Do Artifacts Have Politics?

Do Artifacts Have Politics?



in 1980 academic Langdon winner published an article through mi t–'s press titled do artifacts have politics in this piece winner proposed the technologies embody specific types of social order and work to reinforce existing power relationships within our society I've got to admit for a title with less than five words I found myself quite puzzled at winners question when I first read do artifacts have politics I felt as if I need a bit of clarification in regard to winners work artifacts refer to the technologies around our world the cellphone in your pocket and the computer that you're watching this video on right now are both great examples but we can also consider technologies a much broader sense consider bridges highways or entire city layouts as types of technologies in regards to politics winners discussing the arrangements of power and authority which are present within our world when you put these two elements together of both artifacts and politics and you ask the question again do artifacts of politics I think it's not only comfortable but also tempting to say no we're cognizant that people can have politics and that people can have motivations of both power and authority but things it's very tempting to say no way winner argues that accusing hardware of having virtues or evils seems just plain wrong but is it in his article when it brings up a few examples to illustrate how technology often acts as a sort of mechanism to fulfill certain types of political order one seemingly unassuming instance of this can be seen as you're driving over the thruway's in Long Island New York some of the bridges which are built over these three ways have an alarmingly low clearance this clearance can be as low as 9 feet and now so the daily commuter they might ever give a second thought to this it's a rather innocent and mundane structural element they could try under them every day without giving it a piece of mind it's just a part of their accepted daily life and it's a part of the landscape which they've grown so accustomed to what's very important to understand though is that these bridges were implemented in order to achieve a particular social effect in the 1920s in New York City the master builder of roads bridges and Public Works was Robert Moses and his decision to have these low clearances built was both deliberate and calculated at the time in the New York area the standard public bus was about twelve feet tall now this meant that public buses had to steer clear of Moses's through ways and furthermore this meant that those who often used public transportation the lower-class the black community and other racial minorities had a very limited access to specific routes over Long Island in particular one of Moses's most acclaimed projects Jones Beach was nearly impossible to reach if you were not riding in an automobile Moses's decision to implement these bridges with low clearances is a tangible reflection of both his social bias to the upper class as well as his racial prejudice these artifacts which have been put into place in New York City embody and maintain a systematic social inequality and the politics which were intentionally added to this infrastructure are frightening and unfortunately but the passage of time they've just become another accepted part of the urban landscape Moses's technologies are the manifestation of his political motivations at the tail end of this example winner notes that technologies can and I would argue that they often are used in ways that enhance the power Authority and privilege of some over others technical developments such as Moses's parkways are often biased in a direction which produces results considered to be breakthroughs by some and seen as crippling obstacles by others not all technologies are developed and integrated with malicious intent though as I'll elaborate in the coming example it is not always the case that someone is looking to do another person or group of people harm winner notes that the technological deck has just been stacked to favor certain social interests over time and that some people aren't bound to receive a more favorable hand than others to elaborate on this notion let's scale it back to 1940s rural sunny Southern California researchers from the University of California developed a tomato harvester which could cut shake and gather Tomatoes from an expansive field with ease in comparison to the traditional methods of hand harvesting this new technology saved the owner of the tomato farm between five and seven dollars per ton of tomatoes harvested these machines weren't cheap though they demanded an investment of $5,000 up front just to secure a harvester additionally so these new automated technologies required a more concentrated approach to growing tomatoes these significant changes to the regiments of rural California farmers reshaped the social landscape of the tomato harvesters and their agricultural communities between 1960 and 1973 the number of tomato growers in Southern California dropped from over 4,000 to just 600 over 30,000 jobs are estimated to have been lost as a direct result of this mechanization to contrast these negative trends the total yearly yields of tomato production increased substantially but it was at the expense of rural agricultural communities that this spike in productivity was observed by some large growers now in my opinion this dramatic change of industries should not be viewed through a lens of conspiracy I don't consider the results as the fruition of some dastardly plot instead I believe this change is an example of the ever grinding gears of technological innovation this is an example of how artifacts of science progress and profit are continuing to fit nicely together in order to bolster specific power relationships though at first they may not seem directly related both Moses's bridges and the widespread adoption of the automatic tomato Harvester illustrate how technology choreographs our social activities whether or not we're conscious of it politics are deeply embedded into the technologies around us and these motivations affect how we communicate how we travel and ultimately how we run our daily lives when new technologies are developed and integrated into the world around us we begin to be positioned in varying degrees of both power and awareness artifacts have politics

11 thoughts on “Do Artifacts Have Politics?

  • July 4, 2019 at 5:19 am
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    great explanation

    Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 5:19 am
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    I live in long island, the racism is… pretty bad lol

    Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 5:19 am
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    Man this was awesome..U saved my day

    Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 5:19 am
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    Thanks so much, this was very useful. I was a bit confused before I watched your video, and actually stumbled across it while googling terms from Winner's work. You explained it perfectly.

    Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 5:19 am
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    Good video, thx for helping a helpless student

    Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 5:19 am
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    Thanks a lot, Chris!

    Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 5:19 am
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    Really nice explanation of Winner's article…Great Job!

    Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 5:19 am
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    it was helpful for presentation…thank you

    Reply

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