Machineries of Technoscience in Constructing the Social and its (In)Equalities

Aleksandra Derra (Institute of Philosophy, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland)


There are two research areas which shape my philosophical reflection on science: critical feminist tradition of philosophy of science and science and technology studies (STS). Both of them still seems to be fresh and sometimes controversial currents in reflection on technoscience, but with an already informative and inspiring tradition which can be dated back to the 1970s and 1980s. They also have much in common. They treat science as inevitably social giving up with the idea of scientist as individual genius acting in isolation and producing scientific knowledge independently of all factors. They reformulate the idea of objectivity, impartiality and neutrality of science, denying the assumption that technoscience is value-free enterprise. Analysing the history of science and technology and interpreting various case-studies, feminist and STS thinkers underline the role of technoscience in creating and sustaining ‘social relations’. It is worth noting that I prefer to use the term ‘the social’ here rather than the notion of society, following Bruno Latour’s idea that society is not something ‘pre-given’, static and self-explanatory. On the contrary, we should rather think in terms of assemblages which have to be assemble and sustain in order to produce locally and temporarily stable social networks. Such networks (with semiotic and material, political and technological tools) legitimize certain power relations, also within science, helping to construct the social (in)equalities. Both feminist and STS scholars develop theoretical frameworks which make important ethical and political statements and introduce various non-epistemic values into the research. They admire the approaches informed by egalitarian goals, which take into account factors like gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, social class etc. This in turn is supposed to allow for the development of ‘science for humans’, including those who have been excluded from science both as subjects producing knowledge as well as objects of research. The aim of my paper is to present selected results of STS research on the social (in)equalities, pointing out the advantages of its methodology and convince the audience that they are cognitively and ethically beneficial.  



ICTs and the Ethics of Emotional Design

James Besse (Graduate School for Social Research, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences)


As Luciano Floridi has compellingly argued, starting in the middle of the 20th Century, with the advent of computing, people in many societies have begun to understand, and live, our lives informationally. The role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in reshaping human social affairs cannot be understated, and Floridi will boldly use the term “re-ontologizing” to describe this process. What does this mean for the “softer” side of sociality, such as caring, intimacy, and emotion? Sociologists and neuroscientists have long ago realized that emotions, like many mental processes, operate at the intersection of cultural and natural phenomena. Feeling an emotion, therefore, is no less subject to re-ontologization than driving a car, washing dishes, or scheduling a meeting. This paper examines the role of ICTs in emotions, and the way, as Illouz shows in her examination of the beauty industry’s advertising campaigns, in which the role of technology in a given emotion changes (we might say “re-ontologizes”) the emotion itself.  Rather than aligning this observation with the work of technological determinists (such as Martin Heidegger, Jacques Ellul, Karl Jaspers, Robert Heilbroner, and Jürgen Habermas), I examine the role of ICTs in emotions through the “postphenomenological ethics of things” formulated by Peter-Paul Verbeek (2005). Postphenomenology (a term which may irk many traditional philosophers) was initially developed by the American philosopher of technology Don Ihde, in what he calls “nonfoundational and nontranscentdental phenomenology which makes variational theory its most important methodological strategy.” (Ihde, 1993) Verbeek, who has emerged as one of the most outspoken advocates of postphenomenology, is presently focused on developing a theory which brings ethical considerations to Ihde’s perspective. After introducing the problems of emotional expression and reception in a digital age, the paper examines Verbeek’s “ethics of things,” tracing its development through Ihde’s abandoned Heideggerianism, Foucault’s “technologies of the self,” and Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (ANT). The paper then defends the relevance of Verbeek’s perspective and the application of ethics to emotions in general. Because of the significant impacts of ICTs upon our emotional lives, I argue that ethicists have a role to play in this issue. Following its theoretical explication, the paper will go through each of Verbeek’s “types of relation” in application to a specific instance of technological mediation of emotions. In each case, questions will be asked about the ethical implications of such mediation. This paper concludes by looking at the political implications of this phenomenon. It asks the following questions: Is it possible to design our emotions in more ethical ways? If so, what starting principles and ideas can guide this design, and what is the role of philosophers, sociologists, and ethicists in engineering? Moreover, is the recognition that we can design our own emotions an invitation to fascism, or is the recognition of this ability important to mitigate the damage of unethical design (and to liberate, as Critical Theory scholars might suggest, us from the sway of this design?)