Andrew Feenberg


On his book Technosystem: The Social Life of Reason

Cover Interview of December 17, 2017

A close-up

Technosystem begins with a lecture that sums up much of the argument in non-technical language. I use two illustrations to make my points. A reader browsing the book would be amused by pages 9-12 where I develop the argument around an Escher print and a cartoon from The New Yorker. That would be a good starting point.

Escher’s Drawing Hands shows two hands drawing each other. The circularity of the image is paradoxical. This illustrates the way in which social groups in modern societies are formed around technical artifacts and systems which their members modify as they work within them. We both shape and are shaped by the technologies, the markets and the bureaucracies that organize our social life. This is co-production.

But Escher’s print is the product of an artist who stands outside the paradox he depicts. No one draws Escher as he draws Drawing Hands. Is there an equivalent external position in the rational society? Many think there is. The scientist, the engineer, the economist, the management theorist, all appear to stand outside the system governed by the laws they discover. This is the illusion of technology, the false belief that there is an external place to stand from which to know and organize society. But society is not a technical project. This is illustrated by the cartoon which I leave to future browsers to discover.