Amanda's Response

If a spectrum exists within STS where technological determinism and social constructivism sit on opposite polls, Winner’s work in Do Artifacts Have Politics establishes middle ground between the two. Winner wants to advocate for looking at the object itself, to analyze the ‘thingness’ of the artifact in question (123). This is done in an attempt to resurface what is lost in analysis through either a determinist or constructivist vein; the former reduces an object to an “Internal dynamic” prescribed during production, while the latter reduces an object to merely its social context (122). The project in asking whether artifacts have politics is to see outside of the rigidity of these points of view. The two instances he pulls from to demonstrate the potential for the existence political objects are technical arrangements and inherently political technologies (123).

Winner’s first classification is where we can find a complement with Hughes’ argument in The Evolution of Large Technological Systems. Winner uses the example of Robert Moses’s bridges in Long Island to demonstrate how a specific arrangement of artifacts can behave politically. In the case of the bridges, this was a politics of exclusion, denying access to those who relied on public transportation. But, this argument does not reduce the bridge to a determinant object, instead it relies on the system it is apart of to accomplish that task. Moses’s bridges can only be effective if busses are too big to pass under, if a railway isn’t established, of if cars do not become more accessible to social or cultural minorities. If the bridge itself was transported into a different geography, it may take on new characteristics entirely. There are clear similarities here to the concept of “Technological Style,” put forth by Hughes where technology is reflective of both time and place (68).

Hughes is insistent to frame his concepts as a counterpoint to determinist logic, “The concepts of both the social shaping of technology and technological style help the historian and the sociologist, and perhaps the practitioner, to avoid reductionist analyses of technology” (69). He seems to suggest that politics can only enter this world through the perspective of the individual describing the system, “The definer or describer of a hierarchical system's choice of the level of analysis from physical artifact to world system can be noticeably political” (55). This devotion to social construction would seemingly set him far apart from Winner’s middle ground. Yet, Hughes’ seems to acknowledge that understanding large-scale technological systems requires some acquiescence to an understanding that is not purely constructivist or determinist. This is most clear in his discussion of momentum. Technological systems gain momentum as they grow, become for efficient, or take on new goals; rather than autonomy (which would be the determinist understanding of a system) artifacts gain inertia (76). Hughes is specific to argue that momentum arises from social factors (80), but it is possible to see how Winner’s middle ground explains the concept of momentum more thoroughly. Winner points to the term on page 123, arguing that momentum forces us to pay attention to the object itself and its meaning within the world. This form of understanding allows the object itself a political life. Momentum is neither autonomous or entirely dependent, the murky area between the two seems to be where a case for an artifact's politics to be shaped, whether Hughes would admit to this is another question entirely.

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