Trusting the Technological Fix: Tracing a Technological Faith

Johnston, S. F. (2015) Trusting the Technological Fix: Tracing a Technological Faith. Society for the History of Technology Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 08-11 Oct 2015. (Unpublished)

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The notion of the “technological fix” had a remarkable rise in popularity and application during the second half of the twentieth century. Its claim is that an engineering or technological approach is suitable not merely for tackling technological problems but also as a basis for efficiently diagnosing and resolving social, political and cultural issues. This confidence, or hubris, concerning the relevance of technological solutions to human concerns has ranged from the design of inherently safe streetcars to proposals for remediating climate change. Its engineering and technocratic supporters, on the one hand, and critics drawn from the disciplines of social science and the humanities, on the other, were configured in distinct contexts. Popularizers of the label, such as nuclear engineer Alvin Weinberg, argued for the rapid societal progress achievable through technological problem-solving; opponents, focusing attention on unintended side-effects for non-users and the environment, countered that more holistic analyses were often needed. Case studies analyzing the success and contention surrounding particular examples of technological fixes have been of particular interest to SHOT members, and to the literatures to which they contribute. Wider cultural concerns about technological solutions – particularly in relation to environmental issues – increasingly reflect the findings of critical historians of technology. This paper addresses the issues at a more generic and fundamental level. It reports research to trace the concept’s enunciation and framing, precursor ideas and exemplars, and to characterize the rhetoric that co-evolved with it. By examining the historical trajectory of faith in the technological fix, this work reopens the central claims to fresh audiences.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Keywords:Alvin Weinberg, technological fix.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Johnston, Professor Sean
Authors: Johnston, S. F.
Subjects:C Auxiliary Sciences of History > C Auxiliary sciences of history (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
E History America > E11 America (General)
J Political Science > JA Political 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