Challenges of the cultural differentiation of technology

Authored by: Petran Kockelkoren

Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Product Design

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138910171
eBook ISBN: 9781315693309
Adobe ISBN:


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The modern philosophers of technology – Heidegger in Germany, Jacques Ellul in France and Lewis Mumford in the US – all contend that technology and media would uproot and alienate the modern subjects from their natural underpinnings. In this chapter I will scrutinize the opposite possibility. According to the philosophical anthropologist Helmuth Plessner, man is naturally artificial and constitutionally alienated. Human perceptions are inevitably mediated by language, images and instruments. Nevertheless the technical mediation of our perceptions prompts us to fine-tune our mediating apparatuses to the living environment. That may be done in many different ways. Here we encounter the tenacity of another mistaken tenet of the modern philosophy of technology: the notion that technology obeys universal laws and produces the one best way to go about. As a consequence, the ubiquitous dissemination of techniques would make the world everywhere the same: one universal consumer society revolving around the products of a handful of multinationals. Techniques have to be incorporated on the spot however. Sustainability depends on the local technological intimacy with nature, as will be shown. The cultural contexts were new products and apparatuses land procure their hybridization. The modern philosophers were misled by the mass-production and Fordism of their age. The idea of the universalizing tendencies of technology now reaches the end of its shelf life. How do we achieve a culturally differentiated technological intimacy with nature? Grassroots Design is our contemporary challenge.

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