Women Carrying Water: At the Crossroads of Technology and Critical Theory

In the rapidly changing arena of global politics today, nothing looms larger than the framework technology provides in determining the cultural, political, and economic fate of a people. Japanese philosopher Kiyoshi Miki observed already in the early 1940s that technology is not merely a sophisticated manipulation of tools but that it is fundamentally a “form of action” expressing a cultural and political orientation through the means of material production.1 The power of technology, according to Miki, has to do with its ability to make our imagination concrete. But in this process, our values are concretized as well, so while the scientific principles that are used in engineering might be value neutral, the decision-making and actual implementation are always embedded in historical, aesthetic, political, and cultural meaning. If this is true, then a philosophy which claims to theorize about the human condition must also address the realm of praxis mediated by technology. A robust philosophical account of our historical development and political struggles would have to consider the real changes technology makes in material conditions and its long- term impact, as these are clearly existential manifestations of our cognitive grasp of the world. Critical Theory has made an important contribution to analyzing political struggles and examining the various conditions of oppression and cultural transformation. Beginning with the early Frankfurt School thinkers to Marcuse in the 1960s and Habermas in more recent times, updated approaches today cross diverse grounds— feminism, race theory, and globalization, among others. However, despite the fact that technology has indeed been a fundamental medium of culture and politics and many discussions touch upon the topic, the link between a robust critical political theory and technology has been a relatively unexplored territory. Marcuse produced a rather dystopian account of technocracy in the 1960s, but with the exception Andrew Feenberg who has most consistently worked on this theme, a positive connection between Critical...
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