LECTURE #1: Langdon Winner, Robert Moses- The nature
This lecture contains three parts, 1) an expanded introduction to the perspective of technology studies we began in the first class extended into a discussion of key ideas of tech studies, ending with a reading from the classic work on Social Construction of technological Systems by Bijker, Hughes and Pinch, and then 2) a brief and oversimplified survey of the history of cities, so that we can understand what it is we’re focusing on this week, and 3) application of some of these ideas to interpretation of the articles you read for today with particular focus on the idea of infrastructure of cities as having politics, both political consequences and embedded politics that last beyond the initial construction.
PART 1 – Overview of Introduction to the course
To review of basic ideas from first day we discussed a hammer, that while the name hammer is very simple, and familiar, it is in fact more complicated. That example was to get the idea of questioning your presuppositions about the definition of technology and to introduce how we’ll be talking about technology in this course.
Technology– More than just “objects we make” or “tools”, technology is everything which is made or shaped by humanity and in turn which can shape, act, modify or effect the world around it. Technology may have little physical presence such as a ‘technique’ or way of doing something, or even an idea; or technology may be massive like a sky scraper, distributed like the internet, and often it is more complicated than it appears. Technology has effect and meaning both physically and symbolically. It is designed and develops to speak a language of meaning in different contexts. Technology acts by “constraining” (or making some events or actions harder) and “enabling” (making some outcomes, events or actions easier or more likely). No technology is ever purely enabling and very few are wholly constraining because they are always interacting in the world in multiple “Contexts of Use,” that is in different situations and for or with different kinds of people.
When we talk about some technology and attempt to understand it outside of individual contexts of use (as we did with the hammer on the first day) we’re talking about it as an “Artifact” that is as something to single out for analysis that we can pretend we know nothing about, for which we will attempt to understand multiple contexts of use, and perspectives.
To that discussion from the first day, we’re beginning to talk about technology as a “system” and as multiple systems that interconnect. E.g. we cannot understand the internet without also understanding other systems, such as electrical power generation, labor and class, history and education, political control of information, media and advertising, military and national security concerns, scientific and technological innovations, etc. Because these systems are interconnected we will talk about them as being part of a “techno-social” whole that makes up our social world, social aspects such as our understanding and shard meanings, scientific understandings we might otherwise privilege such as electrical resistance in computer chips, and technical objects and artifacts such as the actual materials of the internet made up of wires, routers, switches, storage drives, etc. When we talk about the whole of the society made up of technical and social parts we can refer to it as “Technological Society” or “techno-science” or “techno-social” to remind us of the interconnection of these many parts.
The approach we’re taking is distinct from what is sometimes called “Innovation Studies” by two specific aspects along with general professional and academic divisions. These specific aspects are a critical approach, the idea that negative aspects are as likely as positive to shape and direct novel technologies, and an emphasis on the importance of multiple contexts of use for analysis as opposed to concentrated focus on a singular arena or context. Particularly Social studies of science disagrees with the generally accepted presumption that novel technologies arise from need. Rather that technologies arise from a complicated interplay of social forces and details. Innovation studies often dismiss what are termed “externalities” or details beyond the decided upon analysis, a way of focusing the interpretive focus derived from the methods of economics, and which is fundamentally disagreeable to the perspective STS takes from sociological and Anthropological emphasis on Grounded or holistic approaches.
Scholars Bijker, Hughes and Pinch The Social Construction of Technological Systems, p.3-5: in the foundation of the theoretical approach SCOTS, the Social Construction of technological Systems: Starts by distinguishing 3 layers of meaning to technology:
“technology” can be distinguished (MacKenzie and Wajcman1985). First, there is the level of physical objects or artifacts, for example, bicycles, lamps, and Bakelite. Second, “technology” may refer to activities or processes, such as steel making or molding. Third, “technology” can refer to what people know as well as what they do; an example is the “know-how” that goes into designing a bicycle or operating an ultrasound device in the obstetrics clinic. In practice the technologies dealt with in this collection cover all three aspects, and often it is not sensible to separate them further. Also, instead of trying to distinguish technology from science (or indeed from any other activity) in general terms, it seems preferable to work from a set of empirical cases that seem intuitively paradigmatic. In this volume a broad range of technologies is examined, including bicycles, missiles, ships, electric vehicles, electric power systems, the cooking stove, pharmaceuticals, ultrasound, dyes, and expert systems. Having said what we are trying to get away from, where are we heading?…
the social constructivist approach, has been inspired by recent studies in the sociology of scientific knowledge.” Key concepts within this approach are “interpretative flexibility,” “closure,” and “relevant social groups.” One of the central tenets of this approach is the claim that technological artifacts are open to sociological analysis, not just in their usage but especially with respect to their design and technical “content.”
The second approach, stemming largely from the work of the historian of technology Thomas Hughes, treats technology in terms of a “systems” metaphor. This stresses the importance of paying attention to the different but interlocking elements of physical artifacts, institutions, and their environment and thereby offers an integration of technical, social, economic, and political aspects. Moreover, the key concepts of “reverse salient” and “critical problem,” which define the parts of a system where at certain stages innovative energy is focused, enable us to link the micro- and macro levels of analysis. Or, to put it more concretely, they enable us to link, say, Edison’s laboratory to the wider society. The third approach, associated with the work of Michel Calion, Bruno Latour, and John Law at L’Ecole des Mines, Paris, attempts to extend this perspective one step further. It does this by breaking down the distinction between human actors and natural phenomena. Both are treated as elements in “actor networks.” Also, this approach ostensibly reverses the usual relationship between participant and analyst and casts the engineers as sociologists. In other words, in trying to extend successfully the actor network, the engineers attempt to mold society. The three chapters in part I outline these different general approaches. A characteristic that all these approaches share is the emphasis on “thick description,” that is, looking into what has been seen as the black box of technology (and, for that matter, the black box of society). Such an emphasis may not be new to the history of technology, but it is new to areas of technology studies that have more theoretical aims, whether they are guided by sociology or by economics. This thick description results in a wealth of detailed information about the technical, social, economic, and political aspects of the case under study.”
This class will have a particular focus not on the analysis of individual artifacts and technologies but on the way that society has been and continues to be influenced by the technologies that are parts of its makeup. To make this complexity clear we’re beginning the semester talking about the smallest and simplest object, a hammer, and the first reading is on one of the most complicated of artifacts “the city”. Today’s lecture will offer an incomplete lesson on the history of cities and then we’ll discuss the article “Do artifacts have Politics” by Langdon Winner and a piece written by Winner’s main target, Robert Moses, who was a key city planner and political power in developing the New York Metropolitan Area as we know it today.
The History Of Cities
“There are probably as many different ways of conceiving what a city is as there are cities. A simple definition therefore has its attractions. The simplest is that a city is a human settlement where strangers are likely to meet.” Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, 1977, p. 39
History of societies is preserved in their cities, their physical infrastructure
Ancient imperial cities with massive monoliths
Aristocrats and feudal systems and their castles and estates separated by boundaries of land entitlement; Towns, especially independent cities, created a space that was different, where people were not tied to the land.
great nation-states between 1600 and 1750
Enclosure movements and industrialization, drew people to cities and caused rapid urbanization on a scale previously unknown in the world, while the term ‘enclosure’ comes from England in the 18th century, it was paralleled in much of Europe and the developing world, and captured in an American form in the depictions of the ‘end of the open range’ in Western films. It was a period ending Subsistence Farming and small scale industry in most of the developed world.
The concept of the commons
Adam Smith and the idea of the link between recognized importance of use, ownership and value…
“George Orwell wrote in 1944: Stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so…” But this is one aspect of this set of changes, this period also saw the technologies of enclosure, the land offices, the foundations of zoning and public planning, the systematization of road building, the expansion of cities themselves and the reinvestment in city infrastructures like sewers and lighting that allowed them to swallow up all those people dispossessed of their former lives on farms. It is a process that constrains a traditional set of choices, but enabled others.
It is interesting to amend the history we learned in school at this point by pointing out that until the 8th century, the enclosures and urbanization at the beginning of the industrial era, cities that we can name such as London, or New York, were the same size as cities in the global south that we’ve likely never heard of : Isfahan in Iran, , Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Changan (Xi’an) in China, not to mention cities that would have been that big if the population hadn’t been decimated as the The Pre-Colombian City of Cahokis in what is now the United States, The Incan city near modern Cuzco in Peru, and others that rivaled the great cities of the world. At a time when London or New York had less than 100,000 people who used the gutter as a sewer, China had multiple metropolises with around a million citizens served by public infrastructure including roads, advanced sewers, and advanced governing bureaucracies. By the mid 1800s the largest cities were London and New York.
The isolated cities that were somewhat independent begin to become less important as they are linked by industrial ties, which in turn contribute to and are supported by the invention of new nationalisms and cosmopolitanisms.
and in the 1800’s the shift to the industrial city, precursor to our modern
In 1500 CE less than 24 places in the world had populations around 100,000 people, today Scholars like Saskia Sassen point out that there are important distinctions between what some call Mega-cities or “global Cities” that centralize economic and political power with many millions of inhabitants. These cities form particularly important nodes, or concentrations, in what Emmaual Wallerstein terms the “World System” or the organization of global society. This pattern of centralization and concentration of activity at the global scale parallels what we might envision in a city itself , the city is a useful analogy for how modern technological society works in general. While we cannot see the global pattern as easily, we are mostly familiar with the difference between the glass towers and wealth of a cities “downtown”, in contrast to the slums or working-class neighborhoods denied services and economic opportunity as a result. Constraint and enablement. The city, or the world, as a system is a great technology at production and concentration of benefits, but it also produces other areas with less opportunity, spaces that are “marginalized”, literally pushed out of the focus and benefits, and in turn peoples who are “marginalized” as less important because they are not taking part in the activities and attention placed on the valued downtown.
The great empires and nations of the world have always been marked by their investment in roads and infrastructure.
More recently the modernists ideals of ‘designing’ a whole city by technocratic or scientific principles lead to the modernist, and the counter positions of suburbanization and the new urbanism
Cities have always been special, though today they seem to many of us as the ‘normal’ form of life, historically they were not normal. Normal was close connections across limited homogenous communities, the cities marked by three important aspects were unusual. These three aspects:
- Sites of specialization of work and cooperation
- Sites of translation and contact zones between heterogeneous strangers
- Sites in which economy was disconnected from traditional ties to the land
Different cities enabled different kinds of people, in new York where private space, especially for the working class was unavailable developed street culture. The French post Corbusier Paris enabled the extension and development of the ‘Flaneur’ the meandering culture, as a more modern version of the ‘promenade’ of an earlier time in France and England. To understand the Promenade is simple, it is the same impulse as coming out in your cars to crawl along the avenue and be seen.
VIEWING THE CITY AS TECHNOLOGY IN WINNER AND THE THOUGHTS OF ROBERT MOSES
The social scientist Robert Park, and the Chicago School, initiated scholarly interpretation of cities as a whole in the 1930’s with a novel approach looking at cities as social ecologies, or “ecological communities” that could be understood by looking at the interactions of elements within the city, they extended a Victorian use of the body as a metaphor, to frame empirical study of cities, and like a body the organs could be sick or healthy, well ordered or damaged. The approach responded to the rationalist understanding that old cities were messy and newer approaches, orderly, modernist approaches, such as those used by planners such as Robert Moses would be applied to produce a healthier city. The city would be reimagined and rebuilt to keep every organ functioning and in its proper place. This new approach, sometimes called ‘rationalist’ planning, emphasized the break from traditional organic city growth in which streets were paved where people walked or carts had traveled, instead people would be expected to walk, and the new automobies to drive, where streets had been paved. The modenerist rationalist approach emphasized a top down design process that dictated to residents of the city what the designers thought they needed. While park and others responded to the rationalist approach by suggesting that, to stretch the metaphor, as important as the brain is, it couldn’t order the feet to fly, and suggesting that there should be attention paid to historical forms, and interaction.
The rationalist mode of planning was unchallenged in most ways until the New Urbanists, and redevelopment strategies were introduced in the last thirty years, in part because of the impact of a later generation of scolars including Jane Jacobs.
While Park and others had said that cities acted, that in cities people had “… the tradition, custom, and romantic aspirations of city dwellers [are] converted, ecological economic, and industrial factors into a social organization.” Morris Janowitz, Introduction to “The City” by Park and Borgess, 1965. That is that the whole point of the ecological model was to suggest that in collaboration the parts of the city were greater than the whole, their research enabled the Rationalsts to perform surgeries, redesigning and modifying cities in their belief that they knew best the path its growth should take. In contrast Jane Jacobs and scholars were able to show that the very chaos and mixture, the heterogeneity, produced safer, more functional cities. The failure of the metaphor of the city as body is that there isn’t a need for divided organs as the modernists wished, and as Jane Jacobs points out, the planners clean city doesn’t have people on the streets, it doesn’t provide the safety of company, and it forces the residents to work, live and move around based on someone else’s idea of an orderly pattern .
“Neighborhoods built up all at once change little physically over the years as a rule…[Residents] regret that the neighborhood has changed. Yet the fact is, physically it has changed remarkably little. People’s feelings about it, rather, have changed. The neighborhood shows a strange inability to update itself, enliven itself, repair itself, or to be sought after, out of choice, by a new generation. It is dead. Actually it was dead from birth, but nobody noticed this much until the corpse began to smell.”
― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961
A big part of Winner’s discussion stems from the work of these early scholars, particularly Lewis Mumford’s concern with the invisibility of the politics of technology.
“Western society has accepted as unquestionable a technological imperative that is quite as arbitrary as the most primitive taboo: not merely the duty to foster invention and constantly to create technological novelties, but equally the duty to surrender to these novelties unconditionally, just because they are offered, without respect to their human consequences….
What is more, the whole apparatus of life has become so complex and the processes of production, distribution, and consumption have become so specialized and subdivided, that the individual person loses confidence in his own unaided capacities: he is increasingly subject to commands he does not understand, at the mercy of forces over which he exercises no effective control, moving to a destination he has not chosen. Unlike the taboo-ridden savage, who is often childishly over-confident in the powers of his shaman or magician to control formidable natural forces, however inimical, the machine-conditioned individual feels lost and helpless as day by day he metaphorically punches his time-card, takes his place on the assembly line, and at the end draws a pay check that proves worthless for obtaining any of the genuine goods of life.
This lack of close personal involvement in the daily routine brings a general loss of contact with reality: instead of continuous interplay between the inner and the outer world, with constant feedback or readjustment and with stimulus to fresh creativity, only the outer world-and mainly the collectively organized outer world of the power system-exercises authority: even private dreams must be channeled through television, film, and disc, in order to become acceptable….”
— Lewis Mumford, The Pentagon Of power
Mumford, like Jane Jacobs, is arguing that we need to respect and appreciate the complexity that exists in the world, rather than attempt to apply categories that deny that complexity. And nowhere is this more apparent that in the city. One of the things the Rationalist planners, including Robert Moses, couldn’t understand was that different ways of living were often advisable, beneficial for the complex system that was the city.
We’ll Begin by considering the essay from The Atlantic by Robert Moses on, ”Slums and City Planning” from 1945. In which he denounces almost everyone who might disagree with him, but particularly, he writes about the failings of the “perfectionists” and those who see disagree with his ‘reforms’:
“The perfectionist does not want old buildings made sanitary and fireproof without changing their essential character. He says this move perpetuates the slum and gives it a new lease of life when it is about to die a natural death. He favors rehabilitation only if every third house is torn down and the two remaining ones are completely rebuilt; and he can show that this process is so expensive that it is hardly worth while. Yet it is a fact that in most cities plenty of old tenements and other houses can be made safe, sanitary, and fairly comfortable for a number of years at reasonable cost.”
For moses then the problem is that to ask for a new form of housing, in fact to criticize these old apartment blocks, or tenements, as inadequate is misguided, because to replace them, or in fact to make any really dramatic change is daydreaming. While at the same time, without giving particular concern to the people who live in the unsatisfactory housing he detests so much he states with apparent pride:
“It is a curious fact that thus far, in most of the older cities, more slum clearance has been accomplished indirectly than directly — that is, through clearance not for public, semi-public, or private housing, but for parks, playgrounds, parkways expressways, boulevards, and other public improvements. I have made the statement a number of times in New York, and it has never been refuted, that my particular little group of demolition and building demons have without fanfare and social worker abracadabra pulled down more old rookeries than all the housing experts and authorities put together. And the best thing about it is that we have substituted nothing for the rookeries but broad highways lined with landscaping and recreation facilities, open to the sun and the elements, and affording the very best incentive to further slum clearance and improvement on their boundaries.”
For Mr. Moses, the problem of reshaping the city has little to do with the material built city, it is largely about using the built environment to shift or eliminate overcrowding, and where the poor will be moved to is less to be worried about. He’s constructing a city that will work for those he considers important. He is one of what he describes as “the practical men” for whom poverty, and “wave after wave” of newcomers, and those of the lowest economic bracket are to be accepted as an undeniable fact. He argues at the same time of using city money to help offer lower cost housing, working to prevent slumlords from the worst of corruptions and abuses, while also arguing for the importance of bulldozing houses and neighborhoods as a technique to decrease undesirable concentrations. He argues without distinguishing his position that there is something undesirable about providing subway service, with people crammed in tightly, while removing houses to make more roads for comfortable and efficient access to city and suburb for cars. Not recognizing, or not caring, that for many of the poor people he begins saying his reforms are aimed at helping, the idea of owning a car is more outlandish than reforms in zoning and making rail and road crossing more efficient. It is quite possible to imagine his intentions are good, but it is consistent throughout the essay that he sees the end result of the need changes as the production of a city that enables some, but not those he begins by stating are in the dires of circumstances.
Now move to Langdon Winner’s use of the example of Robert Moses’ bridges, in which he says “Many of his monumental structures of Concrete and steel embody a systematic social inequality, a way of engineering relationships among people.” And consider the answers to problems that Moses has suggested, they are car centered, they remove from consideration dramatic reforms, and they emphasize the use of strong measures not to rehouse the poor but to remove their current houses that occupy space to allow for ‘freeways’ and parks.
Moses is proud of building parks, but suggests that it has been a mistake for the housing authority to rebuild as they have: “It is unfortunate that in New York and many other cities public housing has pre-empted not the worst but the best of the acknowledged slum areas — that is, those favorably located on parks and waterfront….” His critique is not of the initial design of the buildings, nor of the landlords who operate the slums, nor even of the tenants, instead he focuses on the governmental structures that hold some of the power of shaping the city, and wherever they attempt to renovate and maintain dense housing for poor people he disapproves, while simultaneously disparaging the need for densely populated areas.
All of this discussion of Moses’ intentions, is supposed to refine and expand our understanding of how the designer of the bridges, not neccesarily through malice, but through focusing on how technologies allow for the new city, the car driving city, the expanded and less dense city, the city where people live in small homes and not dense “rookeries”, would have designed infrastructure that facilitated that new city. Not because he is an interesting historical person, he is, but because the lasting impact of his perspective and lack of ability to imagine an important place in the city for dense inexpensive housing, became “fixed” and “enduring”. And that is a key aspect of Winner’s argument, not that an evil man performed an evil action, but that the reason we’re to be concerned with technology so much is it’s fixity. Its nature as unchanging after initial design, or at least the difficulty in changing it. While we may or may not ever know the intention of design, by looking at the effects of the infrastructure developed and implemented by Moses, we are able to see its lasting politics. That of a set of changes that make the system easier for car owners, that prioritize housing in the outer edges of the city such as longisland and Westchester, and other modifications to the city that can and will continue to make the city more amenable to some actions, to enable, and more difficult for others, to constrain. Much of the rest of the article continues from this premise. With two additions, it asks, but doesn’t answer, whether there are particular patterns to what kinds of politics become fixed in technologies. In particular He is focusing in a variety of examples on whether after the design, there are technologies that are more flexible, more compatible with different ways of living, and others that are more forceful in directing the type of outcomes that can be made. In both describing the kind of choice related to technology, on page 27, as two kinds, there is the choice of adoption or denial of technology. The Yes No Choice. And there is the choice of features and elements or details, which for many technologies can only be chosen or altered before implementation or construction. This is particularly the case for the massive technologies of city infrastructure. They effect, are used by, enable and constrain many many people by comparison to a smaller technology, so fewer people have flexibility. Later using the example of nuclear power and nuclear weapons as opposed to solar power and other options, he suggests that the nature of the radioactive materials as so universally understood as dangerous, and the massive technological investments needed, that this is also a fixed and inflexible technology. Early in the article with the example of the tomato harvester, it is not the invention of a rapid harvester that causes problems, in reality it is the decrease in prices of tomatos and the enablement of large farms, meant that implementing this technology didn’t allow other individual farmers to compete, or in general to participate in the technological choices. By extension because this technology works better to provide one kind of tomato and reduces completion by rapid production, we the consumers end up with fewer options of tomato in the market.
And this is what this analysis is all about, recognizing that politics is about power and authority
“In what follows I shall offer outlines and illustrations of two ways in which artifacts can contain political properties. First are instances in which the inven tion, design, or arrangement of a specific technical device or system becomes a way of settling an issue in a particular community. Seen in the proper light, examples of this kind are fairly straightforward and easily understood. Second are cases of what can be called inherently political technologies, man-made sys tems that appear to require, or to be strongly compatible with, particular kinds of political relationships. Arguments about cases of this kind are much more troublesome and closer to the heart of the matter. By “politics,” I mean arrange ments of power and authority in human associations as well as the activities that take place within those arrangements. For my purposes, “technology” here is understood to mean all of modern practical artifice,7 but to avoid confusion I prefer to speak of technology, smaller or larger pieces or systems of hardware of a specific kind. My intention is not to settle any of the issues here once and for all, but to indicate their general dimensions and significance.” P22
“We all know that people have politics, not things. To discover either virtues or evils in aggre gates of steel, plastic, transistors, integrated circuits, and chemicals seems just plain wrong, a way of mystifying human artifice and of avoiding the true sources, the human sources of freedom and oppression, justice and injustice. Blaming the hardware appears even more foolish than blaming the victims when it comes to judging conditions of public life.” P22
“The things we call “technologies” are ways of building order in our world. Many technical devices and systems important in everyday life contain possibilities for many different ways of ordering human activity. Consciously or not, deliber ately or inadvertently, societies choose structures for technologies that influence how people are going to work, communicate, travel, consume, and so forth over a very long time. In the processes by which structuring decisions are made, different people are differently situated and possess unequal degrees of power as well as unequal levels of awareness. By far the greatest latitude of choice exists the very first time a particular instrument, system, or technique is introduced.” P.28
P29- Mumford’s distinction between democratic and authoritarian technological systems.
P29-32 Engels and Marx on how to understand the machines as making society as it is.
p.34: “The important question is: Does this state of affairs derive from an unavoidable social response to intractable proper ties in the things themselves, or is it instead a pattern imposed independently by a governing body, ruling class, or some other social or cultural institution to further its own purposes?”