Volume 13, Issue 1, Winter 2009
Gilbert Simondon’s genetic “mecanology”and the understanding of laws of technical evolution
Since the 1930’s, several attempts have been made to develop a general theory of technical systems or objects and their evolution: in France, Jacques Lafitte, André Leroi-Gourhan, Bertrand Gille, Yves Deforge, and Gilbert Simondon are the main representatives of this trend. In this paper, we focus on the work of Simondon: his analysis of technical progress is based on the hypothesis that technology has its own laws and that customer demand has no paramount influence upon the evolution of technical systems. We first describe the process Simondon called “concretization” and compare it with the process of “idealization” as defined by Genrich Altshuller. We then explain how the progress of technical lineages can be characterized as following a specific rhythm of relaxation and how it thus obeys a “law” of evolution in the industrial context. Simondon’s theoretical approach, although similar to some aspects of methodologies of conception, emphasized a more accurate understanding of technical progress over possible operational applications. Simondon never intended to optimize the engineer’s tasks from an economic point of view and, in fact, his conception of technical progress can be considered as independent from the capitalistic trend of innovation. However, the philosophy of Simondon provides a better understanding of what is at stake theoretically in the modeling of laws of technical evolution.