Volume 17, Issue 1, Winter 2013
Extending Feenberg: Toward the Instrumentalization of the Critical Theory of Technology
The Role of Experience in the Critical Theory of Technology
Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology features a sophisticated analysis of the ways by which social forces influence processes of technological design, production and use. While Feenberg is foremostly read as a critical theorist, this essay argues that his call to democratize technology stands on distinct phenomenological grounds. This is based on the way he illustrates the role of experience in subtending potentials for the progressive transformation of the sociotechnical sphere. Against this background, this essay identifies an important shift in the way Feenberg articulates experience, from relating it to lifelong processes of learning and identity-construction (Bildung) to an emphasis on visceral immediacy (Erlebnis). This shift manifests a newfound focus on material, embodied meanings over-against linguistic ones, and results in a considerable tension between Feenberg’s appeal to experiential self-evidence and his critical position toward technology. The discussion of the two modes of experience exemplifies the current that underlies Feenberg’s work, namely the creation of traffic between ontological and ontic accounts of sociotechnical entities, practices and relations.