Engineering as Technology of Technology and the Subjugated Practice

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Virginia Tech


Two sets of concerns have motivated and sustained the research in my dissertation. First, modern ideas of technology and engineering have been over-represented by their dominant forms: that technology is all about progress and the more advanced "high" technology and that engineering chiefly concerns quantity, efficiency, problem-solving, and "better" machines. Second, these potent values in technology and engineering, as a conceptual whole, tend to reinforce each other and create conditions conducive to its sociocultural reproduction that discounts and subjugates viable alternative practices.

My dissertation draws on both historical and philosophical approaches to the question of technology and engineering. My historical-linguistic study looks for the historical meanings of the two words—technology and engineering–in connection with their modern counterparts and discusses the social values and conditions that shaped the dynamics of their early development to understand and deconstruct their modern dominant representation. The analysis of ancient writings locates precedent for dominant engineering practice in ancient siege engines and military engineering, where qualities such as quantity, power, superiority, and ingenuity reinforced each other at the critical times of high-stakes siege warfare. I demonstrate how these interlocking qualities became the ideological basis for an enduring historical-conceptual structure of the dominant ideas of engineering that, despite strikingly different social contexts, continues to the present and limits the diversity of knowledge and participants.

Returning back to the present, I develop a philosophical critique of contemporary engineering as "technology of technology," in that modern dominant engineering practice becomes technically provincial yet socially ambitious for our personal and institutional technical practice. In this process, certain practices in engineering, including communication, ethical reasoning, empathy, etc., have been marginalized and become what I call the "subjugated technical practice." By identifying the specific criteria and values that systematically discount and exclude the subjugated technical practice in different aspects, my analysis highlights and validates the latter's extraordinary qualities that contribute no less significantly to the success of engineering practice. Finally, to explore the possibilities of substantive policy changes, I propose theory and practice under the heading of "critical reflexive technology" and call for radical changes and critical participation from within and beyond engineering.



values in engineering, critique and engagement, techne, philosophy of engineering and technology, linguistic philosophical approaches