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Pierre Musso and the Network Society

Volume 27 of the series Philosophy of Engineering and Technology pp 103-129

Date:

History, Philosophy, and Actuality of the Utopian View of Technology: On Pierre Musso’s Critique of Network Ideology

  • Steven DorrestijnAffiliated withSaxion University of Applied Sciences Email author 

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Abstract

Steven Dorrestijn outlines the advantages of Musso’s contribution, putting together an essay on the utopian, dystopian or ambivalent interpretations of technical mediation, while developing a dual critique of Musso’s appropriation of the notions of ‘network’ and ‘utopia’. Dorrestijn sees the breadth of Musso’s historical perspective as its principal merit, in that it gives him an analytical advantage when it comes to discussing the issues surrounding technology today. Dorrestijn goes on to explain the origins and meaning of the notion of utopianism and describes the historical development of ideas which link technology and its social worth.

With references to Francis Bacon and Jeremy Bentham, Dorrestijn demonstrates how utopian were Saint-Simon’s plans, combining the utopian intentions of technocratic philanthropism with the aim of revolutionising religion. In identifying industry as the desired model for society, the Saint-Simonian project conveys that negative characteristic which Dorrestijn seems to stress as being central to the utopian conception of technology: the lack of critical ethical reflection.

Moving on from the utopian vision, Dorrestijn notes the advent of ethical concerns in relation to technology, before identifying a more recent and ambivalent notion: that technology, deprived of any essence, contains both positive and negative possibilities, so that the way it is implemented becomes significant, and adverse effects can be avoided or corrected. The third part of Dorrestijn’s analysis is a critique of this idea. Musso seems to distinguish two sorts of techno-utopianism: one inspired by the Saint-Simon’s social semi-utopia, which recognizes the importance of positive technology, and the other which identifies the technical network as the ideal organism, based on Saint-Simonian ideas. Dorrestijn believes that distinction should depend on the relationship between utopianism and social involvement. If social and political participation depend on utopian inspiration, then perhaps some utopianism may be justified.

In conclusion, Dorrestijn analyses the centrality of the notion of networks in Musso’s explanations of techno-utopianism, suggesting that its omnipresence does not necessarily imply acceptance of the techno-utopia. In this connection the work of Bruno Latour is revealing, in that it shows how immersion in the network does not mean abandoning an empirical stance towards concrete social issues. Dorrestijn favours an empirical orientation rather than one subordinated to “mental concepts” and, rather than being critical of Musso’s thought, suggests alternatives in the form of a more empirical orientation.