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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 24, Issue 1/2, 2020
Critical Constructivism and Postphenomenology: Ethics, Politics, and the Empirical

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1. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Kirk Besmer, Ashley Shew New Editors' Introduction: Philosophy of Technology after Forty-five Years / Techné at 25
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2. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Lars Botin, Bas de Boer, Tom Børsen Technology In Between the Individual and the Political: Postphenomenology and Critical Constructivism
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3. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Don Ihde Almost a Critical Theorist . . .
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This article starts with an autobiographical reflection in which I first trace how close I came to doing my Ph.D. studies with Herbert Marcuse when he was at Brandeis University; then follows my early post-Ph.D. work which continued to use critical theorists in teaching, later following a growing disillusionment with the implicit elitism of many critical theory authors. Then I turn to deeper philosophical reasons for my divergence from critical theory by introducing the notion of “shelf-life,” and argue that much Marxist and neo-Marxist work is today outdated, or has reached limits of its shelf-life.
4. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Andrew Feenberg Critical Constructivism, Postphenomenology and the Politics of Technology
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Critical constructivism adds a dimension of collective action to postphenomenology. This paper explains the intervention of collective subjects into technological design. That intervention presupposes communication between lay and expert actors which is made possible by the dependence of technical disciplines on the lifeworld. Understanding the public processes of intervention requires a notion of multiple types of rationality and a social account of technological design.
5. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Lars Botin Building Scaffolds: How Critical Constructivism and Postphenomenology Could Gather in Common Enterprise
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Critical Constructivism and postphenomenology are two possible ways of describing, analysing and evaluating the role and meaning of technology in contemporary society and world. Whereas Critical Constructivism looks at the way technologies are dealt with on a macro level considering systems and programs, then postphenomenology digs into the individual and personal appropriation and understanding of technology in everyday life. This means that there is a gap for what concerns levels, but also in relation to what they want to accomplish. The critical stance of Andrew Feenberg in conceiving societal and political problems as ripe for radical technological change is met by postphenomenology’s pragmatic focus on how to build appropriate and meaningful structures for handling of emergent and imminent problems together with and through technology. This paper tries to bridge this gap by introducing the concept of scaffolding, which is inspired by Heidegger’s “Gestell,” but re-read in a new and different way than the usual pessimistic and deterministic interpretation where exploitation and “enframing” is at hand. Scaffolding is read as a common enterprise where we stretch and reach out towards each other in order to create platforms for interventions and activism. The paper is an attempt to direct this common enterprise in specific directions, and this directedness is indicative for our aims and goals. It is the claim that Critical Constructivism and postphenomenology should meet, and perform a certain kind of Techno-Activism when confronted with problems in technological society.
6. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Bas de Boer Discovering Subjectivity in the Technosystem: Developing a Critical Position Towards Contingent Forms of Rationality
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Two of the main approaches of what is often referred to as the ‘empirical philosophy of technology’ are postphenomenology and critical constructivism. Critical constructivists charge postphenomenologists for paying too little attention to the fact that our society is co-constituted not only by technologies, but also by forms of rationality exercised on a political level. Postphenomenologists, then, charge critical constructivism for insufficiently recognizing that the way technologies are appropriated in the lifeworld often evades forms of institutionalized rationality. The goal of this paper is to show how these different approaches should not be juxtaposed, but can better be seen as complementary in the development of a political philosophy of technology. This will be made clear through a discussion of the role of STS in the work of Peter-Paul Verbeek, and in the work of Andrew Feenberg. I suggest that developing an ‘empirically informed’ political philosophy of technology requires to both recognize how technologies constitute particular forms of subjectivity and to understand the rational processes through which particular technologies are designed. When combining both of these insights, it becomes possible to articulate a normative position with regard to technological developments.
7. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Robert Rosenberger “But, That’s Not Phenomenology!”: A Phenomenology of Discriminatory Technologies
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A discussion is emerging within the contemporary philosophy of technology over issues of discrimination through design. My suggestion is that a productive way to approach this topic is through a combination of insights from the postphenomenological and critical constructivist perspectives. In particular, I recommend that we build on the postphenomenological notion of “multistability” (i.e., the idea that technologies are always subject to different uses and meanings) and conceive of instances of discrimination through design as a kind of discriminatory “stability,” one possible instantiation of a device that could be usefully contrasted with others. Through the adoption of ideas from critical constructivism and postphenomenology, it is possible to draw out some of the features of discriminatory stabilities, including how systems of bias can go unnoticed, especially by those not targeted by them. These ideas could be of use in the identification of ways that unjust systematic biases become set within dominant culture, designed into technologies, sedimented within individual bodily-perceptual habits, and even constructed into prevailing senses of reason. As a practical contribution to this ongoing discussion, I identify a distinction that can be made between two broad categories of discrimination via technology: 1. that occurring along what could be called “an axis of difference,” and 2. “an axis of usage.” In the former, discriminatory efforts occur as different users are advantaged and disadvantaged by a device, even as they use it for similar purposes. In the latter, discriminatory effects occur as the particular usage of a technology preferred by a vulnerable group is shut down through design choices. Although the various emerging discussions on technology and discrimination each tend to gravitate toward analysis along one of these axes, it will of course be important to keep our eyes on the variety of ways that biases are faced by the vulnerable.
8. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Yoni Van Den Eede The Purpose of Theory: Why Critical Constructivism Should “Talk” and Postphenomenology Should “Do”
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This paper zooms in on a recent development in the discussion between postphenomenology and critical constructivism: the attempt at working out a political philosophy in the framework of postphenomenology, specifically Peter-Paul Verbeek’s. Verbeek contrasts mediation theory to critical theory, arguing that critical theorists only “talk”; they don’t “do.” While the latter reproach postphenomenology/mediation theory for its lack of politics, Verbeek actually poses that “real” politics cannot be done by critical theorists—indeed exactly because of their not doing, that is, doing in the sense of helping to design and develop good real-world technological solutions. But this brings up pertinent questions, about whether a theory should “do” something, what that means, and whether calls for “doing” do not carry their own presuppositions with them that, if not made explicit, will bias the theory and its “use” toward certain directions. These issues are explored by way of among others an excursion into Rortyan pragmatism. Eventually, I conclude, it is perfectly acceptable that critical constructivism should “talk” and postphenomenology “do”—as long as we keep the meanings of those terms sufficiently clear.
9. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Daryl Cressman Contingency and Potential: Reconsidering a Dialectical Philosophy of Technology
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Unsatisfied with an intellectual history that divides the philosophy of technology into classical and empirical approaches, the following paper suggests a renewed attention to dialectical philosophies of technology. Drawing on the work of Andrew Feenberg, I argue that dialectical philosophies of technology are not essentialist holdovers from the past, but are empirically grounded approaches that direct researchers to ask why we have the technologies we do. From this, dialectical philosophies of technology open up ways to think about technology that prioritize the tension between the sociotechnical world as it is and concrete potentials of what it could be. Contrasting this against postphenomenology, I argue that avoiding these moments of potential can lead to a conservative and paternalistic philosophy of technology that fixes sociotechnical agency to a professional class of designers, engineers, and policy makers. I conclude by suggesting that Feenberg's dialectical philosophy of technology presents a modest alternative to the design imperatives that now guide the trajectory of postphenomenology.
10. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Tina Sikka The “Embodied Multi-Material Layering” of In Vitro Meat
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In this article, I offer what I term a ‘embodied multi-material layering’ approach to study the phenomenon of laboratory or in vitro meat using insights from Don Ihde’s postphenomenological approach and Andrew Feenberg’s theory of critical constructivism. This approach offers a reflective, analytic, and normative model of technological analysis and critique that is indispensable to the study of the cutting edge technologies that combine bioinformatics with agrifood research and biomedical engineering.
11. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Nolen Gertz Democratic Potentialities and Toxic Actualities: Feenberg, Ihde, Arendt, and the Internet
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In this paper I argue that while Feenberg’s critical constructivism can help us to see the political potential of technologies, it cannot help us to understand the political actuality of technologies without the help of postphenomenology. In part 2, I examine Feenberg’s attempt to merge Frankfurt School critical theory and SCOT into “critical constructivism.” In part 3, I focus on Feenberg’s analyses of the internet in order to highlight a blind spot in critical constructivism when it comes to threats to democracy that come from out of the demos itself. In part 4, I show how critical constructivism would benefit from adopting the theory of technological mediation found in postphenomenology by presenting a postphenomenological investigation of trolling and other forms of destructive behavior unaccounted for by Feenberg’s investigation of the internet. In part 5, I conclude by turning to the work of Hannah Arendt in order to show why, just as critical constructivism could benefit from becoming more postphenomenological, postphenomenology could benefit from becoming more critical.
12. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Lisa Nelson The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
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There is little debate that there are important ethical questions that we must answer as we increase our reliance on social networking technologies such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube for our communications, interactions and connections. Social media is at the center of many of our greatest public policy challenges but the moral (or immoral) role it plays in relation to human behavior is far from settled. Part of the difficulty we face in addressing the unique challenges of social networking technologies is discerning the significance of social networking on us. This is because we often begin with an erroneous assumption. The moral significance of technologies generally—not only social networking technologies—is hampered by the insistence that technologies are typically considered objects and we are human, and the province of morality has long been ours. Postphenomenological inquiries can help to fashion technological development in pursuit of understanding how our moral behavior takes shape, but we can also take a critical perspective on who we are and what we are becoming in light of what social networking technologies reveal about the state of our ontological Being.
13. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Tom Børsen Bridging Critical Constructivism and Postphenomenology at Techno-Anthropology
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Both postphenomenology and critical constructivism are central paradigms used as philosophies and theoretical resources at the Master’s program in Techno-Anthropology at Aalborg University. In the fall of 2018 a didactical experiment was set up as Techno-Anthropology Master’s students were introduced to postphenomenology and critical constructivism and asked to compare these two theoretical positions. This comparative assignment and following class discussions between students, a guest lecturer and teachers is the point of departure for this paper. First, the paper introduces Techno-Anthropology with a special focus on the roles of postphenomenology and critical constructivism in the Master’s program. The next part of the paper zooms in on how these two philosophical positions were presented to the students. The third part analyzes students’ comparisons of postphenomenology and critical constructivism. On that basis, the author identifies similarities and differences between the two positions and discusses how the two positions can complement each other in a unified Techno-Anthropological research strategy.
book review
14. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology: Volume > 24 > Issue: 1/2
Mithun Bantwal Rao Philosophy of Technology in the Anthropocene avant la lettre
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