Social theorists from Max Weber to Jürgen Habermas have argued that power relations are among the defining characteristics of every society, along with culture and economic relations. The main theme of this conference, Technology and Power, seeks to interrogate the various roles technologies have played in the development of power relations in the past, in different parts of the world. Political power (local, state, and inter-state) is the most obvious of these, but relations of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, labour, age, and so on, also include elements of power. Technologies have instrumental, mediating, undermining, reinforcing, and constructive roles in all of these relations. Some technologies have been used by elites, others have served the relatively powerless. Think of weapons as means of state power, but also as instruments of revolution; the printed word as a vehicle of state and church propaganda, but also as a disrupter of all kinds of authority; contraceptive devices and pills that have changed relations between the sexes and in families. Power is usually contested, and technologies often change the chances of those involved in these conflicts.
The recent interest in transnational history has extended the range of these topics and revealed their interconnectedness. Technological change is disrespectful of national borders: technical knowledge and technicians travel, and new technologies of communication and transport transform balances of trade and power on a worldwide scale. We have only begun to explore these global dimensions, and the symposium will offer the opportunity to push this project forward.
A broad but non-exhaustive list of possible topics for paper presentations follows. Proposals and presentations on a wide spectrum of topics related to the general theme are very much encouraged. As always, proposals outside the main theme will also be considered.
Technology and the State
- Engineers and architects in power
- The State and the economy, from mercantilism to the present
- State power and military technology
- Technical forms of government
- Technology and international relations
Design as politics
- Urban planning across the world
- Scripting the everyday
- Design fantasies
- Design and political ideology
Power and the body
- The rise of Big Pharma
- Reproductive technology, gender and family relations
- Self-monitoring technologies, the ‘quantified self’
- Resisting and rejecting modern medical interventions; alternative and non-western health care practices
Maintaining, repairing, and appropriating technologies
- Repair and maintenance of large technological systems
- Everyday cultures of maintenance and repair in developed and developing nations
- Sites of repair: factories, workshops, maker-labs, and homes
- Hacking and modifying digital and material things