Democracy and Technology. Richard Sclove. This eye-opening book describes how modern technologies--such as computers, automobiles, machine tools, hybrid crops, nuclear reactors, and others--contribute to vexing social problems ranging from the continued subordination of women and workers to widespread political disengagement. Engineers, manufacturers, and policy makers rarely take these consequences into account. Contending that reinvigorated democratic politics can and should supersede conventional economic reasoning as a basis for decisions about technology, Richard Sclove clearly outlines how the general public can become actively involved in all phases of technology decision making, from assessment and policy making to research and development. For half a century, the Cold War provided the rationale for U.

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According to Richard Sclove, technology has a profound effect on the way we structure society, yet citizens rarely if ever participate in the development of new technologies or in the making of public policy. Instead, "many of the most important technology decisions are made today via a covert politics that occurs within corporate headquarters and government bureaucracies or via the tacit politics of the economic marketplace. It's a strong argument and echoes the concerns of other critics of technology such as Langdon Winner and Jerry Mander.

In the opening pages of Democracy and Technology , Sclove contrasts the experience of a small Spanish village with that of the Old Amish in Ohio to illustrate two different approaches to technology. When running water was installed in the homes of Ibieca, a community in northeast Spain, the people no longer depended for water on the public fountain. Since the fountain also served as the village's social center, the lively interaction and public talk that used to take place there died away.

Over the course of a few years, the social fabric of the community began to unravel. By contrast, the Amish engage in a process of extensive public discussion and democratic ratification before new technologies are adopted. While they do not reject all modern technology, the Amish recognize that some are more threatening to their community and its values than others. The methods the Amish have developed offer an example of what Sclove calls "a democratic politics of technology.

For example, the Dutch have created a network of 50 public "science shops" that conduct, coordinate and summarize research on social and technological issues in response to specific questions and concerns posed by community groups, public-interest organizations, local governments, and workers.

While Sclove's primary focus is on finding ways to bring more democracy into technology, he also examines some proposals for bringing more technology into democracy, such as electronic town meetings, "virtual community," and deliberative opinion polling. He warns that these mechanisms sacrifice intimacy, diminish the sense of face-to-face confrontation, and increase the dangers of elite manipulation.

Still, he acknowledges that some new communications technologies open up the possibility of "electronic public space" or "virtual commons. Copyright by Scott London.

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Democracy and Technology

The book develops a constructive agenda for democratizing all domains of technology -- ranging from household to workplace, government, urban infrastructure, medicine, farming, etc. Click here for ordering information. Democracy and Technology won the Don K. Price Award of the American Political Science Association for "best book in the field of science, technology, and politics. This book provides a provocative and thorough analysis of the challenges facing us on the threshold of the 21st Century.


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