AECT Handbook of Research

Table of Contents

9. Critical Theory and Educational Technology

9.1 Introduction
9.2 Foundations of Critical Theory
9.3 Habermas's Epistemology
9.4 Critical Theory and Technolgy
9.5 Critical Theory and Education
9.6 Critical Theory of Educational Technology
9.7 Topics in Critical Theory of Educational Technology
9.8 Problems with Critical Theories of Education
9.9 Problems with Critical Theories of Educational Technology
9.10 Summary
9.11 Being Critical Educational Technologists
9.12 Why Appropriate Critical Theory?
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Critical theory and its relations to educational technology are examined later in the chapter, but by way of background, we look now at critical theory about technology in general.

Critical theories and technology have inseparable pasts, as evidenced in the Marxists' ideas about "mechanisms of control." Remember that many in the Frankfurt School believed that "science was in danger of taking forms of social life for granted and reflecting only on 'technical' issues" (Carr & Kemmis, 1986, p. 132). Marcuse believed that, as they were used predominantly, "industrial capitalism and the bureaucratization of society stripped humans of any claims to autonomy and undermined their critical expression with a functional language" (Daley, 1983). Lewis Mumford wrote extensively about technology and society in the 1920s and can be considered a critical theorist (Hughes & Hughes, 1990). In The Illusion of Technique and Death of the Soul, Barrett (1978, 1987, respectively) has written unique and penetrating philosophical and historical analyses of the relations of technology to freedom. . Of course, Habermas has criticized technology directly. His comments reflect the assessments of many critical theorists on this topic--especially those who wrestle with the question of the autonomous nature of technology (e.g., see Winner, 1977, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought). Habermas (1969) says:

The quasi-autonomous progress of science and technology then appears as an independent variable on which the most important single system variable, namely, economic growth, depends. Thus arises a perspective in which the development of a social system seems to be determined by the logic of scientific-technical progress ... the culturally defined self-understanding of a social lifeworld is replaced by ... categories of purposive-rational action and adaptive behavior ... The manifest domination of the authoritarian state gives way to the manipulative compulsions of technicaloperational administration (p. 105).

Feminists, too, have written critically about technology in general. Stabile (1994), in Feminism and The Technological Fix, critiques the extremes of technomania and technopbobia and tells how wider approaches to technology and socialist-feminist concerns give hope that all of us can survive the severe threats of capitalism. Wajcman's (1991) work in Feminism Confronts Technology is indicative of the depth, breadth, and high quality of analyses going on in this area. The book studies not only the differential effects of technology on men and women but also the ways society affects technologies, especially "advanced" societies. Wajcman also examines feminist critiques of workplace and reproductive, domestic, environmental, and masculine technologies. While much of the literature in these areas is about negative relations with technology, WaJcman also hopes to convince us that a recognition of the profoundly gendered character of technology need not lead to political pessimism or total rejection of existing technologies. The argument that women's relationship to technology is a contradictory one, combined with the realization that technology is itself a social construct, opens up fresh possibilities for feminist scholarship and action (p. x).

Like Wajcman, other critical theorists (who are not necessarily feminists) write about the positive potentials of rationality, science, and technology in general. Marcuse believed that technology had the potential to free people from repressive economies (Daley, 1983), though this potential is not often realized. Feenberg (1991), in Critical Theory of Technology, attempts to show how a critical theory can help form"a new technical code" that is dialectical, contextual, aesthetic, and humanly, socially, and ecologically responsible (p. 189).

Updated August 3, 2001
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