Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Faculty of Arts
The work's central question is how technological designs affect the political power of individuals. This discussion supplements claims that more democratic control over the design and deployment of technology is necessary; it does so by showing how the general tendency toward parametric designs creates technological delegates: artifacts to which we inadvertently delegate our political powers. "Delegation" in this sense is the central theme. It is developed in the context of recent philosophy and sociology of technology, as well as ecofeminism and the existentialism of Gabriel Marcel and Martin Heidegger. A distinction is made between live and dead abstractions (chapter two); delegation to technologies is an instance of the latter. A live abstraction is one that tends to connect with its derivational and practical context; a dead abstraction is understood as complete in itself. This distinction is developed primarily from Husserl's late work, in which separation of science from its origins in the lifeworld is identified as a crisis. Technology requires philosophical attention because it mediates our activities and relations with other humans and non-humans (chapters three and four). A significant change in how we do things must be a change in technologies. It is argued that engineering design typically proceeds by means of parametrization: a problem or sub-problem is reduced to a set of parameters (chapter five). This abstraction is reproduced in the designed artifact, such that the user encounters the world as an abstract problem. It is in this sense that some technologies create an inauthentic relation with the world. The consequence, it is argued, is a loss of political power (chapter six). Delegate technologies hide large networks of human and non-human others behind their parametric interfaces. We appear to live more independently with technological help, but in fact we only hide our dependence. Technologies that make dependence explicit are recommended instead.
Wilkinson, John, "Abstraction, technology, and power" (2007). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 52.