Alienability, Rivalry, and Exclusion Cost: Three Institutional Factors for Design

  • Paul B. Thompson

Twentieth century social science developed penetrating analyses of formal and informal institutions on many levels, yet both philosophers and specialists in design have yet to avail themselves of the implications that these analyses have for understanding the technological transformation of the material world. Three ideas from institutional theory are particularly relevant to technical change. Exclusion cost refers to the effort that must be expended to prevent others from usurping or interfering in one’s use or disposal of a given good or resource. Alienability refers to the ability to tangibly extricate a good or resource from one setting, making it available for exchange relations. Rivalry refers to the degree and character of compatibility in various uses for goods. These concepts allow us to pose questions that have been asked by Herbert Marcuse, and Langdon Winner in a more pointed way: if technology is in part responsible for the shape of our institutions, and if institutional change in the sphere of law and custom can be subjected to philosophical critique and democratic guidance, why should not technology be subjected to the same critique and guidance? Specifically, why should not technical designers account for factors such as exclusion cost, alienability, and rivalry in considering alternative designs? Why should not the developers of technology also be socially and politically accountable for consequences accruing from alterations in alienability, rivalry, or exclusion cost?

Keywords

Corn Europe Milling Tempo Defend 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Commons, J. R., 1931, Institutional economics, Am. Econ. Rev. 21:648-657.Google Scholar
  2. Conway, G., 2000, Genetically modified crops: risks and promise. Cons. Ecol. 4(1):2. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol4/iss1/art2/
  3. Lessig, L., 1999, Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Lessig, L., 2002, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Vintage Books, New York.Google Scholar
  5. MacPherson, C. B., 1962, The Political Theory Of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes To Locke, Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  6. Marcuse, H., 1966, One Dimensional Man, Beacon Press, Boston.Google Scholar
  7. Muir, W., 2004, The threats and benefits of GM fish, EMBO Reports 5:654-659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. North, D. C., 1990, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  9. Polanyi, K., 1944, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Beacon Press, Boston (reprinted 2001).Google Scholar
  10. Thompson, E. P., 1971, The moral economy of the English crowd in the Eighteenth Century, Past and Pres. 50(February):76-136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Winner, L., 1986, The Whale and the Reactor: The Search for Limits in a Technological Age, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul B. Thompson
    • 1
  1. 1.Michigan State UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations