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Technological Determinism is not Dead

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In the past decades a number of writers have studied technological determinism and the effects of it on our social lives. They all differ in their views, but there seems to be a common sense idea that technological practice is autonomous from science and that social change is merely a casual effect. But if that is true we should accept that technologies do not have essences and could not be drivers of historical change. But as we have seen throughout history, social forces play an important role in producing and shaping technology. That means that both technology and science affect each other. Although many scholars claimed that technological determinism is dead, there are others who are still fascinated by it and think that technological determinism is still here and it is unlikely to disappear. I share that opinion and in this essay I will argue why technological determinism is not dead and still interesting and useful for analyzing the effects on society.

In society the idea prevails that technology is a logic consequence of development trough time. It seems that the availability of technology and the origins of it are not even questioned by us. Questions of how technological developments arise and why other developments prevail instead of others are not the first thing that comes to mind when we are thinking about technology. Thus, for most of us technologies we use every day have mysterious origin and design. We simply conform to their requirements and assume they will work without us questioning them. That is one of the reasons why technological determinism remains a common sense explanation. But because of that simple common view, there is no room for human choice and intervention, which is why we do not take responsibility for the technologies we use and make. This is beneficial for the one’s who are responsible for technological developments and leads to alienation and loss of control of technology. Because this idea dominates the view of technological determinism, Wyatt argues that we cannot dismiss technological determinism; it needs to be taken seriously and studied properly.

By giving it proper conceptualizing and defining the complexity of it, it is possible to acknowledge the fact that technological determinism persists and that it has an effect on shaping the lives of actors in our society. Wyatt conceptualizes four different types of technological determinism: first she speaks about the ‘justificatory’ type, which can be seen as the justification of the aforementioned common view of technology determinism. Second she identifies the ‘ descriptive’ type, which is used by scholars who understand the concept of technological determinism, but refuse its explanatory power. The third one is the ‘methodological’ that focuses on examining the technologies that are available and attempt to understand the place of technology in history. The last type is the ‘normative’ one, which claims that technology grew so big and complex, that it cannot be influenced by social actors. With this in mind it proves that technological determinism is useful in analyzing sociotechnical systems and their actors.

Another important argument that strengthens our view that technological determinism is not dead is Winner’s view on the notion that technological things have political qualities. He claims that artifacts of technology have political qualities. Modern material culture can according to him embody specific forms of power and authority. Various technical systems are therefore interwoven into the condition of modern politics. The developments in the industrial production, warfare and communications fundamentally changed power and the experience of citizenship. Technology seems to have political qualities, where specific features could provide means of power and authority in a given setting. This means that technology and society are not two separate entities but affect one another. While society depends on technological developments, technology itself can be produced in the context where it is situated in. Science and technology both influence and are influenced by their social conditions, which mean that they both cannot be seen as a natural condition.

In conclusion, I argue that technological determinism is clearly not dead. Many scholars are still interested in the concept and that is why they still try to grasp the complexity of the phenomenon. It is important to keep studying technological developments and keep in mind what kind of effect technology has on society and her systems. To do this, scholars need to remove themselves from the common usage of the concept and give it the properly academic consideration.


  • Bimber, B. (1990). Karl Marx and the three faces of technological determinism. Social Studies of Science, 20 (2), 333-35
  • Sismondo, S. (2011). The prehistory of science and technology studies. In An introduction to Science and Technology Studies. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Winner, L. (1986). Do Artefacts Have Politics? Deadalus, 109(1), 121-136
  • Wyatt, S. (2008). Technological determinism is dead; long live technological determinism. In E.J. Hackett, O.
  • Amsterdamska & M. Lynch (Eds.), The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies (pp. 165-180).

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