Foucault and Feenberg on Truth and Technology

A few weeks ago, I read the following pieces from Feenberg and Foucault.

Feenberg, Andrew. 2002. “The Critical Theory of Technology.” Transforming Technology: A Critical Theory
Revisited. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. “Truth and Power” & “What Is an Author?” The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New
York: Pantheon Books.

Following this reading, I had three questions posed:

1. Foucault argues that a transition from the universal to the specific intellectual has taken place, and he links this transition to a number of hypotheses concerning “Truth,” that Truth is 1) “a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation, and operation of statements;” and 2) it is “linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extends it.” Define how this transition and these hypotheses apply to our systems of print and digital rhetorics.

Foucault was, in part, discussing some level of specialization from the universal intellectual, that as container of great broad knowledge, to the specific intellectual, that of more in-depth specific knowledge. That Truth is “a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation, and operation of statements…” makes me think of manufactured truths. While this may seem like a contradiction (not truths at all), rather the idea might be accurate in the context of relative truths. In the specific intellectual environment, certain concepts made hold as truths, but are not so in a different specified intellectual environment.

For example, and to apply this to the presented question, we might present a truth in regard to our system of print rhetoric that a certain text is best presented with concepts in a chronological order, since that is the way the people will most easily comprehend and retain the information in the linear method. However, in the digital realm, that truth might not hold for the same group of topics, since there might be a more logical or efficient way to organize them with a non-linear hypertext delivery method. Similarly, one can see the cyclical relation of such relative (manufactured) truths to power in that the context in which the writer establishes the truth also sustains it as such.

2. What is Feenberg’s purpose in Ch. 7? What is he arguing, and what is his goal in doing so? Do you see elements of either Derridean or Foucauldian theory in his work? Explain.

Feenberg’s Chapter 7 seems to largely be a discussion of Marxism, capitalism, and culture. In this way, one of his arguments is against the placement of moral and political limits on technology. He sees technology as a tool that can cross cultural barriers and be adapted to varying societal levels and even bring them closer.

So, there are ties to Foucault here, in that there are power struggles, but some of them can be determined by the controllers, creators, and operators of technology through the direction they take it and how they apply it. However, chapter 7 is likely more closely related to Derrida in that it is a “critique of scientific-technical rationality.” By this I mean that he is working to deconstruct the critical theory in the light of social, political, and cultural aspects of technology in the capitalist society.

3. How might you apply principles of either Feenberg or Foucault to the analysis of a particular type of digital rhetoric? You might consider such media as Wikis, Blogs, or MOOs, or particular instantiations of those–such as political blogs, educational MOOs, or the like.

Lately, I’ve been writing largely on what I deem Digital Orality, that is the presence of largely oral/audio (and some video) presentations online in the form of podcasts, blogcasts, videos, you tube orations, etc. One aspect of this that interests me greatly is the egalitarian nature of digital orality. In this way, I could see delving more into Foucault and applying his discussions of technology as a sort of leveler that crosses cultural barriers.

For example, one could look to a known news anchor’s online account of Super Tuesday’s outcome and what it means for our current reign of King George W. alongside online accounts of the same event presented by a 12-year-old middle-school student, a 67-year-old gay former soldier, a female Iraqi college student, and a French mill worker. One would likely receive different accounts and perspectives from these individuals, particularly given the differences in age, gender, location, nationality, experience, social status, etc. However, with the common tie being access to technology and an opinion to voice on a given topic, they have a relatively equal stage (acknowledging, of course, the known anchor’s established location as a place to go for such information).

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