Category Archives: Critique of M&T

A #History of the Critique of #Technology: A response to @LatourBot #sts

I wrote a history of the critique of technology as a response to Latour’s “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” There have been few, if any, adequate responses to Latour’s ground-breaking essay. This is my second response to Latour and concurs to a degree with his thesis. My first response (“The New Critiquette“) was also a history but offered a defence of critique, or rather an analysis of the critique of critique.

This new response to Latour is the opposite of the first. I wanted to write something resourceful, something we didn’t already have. Now we have a working history of the critique of technology.

It’s big history in that it extends over an expansive historical scale (550 BCE-present) and geographic scope. I tried to be inclusive, attending to questions of gender for instance, but realize there are omissions. It’s a work in progress. I wrote nearly each paragraph as a mini-essay of sorts, meaning that it has it’s own integrity as a case study. Each of these mini-essays gives an empirical example; they demonstrate critique or criticism of media and technology at different times in different places.

The chapter sets up a series of theses, not the least of which is that the critique of media and technology has run out of steam.

If critique barely changes a thing, including youth consciousness, what is its utility? Most critiques of media and technology are instrumental by definition and intended to have an effect or make a difference. If it has been enough for criticism and critique to offer a counter to progress narratives, then how effective has this been? Has the critique of media and technology run out of steam, as Latour (2004) suggests? If out of energy drawn from the steam age, should critique be retrofit to run on light and signals? Meantime, the trend in vaping may conceivably pressurize critique enough to sputter into the future. Is the critique of media and technology over time sufficiently prejudicial or probative? Instrumental or terminal?

I had great fun writing this and have an idea of what to do next with it. It’s most immediate setting is as a chapter in Critique in Design and Technology Education, edited by P. John Williams and Kay Stables. Thank you to Kay and John, who invited me to write this. I also thank Belinda von Mergenson, David Barlex and Marc de Vries, who gave superb feedback along with other colleagues at a conference in Marseille and workshop in Sausset les Pin. The conference and workshop were hosted by Jacques Ginestiè, his wife Marjolaine, and team from Marseille University.

Sausset les Pin Workshop

Sausset les Pin Workshop

That was tremendous fun as well. And yes, despite the beauty of the tranquil setting on the coast, we did work! Merci.

Sausset les Pin Workshop

Sausset les Pin Workshop

Critique of Media & Technology Workshop #yreubc #hwl #ices


Wednesday, April 29, 2015
10:20-12:00     Scarfe 1209
Year of Research in Education event #yreubc


Stephen Petrina
University of British Columbia

This workshop focuses on the Critique of Media & Technology. The first part of the workshop includes a presentation and discussion on a forthcoming chapter. The second part of the workshop focuses on the process of researching and writing with special attention to philosophical and historical research 2.0 and narrative. How can we or ought we write a (big) history of the critique of media and technology?

The chapter begins with the spiritual critique of media and technology and proceeds historically through cultural criticism and social, psychic, ontic, and identic critiques. Differentiated from the spiritual critique that precedes, cultural criticism of media and technology emerges in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a mode of describing and depicting the mechanical arts. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, spiritual critique is displaced through a rejection of religion and theology as sources of modern authority. With spiritual ground undermined, social, psychic, ontic, and identic critics of media and technology compete for defensible ground for leverage. The history of critique is a search for ground. This chapter historicizes the critique of media and technology as well as critique as a practice that has run out of steam. “Critical distance” from or “free relation” to media and technology— a seductive orientation since the 1940s— has been instrumental in critique’s gradual decline. The critique of critique has quickened the decline. The conclusion questions the short-term future of machinic critique and long-term renewal of spiritual critique.

Download the Critique of Media & Technology chapter