specific technologies (the "Panopticon," for example, can be understood as the invention of a technology to serve specific interests). We will discuss the readings in class and in peer groups. Additionally, we will discuss how you might go about analyzing your own ideological framework and the "interests" you'd like to see served in the big picture. We will workshop your proposed technology analysis as well as your "invention" in groups, and you are encouraged to discuss ideas with me at any time.

Readings for this assignment:

Feenberg, Andrew. "Chapter 4: The Bias of Technology." Critical Theory of Technology. New York: Oxford, 1991.

Selections from: Bender, Gretchen, and Timothy Druckrey. Eds. Culture on the Brink. Ideologies of Technology. Dia Center for the Arts, Discussions in Contemporary Culture, Number 9. Seattle: Bay Press, 1994.

Hirschkop, Ken. "Democracy and the New Technologies." Capitalism and the Information Age. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998.

Bentham J. "Panopticon; or, the Inspection House", London, 1791.