Tracing and Trusting the Technological Fix

Johnston, S. F. (2016) Tracing and Trusting the Technological Fix. Three Societies Meeting (History of Science Society; British Society for the History of Science; Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Science), Edmonton, Canada, 22-25 Jun 2016. (Unpublished)

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This paper traces the notion of the “technological fix” through North American expert and popular cultures during the twentieth century. Its proponents identified it as an engineering or technological approach suitable not merely for tackling technological problems but also as a basis for efficiently diagnosing and resolving social, cultural and political issues. This confidence, or hubris, concerning the relevance of technological solutions for modern human concerns grew during the Great Depression but became particularly popular after the Second World War. Proponents, notably chemist and urban planner Richard L. Meier and nuclear engineer-physicist Alvin Weinberg, framed the concept as a tool to augment conventional politics and economics. They argued for the rapid societal progress achievable through technological problem-solving. The concept has been widely disseminated since the mid-1960s, with contemporary supporters arguing that technological fixes can avert the diverse problems produced by climate change to ensure sustainable environments. The paper analyses the discourse about technological fixes circulating among American engineers and scientists, on the one hand, and humanist and social-science critics, on the other. Drawing upon articles, speeches, cartoons and television programmes, it traces how the notion was promoted, exemplified and critiqued, and how it was represented in popular culture. I argue that disparate voices have contributed to wider cultural reflection on the short-term benefits and unintended side-effects of technological solutions, particularly in relation to health and environmental issues. By examining the historical assessments of technological fixes, this work reopens the central claims to fresh audiences.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Keywords:Technological fix, 20C, technological confidence.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Johnston, Professor Sean
Authors: Johnston, S. F.
Subjects:C Auxiliary Sciences of History > C Auxiliary sciences of history (General)
E History America > E11 America (General)
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Q Science > Q Science (General)
T Technology > T Technology (General)
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Interdisciplinary Studies

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
652811Trusting the technological fixSean JohnstonBritish Academy (BRIT-ACAD)SG132088IS - INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES