Pacey (1983). Chapter 1 – Technology: Practice and Culture. (The Culture of Technology.)

Pacey, A. (1983). Chapter 1 – Technology: Practice and Culture. In The Culture of Technology (pp. 1–12). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

[“Questions of neutrality” …]

“Thus in the world at large, it is argued that technology is ‘essentially amoral, a thing apart from values, an instrument which can be used for good or ill’.2” (p 2)

“So is technology culturally neutral? If we look at the construction of a basic machine and its working principles, the answer seems to be yes. But if we look at the web of human activities surrounding the machine, which include its practical uses, its role as a status symbol, the supply of fuel and spare parts, the organized tourist trails, and the skills of its owners, the answer is clearly no. … If it is to be of any use, the snowmobile must fit into a pattern of activity which belongs to a particular lifestyle and set of values.” (p 3)

“… ‘technology’ has become a catchword with a confusion of different meanings.” (p 3)

“… if the concept of practice were to be used in all branches of technology as it has traditionally been used in medicine. We might then be better able to see which aspects of technology are tied up with cultural values, and which aspects are, in some respects, value-free. We would be better able to appreciate technology as a human activity and as part of life.” (p 4)

[“Problems of definition” …]

“However, by remembering the way in which medical practice has a technical and ethical as well as an organizational element, we can obtain a more orderly view of what technology-practice entails. To many politically minded people, the _organizational aspect_ may seem most crucial. It represents many facets of administration, and public policy; it relates to the activities of designers, engineers, technicians, and production workers, and also concerns the users and consumers of whatever is produced. Many other people, however, identify technology with its _technical aspect_, because that has to do with machines, techniques, knowledge and the essential activity of making things work.” (p 5)

“Beyond that, though, there are values which influence the creativity of designers and inventors. These, together with the various beliefs and habits of thinking which are characteristic of technical and scientific activity, can be indicated by talking about an ideological or _cultural aspect_ of technology-practice.” (p 5)

“J. K. Galbraith [page break] defines technology as ‘the systematic application of scientific or other organized knowledge to practical tasks’.4” (p 5-6)

“… technology-practice is thus _the application of scientific and other knowledge to practical tasks by ordered systems that involve people and organizations, living things and machines_.” (p 6)

“The scientist’s choice of research subject is inevitably influenced by technological requirements, both through material pressures and also via a climate of opinion about what subjects are worth pursuing.” (p 7)

[“Exposing background values” …]

“But all these issues have a social component. To hope for a technical fix for any of them that does not also involve social and cultural measures is to pursue an illusion.” (p 10)

“C. S. Lewis once remarked that ‘Man’s power over Nature often turns out to be a power exerted by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument’, and a commentator notes that this, ‘and not the environmental dilemma as it is usually conceived’, is the central issue for technology.8” (p 12)

“Yet those who operate these levers of power are able to do so partly because they can exploit deeper values relating to the so-called technological imperative, and to the basic creativity that makes innovation possible. This, I argue, is central part of the culture of technology …” (p 12)

Selected Notes

  • 2. R. A. Buchanan, Technology and Social Progress, Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1965, p. 163.
  • 4. J. K. Galbraith, The New Industrial State, 2nd British edition, London: Andre Deutsch, 1972, chapter 2.
  • 8. Quoted by Peter Hartley, ‘Educating engineers’, The Ecologist, IO (10), December 1980, p. 353.
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