ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Restoring Conceptual Independence to Technology

Neither of the prevailing views of technology - as violently subjugating nature or as a derivative of science - quite describes the way technology is actually practised. A bird's-eye view of science and technology can only lead to a misunderstanding of the relation between the two. This essay looks at the relationship from the point of view of a practising technologist, taking as its starting point a better understanding of the design process and the design paradigm.

Technology is generally viewed with a great deal of suspicion in today’s trendy environment of anti-modernity. It is held to be intrinsically violent and even genocidal,1 with its aim of dominating and controlling nature. Common examples include the Nazi gas chambers or the Bhopal tragedy, these events being perceived in some way as inherent in the vision of technology itself. In this perspective, science is supposed to share the ideology of dominance over nature that characterises technology; and in this sense, science is considered a virtual synonym for technology. In other words, the Hiroshima bomb and E=MC2 are frozen together in time and space in such a way that their separation becomes an artificial exercise.

The more ‘classical’ view of technology2 does not deal with technology any more kindly. This endeavour locates technology in the knowledge domain as a poor second cousin of science. It is either ‘applied science’ or ‘technoscience’, with the earlier tradition of technology considered as ‘techniques’ and consigned to its pre-history. In this view, knowledge that such techniques used – the properties of nature – were earlier known empirically and have now been replaced by the far greater scientific knowledge of the day. This replacement of traditional and empirical knowledge is held to define modern technology as distinct from earlier artisanal techniques; therefore the description of technology in this scheme as either ‘applied science’ or ‘technoscience’. Though the progression of technique to technology transfers it from its earlier subaltern location to the more elite one of science, it still does not lose completely either its taint of commerce or the odour of sweat.

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