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 technosystem cover  


Technosystem: The Social Life of Reason

Harvard University Press, Forthcoming Fall 2017

We live in a world of technical systems, designed in accordance with technical disciplines and operated by a personnel trained in those disciplines. This is a unique form of social organization without historical precedent. It overshadows traditional democratic institutions and largely determines our way of life. Technosystem: The Social Life of Reason reconstructs the idea of democracy for this brave new world.

 

Like fish who are so used to the water they do not know that they are wet, we take for granted a technical environment that determines most of our choices and actions. True, we maneuver freely within this environment, but it forms an almost invisible barrier to democratic social change. Corporations and government agencies reproduce their overwhelming power with every technical advance. The public occasionally intervenes through protests and hacking in the interests of goals not supported by the technocracy. Technosystem regards these democratic interventions as essential expressions of public life for which there is no adequate theory.

 

The author draws on the tradition of radical social criticism represented by Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School as well as contemporary Science and Technology Studies (STS). The social critics recognized the role of instrumental rationality in modern societies, but they did not analyze any actual technologies in detail, nor did they develop a convincing theory of democratic resistance to the new forms of domination by rational systems. STS has developed methods of analysis for a fine-grained study of technology. Technosystem brings these methods to bear on the resistances emerging in the world described by the radical social critics of the Frankfurt School.