Technological determinism

Technological determinism

Technological determinism is a reductionist doctrine that a society's technology determines its cultural values, social structure, or history. This is not to be confused with the inevitability thesis (Chandler), which states that once a technology is introduced into a culture that what follows is the inevitable development of that technology. As a technology is stabilized, its design tends to dictate users' behaviors, consequently diminishing human agency.

Technological determinism has been summarized as 'The belief in technology as a key governing force in society ...' (Merritt Roe Smith), '... the belief that social progress is driven by technological innovation, which in turn follows an "inevitable" course.' (Michael L. Smith), 'The idea that technological development determines social change ...' (Bruce Bimber), '... the belief that technical forces determine social and cultural changes.' (Thomas P. Hughes); '... a three-word logical proposition: "Technology determines history"' (Rosalind Williams)

The term is believed to have been coined by Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), an American sociologist.

Most interpretations of technological determinism share two general ideas:
*that the development of technology itself follows a predictable, traceable path largely beyond cultural or political influence, and
*that technology in turn has "effects" on societies that are inherent, rather than socially conditioned or that the society organizes itself in such a way to support and further develop a technology once it has been introduced.

Technological determinism stands in opposition to the theory of the social construction of technology, which holds that both the path of innovation and the consequences of technology for humans are strongly if not entirely shaped by society itself, through the influence of culture, politics, economic arrangements, and the like.

Technological determinism has been largely discredited within academia, especially by science and technology studies.Fact|date=February 2007 However, it remains the dominant view within most news media and popular culture.Fact|date=February 2007

Pessimism towards techno-science arose after the mid 20th century for various reasons including the use of nuclear energy towards nuclear weapons, Nazi human experimentation during World War Two, and lack of economic development in the third world (also known as the global south). As a direct consequence, desire for greater control of the course of development of technology gave rise to disenchantment with the model of technological determinism in academia and the creation of the theory of technological constructivism (see social construction of technology).

Hard and soft

In examining determinism we should also touch upon Aslam Mamu and the idea of Hard determinism and Soft Determinism. A compatibilist says that it is possible for free will and determinism to exist in the world together while a incompatibilist would say that they can not and there must be one or the other. Those who support determinism can be further divided.

"Hard determinists" would view technology as developing independent from social concerns. They would say that technology creates a set of powerful forces acting to regulate our social activity and its meaning. According to this view of determinism we organize ourselves to meet the needs of technology and the outcome of this organization is beyond our control or we do not have the freedom to make a choice regarding the outcome.

"Soft Determinism", as the name suggests, is a more passive view of the way technology interacts with socio-political situations. Soft determinists still subscribe to the fact that technology is the guiding force in our evolution, but would maintain that we have a "chance" to make decisions regarding the outcomes of a situation. This is not to say that free will exists but it is the possible for us to "roll the dice" and see what the outcome is. A slightly different variant of soft determinism is the 1922 technology-driven theory of social change proposed by William Fielding Ogburn, in which society must adjust to the consequences of major inventions, but often does so only after a period of cultural lag.


Modern thinkers no longer consider technological determinism to be a very accurate view of the way in which we interact with technology. In his article "Subversive Rationalization: Technology, Power and Democracy with technology." Andrew Feenberg argues that technological determinism is not a very well founded concept by illustrating that two of the founding theses of determinism are easily questionable and in doing so calls for what he calls democratic rationalization (Feenberg 210-212).

In his article “Do Artifacts Have Politics?,” Langdon Winner transcends hard and soft technological determinism by elaborating two ways in which artifacts can have politics.

Another conflicting idea is that of technological somnambulism a term coined by Winner in his essay "technology as forms of life". Winner wonders whether or not we are simply "sleepwalking" through our existence with little concern or knowledge as to how we truly interact with technology. In this view it is still possible for us to wake up and once again take control of the direction in which we are traveling (Winner 104).

ee also

*Compatibilism and incompatibilism
*Sociocultural evolution
*Social Constructivism
*Technological Fix
*Inevitability thesis
*Technological Somnambulism
*Democratic Rationalization
*Philosophy of Technology


*cite book | first = Ruth Schwarz| last = Cowan| authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | month = | title = More Work for Mother: | chapter = | editor = | others = | edition = | pages = | publisher = | location = | id = | url =
*cite book | first = Jacques| last = Ellul| authorlink = Jacques Ellul| coauthors = | year = 1964| month = | title = The Technological Society| chapter = | editor = | others = | edition = | pages = | publisher = Alfred A. Knopf| location = New York| id = | url =
*cite book | first = David F. | last = Noble| authorlink = David F. Noble| coauthors = | year = 1984| month = | title = Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation| chapter = | editor = | others = | edition = | pages = | publisher = New York | location = Oxford University Press| id = | url =
*cite book | first = Merritt Roe| last = Smith| authorlink = Merritt Roe Smith| coauthors = and Leo Marx, eds.| year = 1994| month = | title = Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism| chapter = | editor = | others = | edition = | pages = | publisher = MIT Press| location = Cambridge| id = | url =
*cite book | first = John M.| last = Staudenmaier, S.J.| authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1985| month = | title = Technology's Storytellers: Reweaving the Human Fabric| chapter = The Debate over Technological Determinism| editor = | others = | edition = | pages = 134-148| publisher = The Society for the History of Technology and the MIT Press| location = Cambridge| id = | url =
*cite book | first = Langdon| last = Winner | authorlink = Langdon Winner| coauthors = | year = 1977| month = | title = Autonomous Technology: Technics-Out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought| chapter = | editor = | others = | edition = | pages = | publisher = MIT Press| location = Cambridge| id = | url =
*Winner, Langdon. "Technology as Forms of Life". Readings in the Philosophy of Technology. David M. Kaplan. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. 103-113
*Furbank, P.N. “The Myth of Determinism.” Raritan. [City] Fall 2006: 79-87. EBSCOhost. Monroe Community College Library, Rochester, NY. 2 April 2007.
*Feenberg, Andrew. "Democratic Rationalization". Readings in the Philosophy of Technology. David M. Kaplan. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. 209-225
*Chandler, Daniel. Technological or Media Determinism. 1995. 18 September 1995.

External links

* [ Daniel Chandler, "Technological or Media Determinism"]
* [ Chris Kimble, "Technological Determinism and Social Choice"]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.