The State and Technology



We may not have to accept the technological determinist’s suggestion that the modern state has been transformed by technology, but we cannot, however, avoid the conclusion that the state has found itself intimately bound up with technology. The state can be found promoting the introduction of technology, using it to sustain national prestige, deploying it to maintain internal and external security, and subsidising its research and development. As Donald MacKenzie observes, ‘Take away the institutional structures that support technological change of a particular sort, and it ceases to seem “natural” — indeed it ceases altogether’ (MacKenzie, 1991, p. 384). The state is one such institutional structure. Political leaders make a point of attending the unveiling of new technologies. ‘Large scale technology initiatives’, remarks Peterson (1989, p. 12), ‘can often pay considerable and immediate political dividends’. Nations compete with each other to be the first with a new technological breakthrough. Wernher von Braun, one of the USA’s rocket engineers, once wrote of the decision to put men on the Moon: ‘A country from which a major proportion of mankind expects dynamic leadership has no choice but of either taking up the historical challenge of the day or of stepping down from the position to which fate has lifted it’ (quoted in Marsh, 1985, p. 9).


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© John Street 1992

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