Critical discussions of modern science and technology take as their starting point a deep concern with (their impact on) human subjects. Early humanistic critiques, starting with Ellul, Mumford, Gandhi, Heidegger, and others, tended to see human societies and individuals as powerless victims, leading to a call for the wholesale rejection of modern science and technology. This linear and negative view has been tempered with time and greater awareness of the complexity and unintended consequences of the technology-human interface. With the digital revolution in particular, the obverse now seems to have emerged. Digital technologies are often represented as devices of democratic renewal, suggesting that what was once a stand-off between humans and machines has now been resolved in favor of civil society. Neither of these admittedly stylized accounts is satisfying. There are a number of reasons why this is so; I am particularly concerned by the meanings we attribute to power, politics, resistance, and action in the STS field. This presentation seeks to address these concerns by enquiring into the meanings and forms of what I will call technological citizenship. Both terms are contested. What we mean by technology may be addressed either through structural or post-structural understandings of technological power: different accounts of subjectivity emerge. What we mean by citizenship must consider both practice and outcome; at the very least it indicates the means for subjects to acquire the political resources to ensure a degree of autonomy from external threats and force. Democracy and development, in other words, are both implicated in the meanings we produce for technological citizenship. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s notion of homo faber in relation to two emblematic technologies of change and development, my presentation offers an outline of what technological citizenship might look like, the limits of such an approach, and the conditions of its possibility.
SUGGESTED SEMINAR READINGS
Both my readings deal with the question of ‘location’ in relation to science studies: i.e., what does it mean to do STS work when the field of study is Asia?
‘State and STS in Asia’. Conference presentation (PDF)
‘The contradictory spaces of postcolonial technoscience,’ Economic and Political Weekly, Jan 21, 2006 (PDF)
Nikolas Rose, The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power and Subjectivity in the 21st Century, Princeton, 2006. Good overview, good references, introduction to issues from a political standpoint
Ed Cohen, A Body Worth Defending: Immunity, Biopolitics, and the Apotheosis of the Human Body, Duke, 2009. Brilliant historical reconstruction of conceptions of police, welfare, and immunity (interweaving the legal and biological) in France and