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Technocracy

Technocracy

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Initially and most generally, a technocracy was a form of organizational structure or system of governance in which decision makers were selected on the basis of technological knowledge. In the past, such individuals were called technocrats, a term used frequently in the twenty-first century by, for example, journalists, but differently, to refer to individuals exercising governmental authority because of their knowledge rather than political profile (e.g., a government of technocrats, not politicians). When used in the twenty-first century, the term technocracy is more likely to mean governance exercised by technological systems themselves than by experts.

Sharing connotations with theocracy (government by a divinity or its representatives), autocracy (ruleless governance by a lone individual), and bureaucracy (governance via routinized exercise of authority by humans), technocracy contrasts with democracy, rule by the citizenry. In addition to having a high estimation of applications of science-based learning, advocates of technocracy (such as the engineer/social activist Howard Scott) view governmen-tality as problematic, the complexity of technological systems being itself an important contributor of difficulty. They believe that, where possible, decisions should be designed into systems, because direct application is most effective and efficient. If humans have to be involved in governance, they should be highly familiar with the systems, rather than those with the authority of office, divinely inspired, with charisma, or by the people at large.

Late twentieth-century social studies of technoscience (such as those of the scholar Bruno Latour) tried to broaden the notion of technology, applying the term to any routinized complex of artifacts, agents, and practices. Users of technocracy generally think of technology in a more restricted sense, as the highly complex systems distinctive feature of high tech social formations.

In 1919 the American engineer W. H. Smith claimed to have coined the term technocracy, but Scott, founder of the arguably fascistic social movement Technocracy, Inc., asserted that he had heard the term as early as the 1880s. Used explicitly in this period by diverse Progressive political movements in the United States, technocracy was presumed to be a natural and inevitable consequence of social evolution. Society was dependent on increasingly ubiquitous complex systemslike the railroad, those providing clean water, or those promoting public healththat themselves needed public support to function. Because systems were best understood by experts, technological expertise came to be seen as essential. The social chaos of the Great Depression of the 1930s exacerbated the perceived democracy crisis following from immigrant access to a broadened franchise. Giving governance to those who best understood technology (initially, engineers, such as Thorstein Veblen and Scott), but, later, managers (including James Burnham) would naturally promote scientific governance. Consonant with the positive social sciences, especially political science, technocracy also drew heavily on Western Utopian traditions (as in the work of novelist Harold Loeb) and a long American tradition of technological determinism.

A second period of the concepts popularity came with the 1960s rise of postindustrial theorizing, which fostered talk of an information society based in knowledge rather than manufacturing. For Daniel Bell, author of The Coming of Post Industrial Society (1973) technocracy was marked by the increasing power of professionals, as a consequence of which society was taking a more self-conscious, planned trajectory. The chief legacy of this second wave period, however, is that technocracy has come to mostly be used critically, to acknowledge an unfortunate necessity, not to be advocated. In his book Autonomous Technology (1977), for example, Langdon Winner developed an alternative conception of technocracy, by adding reverse adaptation to the earlier technological imperative. Via technocracy, technologies have become ends, not means, displacing even the experts: [I]t matters little who in specific obeys the imperative or enacts the adaptation (p. 258).

With todays widely shared sense that any human agency is marginalized by technology, technocracy is arguably common sense, even though its negative connotations mean only the critical freely use the term itself. Still, advocates of new systems feel compelled to justify them as democratic. Even though computings implications for democracy, as in many other social arenas, are contradictory, the democratic implications of automated information and communications technologies (AICTs) were the ones that were stressed. Indeed, if networked, digitized representations at least theoretically democratize access to knowledge, and on-line plebiscites can extend opportunities for direct democracy, their disintermedia-tion lessening the need for representation.

However, increasingly ubiquitous, self-governing smart machines, having artificial intelligence, can govern affairs autonomously, thus decreasing any need for democracy. Similarly, a perceived technology-enabled, rapidly proceeding globalization seems to lessen the need for any state.

Is computing the triumph of technocracy? This may depend on the ultimate cultural correlates of the new governance model emerging in cyberspace. This model takes institutional form in entities like the Internet Society and the World Wide Web Consortium, as well as in Free/Libre and Open Source Software development networks. Here governance focuses on devising technical standards, decisions about which are made whenever possible by consensus. Ostensibly democratic, such activities are open to the participation, either physical or electronically mediated, of anyone, as long as the participant can demonstrate the requisite technical expertise.

Perception of the technocratic affordances of new technologies has also spawned forms of resistance. As described by Richard Sclove in Democracy and Technology (1995) and especially in Scandinavia, AICTs are themselves used to support democratic technology consensus conferences, which aim to achieve broad social agreement before mega-projects begin. In these, cross-sections of the populace are encouraged to draw on their own experience, supplemented by expert responses to the citizens own questions, to develop independent positions with regard to proposed technological ventures.

As argued by cyberspace ethnographers like David Hakken, technocratic presumptions filter what impacts are seen as likely to follow from AICTs. The same presumptions interfere with seeing how social factors shape the technologies themselves. The increased centrality of technological systems to the reproduction of capital is one of several important factors promoting the building of technocracy into computerized life. Still, as the success of consensus conferences show, this tendency can be contested. It must be for democracy to be more than mere posturing. Once implementation begins, the broader social correlates of using complex technological systems can be very hard to reverse. To avoid technocracy, it is essential to insert democratic participation early in the design of complex technological systems.

SEE ALSO Internet; Technology; Technotopia

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bell, Daniel. 1973. The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting. New York: Basic Books.

Hakken, David. 2003. The Knowledge Landscapes of Cyberspace. New York: Routledge.

Sclove, Richard. 1995. Democracy and Technology. New York: Guilford Press.

Scott, Howard, et al. 1933. Introduction to Technocracy. New York: John Day Company.

Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

David Hakken

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Technocrat

Technocrat

BIBLIOGRAPHY

A technocrat, according to the most basic meaning of the word, is someone who advocates or governs a technoc-racythe rule of technical experts. The roots of the word technocrat lie in the classical Greek words for skill or craft (techne ) and rule (kratos ). The word technocrat is typically used to convey derogatory or ironic attitudes about technology and about the authority or power of those who understand and use technologies. Thus a technocrat is one who advocates technological or technical, rather than political, solutions to collective problems and who fails to consider the humanistic, historical, symbolic, moral, or personal elements of collective decisions. In France, for example, the word technocrate (technocrat) is used by both the political left and right as an epithet for one who is said to administer or manage an organization on the basis of narrow technical expertise, and who lacks class consciousness, democratic commitments, moral conscience, and basic humanity (for example, Hecht 1998).

Daryush Sheyagan in Cultural Schizophrenia (1992) characterizes technocrats as the managers of the technical, political, economic and scientific spheres of a modern society. They take on the depersonalized, neutral quality of the world for whose efficiency they are responsible. They symbolize pure function stripped of all personal connotations they are indifferent to the ethical purposes of what is produced and can serve one type of political regime as well as another (pp. 148149). However, if, as Jacques Ellul (1964) and Langdon Winner (1977) have suggested, technology is autonomous and technological imperatives determine decision outcomes, then in principle technocracy would not involve the authority of technocrats, for the real sources of authority and power would be impersonal and systemic.

Unlike the term bureaucrat, which since introduced by Max Weber has had a well-established place in the conceptual vocabulary and research of the social sciences, technocrat has had little use in social science research. Moreover, while a technocrat may also be a bureaucrat, technocrat can refer more generally to anyone who exercises scientific, technological, economic, administrative, or environmental authority.

The term is also used to refer to a member of a movement or organization that advocates governance by engineers or other technically trained experts instead of by politicians. Since 1933 in the United States, Technocracy, Inc. has been the principal research and educational organization representing the technocracy movement. Its predecessor, the Technical Alliance, was founded in 1919 by Howard Scott (18901970), who had been inspired by the writings of Thorstein Veblen (18571929). The official publication of Technocracy, Inc. is North American Technocrat. Henry Elsner Jr. (1967) has traced much of the history of the technocratic movement in the United States.

SEE ALSO Bureaucrat; Democracy; Technocracy; Technology

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ellul, Jacques. 1964. The Technological Society. Trans. J. Wilkinson. New York: Vintage Press.

Elsner, Henry, Jr. 1967. The Technocrats: Prophets of Automation. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Hecht, Gabrielle. 1998. The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Shayegan, Daryush. 1992. Cultural Schizophrenia: Islamic Societies Confronting the West. Trans. J. Howe. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Technocracy, Inc. Web site. www.technocracy.org.

Veblen, Thorstein. 1921. The Engineers and the Price System. New York: B.W. Heubsch.

Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Harlan Wilson

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technocrat

tech·no·crat / ˈteknəˌkrat/ • n. an exponent or advocate of technocracy. ∎  a member of a technically skilled elite. DERIVATIVES: tech·no·crat·ic / ˌteknəˈkratik/ adj. tech·no·crat·i·cal·ly / ˌteknəˈkratik(ə)lē/ adv.

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technocracy

tech·noc·ra·cy / tekˈnäkrəsē/ • n. (pl. -cies) the government or control of society or industry by an elite of technical experts. ∎  an instance or application of this. ∎  an elite of technical experts.

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technocracy

technocracy Theory that engineers and scientists should have effective power in economic and social life. The term was coined in the USA in 1919 and was popular in the 1930s.

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technocracy

technocracy A revolutionary or governing élite composed of, or drawn from, technical experts. See also BOURGEOISIE.

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technocracy

technocracy •radiancy •immediacy, intermediacy •expediency • idiocy • saliency •resiliency • leniency •incipiency, recipiency •recreancy • pruriency • deviancy •subserviency • transiency • pliancy •buoyancy, flamboyancy •fluency, truancy •constituency • abbacy • embassy •celibacy • absorbency •incumbency, recumbency •ascendancy, intendancy, interdependency, pendency, resplendency, superintendency, tendency, transcendency •candidacy •presidency, residency •despondency • redundancy • infancy •sycophancy • argosy • legacy •profligacy • surrogacy •extravagancy • plangency • agency •regency •astringency, contingency, stringency •intransigency • exigency • cogency •pungency •convergency, emergency, insurgency, urgency •vacancy • piquancy • fricassee •mendicancy • efficacy • prolificacy •insignificancy • delicacy • intricacy •advocacy • fallacy • galaxy •jealousy, prelacy •repellency • valency • Wallasey •articulacy • corpulency • inviolacy •excellency • equivalency • pharmacy •supremacy • clemency • Christmassy •illegitimacy, legitimacy •intimacy • ultimacy • primacy •dormancy • diplomacy • contumacy •stagnancy •lieutenancy, subtenancy, tenancy •pregnancy •benignancy, malignancy •effeminacy • prominency •obstinacy • pertinency • lunacy •immanency •impermanency, permanency •rampancy • papacy • flippancy •occupancy •archiepiscopacy, episcopacy •transparency • leprosy • inerrancy •flagrancy, fragrancy, vagrancy •conspiracy • idiosyncrasy •minstrelsy • magistracy • piracy •vibrancy •adhocracy, aristocracy, autocracy, bureaucracy, democracy, gerontocracy, gynaecocracy (US gynecocracy), hierocracy, hypocrisy, meritocracy, mobocracy, monocracy, plutocracy, technocracy, theocracy •accuracy • obduracy • currency •curacy, pleurisy •confederacy • numeracy •degeneracy • itinerancy • inveteracy •illiteracy, literacy •innocency • trenchancy • deficiency •fantasy, phantasy •intestacy • ecstasy • expectancy •latency • chieftaincy • intermittency •consistency, insistency, persistency •instancy • militancy • impenitency •precipitancy • competency •hesitancy • apostasy • constancy •accountancy • adjutancy •consultancy, exultancy •impotency • discourtesy •inadvertency • privacy •irrelevancy, relevancy •solvency • frequency • delinquency •adequacy • poignancy

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technocrat

technocrat •Eurocrat • ziggurat • muskrat •theocrat • jurat • Ballarat • democrat •technocrat • bureaucrat • aristocrat •autocrat • plutocrat • babysat •Comsat • Randstad • Darmstadt •diktat • habitat • Eisenstadt •Kronstadt • cryostat • aerostat •aegrotat • rheostat • haemostat •thermostat • photostat

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