The World Of “Political” Artifacts

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The world of "political" artifacts

While it is true that day after day we use an immense amount of technologies, most of the time we assume that we are in total control of the situation and that exclusively depend on the consequences that can be generated. However, there are many people, including important thinkers, who have enough reasons to have a different point of view. Thus, this situation began to take much more seriously, approaching ideas such as Lewis Mumford, who suggests that since time immemorial artifacts created by man have had in one way or another a marked political connotation(Mumford, 1964). This refers to the fact that these elements, beyond contributing to facilitating and improving our tasks, have also been constituted as specific forms of power and authority that significantly impact societies. This has occurred to the point of controlling the dynamics and effects, positive or negative, that a certain technology can represent for the population in question.

When it is mentioned that an artifact can have political, power, or authority characteristics, what you want to convey is the idea that its existence benefits the interests of a few in exchange for other groups to be affected. The complex perspective of this problem leads to a series of very interesting questions that are summarized in wanting to understand whether do artifacts really have politics? And in such case, if the political qualities are inherent to these artifacts? When reading these questions, it can be evident that the answers should not correspond to a simple statement or denial of the statements, on the contrary, it is necessary to present a proper argument that manages to cover the issue more detailedly.

In this order of ideas, the purpose of this text is to analyze the relationship of the concepts raised to demonstrate that artifacts effectively manage to acquire political qualities, but that having them inherently goes much further and depends on a broad set offactors in which both artifacts and societies participate actively. To achieve this objective, different sources that deal with the problem described above will be used, providing various points of view and examples that will allow a more complete understanding of what happens in reality.

The first big step to answer the questions raised, focuses on studying artifacts not only on what their function means, but together with the socioeconomic system in which they are immersed. With this in mind, it is to emphasize the role that the interaction of artifact society plays, since it is essential when defining the social response to the intrinsic properties of things themselves. In addition, it has been shown that sometimes, the problem may correspond to a model imposed by a ruling entity with purposes that go beyond its immediate use, which causes the subordination of societies while the adaptation of their objectives andbehaviors.

In this way, and with respect to the first question formulated, it begins to be evident that whether intentionally or not, artifacts can be attributed specific political qualities. To finish understanding this idea in a lighter way, we can refer to classic examples such as Robert Moses’s bridges, since it is curious to observe that many of the New York bridges are extremely low compared to the rest of the country. You might think that they were thus built by a simple matter of tastes or calculation errors, but the reality is very different. After a few years, it was discovered that Moses himself thought these bridges with a very particular purpose. His plan was to avoid the passage of buses and public transport media through these bridges, since the use of these was related to poor classes and black people. Thus, it can be seen that their class and racist tendencies were decisive from the beginning in the design of the project and later in the consequences of exclusivity of access. On the other hand, a situation can be exposed in which the initial purpose did not seek to harm anyone, but which was ended up in the final result. This is the case of the tomatoes designed by researchers at the University of California. In theory, this artifact was going to serve mainly to optimize crop collection processes, but being so efficient ended up replacing a substantial number of workers, eliminating about 32.000 jobs by the end of 1970 and giving way to another accentuated way of exercising power..

At this point, and moving to the second question, we must begin to understand the background of what it means and implies that political characteristics are present inherently in artifacts. Authors such as Alfred Chandler, point out situations that lead to think that technologies in a certain way demand and require a type of human association that responds to political interests, otherwise its functioning would not be possible..

Following this analysis of the dilemma related to the inherence of political qualities, it is necessaryThe factor that makes sense. Moreover, the certain uses given to technologies can add characteristics that a principle had no relationship with the artifact, including the aforementioned political qualities.

With the aim of better understanding this notion, the use of the different weapons can be taken as a reference. In the case of firearms, when armies use them to combat violence and end subversives, we talk about the concept of “canceling”, associated with a positive purpose. However, when people use them to commit crimes, they talk about "innocent murder". Thus, it is observed that the type of practice that society gives to the artifact completely modifies its purpose, so, to the extent that a large part of the consequences depend on individuals, it is not so clear that the qualities are totally inherent. A similar example that also represents this situation is the use of white weapons. On the one hand, if people use them in the context of the kitchen, a usual purpose that meets the purpose for which it was created can be considered. However, if they are used to steal or harm someone, it can be said that their purpose is being altered and all due to the specific use that people decide to give. In summary, and taking up the argument in question, it is pertinent to affirm that there is the possibility that two different instances of the same artifact have more political qualities, or less, marked than the other according to the perception of their individual practices.

The ideas mentioned so far, related to the perception of the use of artifacts, introduce another great point of analysis of analysis. Due to the phenomena that occur in the field of societies and that end up making certain practices common, the following will be to study how science and technology are not separated, since they are linked through the concept of social construction of artifacts. This implies that those who are part of this society have a look of the reality similar to those who share their culture, which seem unquestionable, but that in fact responds to political characteristics that do not perceive and that they accept without paying much attention.

From the above, an interesting similarity with the theory of the paradigms proposed by Thomas Kuhn. This originally explains that scientific discoveries are not limited to adding a new concept to the scientific population but, before achieving this result, cause the professional community to rethink conventional procedures and change the concepts to which it had been accustomed by along time. Thus, for our case, these scientific discoveries correspond to the creation of a new artifact or technology. Following this thought, it is evidenced once again that the artifacts obey a development of social construction to the extent that, in the course of the process, they modify the system through which they interact with society, reaching the idea that when technologiesThe paradigms change, "the world itself changes with them".

So far, different historical or very common situations have been mentioned that help detail the treated problem;However, it is also relevant to analyze some examples that are framed in today’s societies. With this in mind, it is easy to observe today how people are usually susceptible to important changes in their daily habits in order to adopt the constant technological innovations, without thinking much about the consequences that they may have. To explain this, a very good example is the daily use of cell phones and media, because we are all aware that, beyond the entertainment they can provide, they also serve to influence in some ways about public opinion. This is because the media represent a relevant instrument to convey ideas and beliefs to citizens who, ultimately, have "accustomed" to accept their position of vulnerability to be influenced by the type of information emitted by controlled channelsFor the most powerful groups economically, socially and politically (Higuera, 2018). This occurs because the interactions of societies with the artifact in question have led to conceal the purpose of exercising power, because if the political intention was more direct, the effects of the artifacts would lose much of their reach.

As we saw throughout the writing, technologies represent much more than we usually believe, reaching the point of impacting authority dynamics on populations. For this reason, it can be concluded that in order to understand the artifacts it is necessary.


  • Chandler, a. (1977). The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Cambridge: Belknap.
  • Higuera, j. (March 14, 2018). The 2 shores. Obtained from the political power of the media: https: //
  • Kuhn, t. (1962). Revolutions as changes in the world concept. In the structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
  • Mumford, l. (1964). Authoritarian and Democratic Technics. Technology and Culture.
  • Winner, l. (1986). Does artifacts have politics? In the whale and the reactor: a search for the limits in the era of high technology. Gedisa.

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