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?


Technical Change Institutional Change Formal Institution Exchange Relation Informal Institution 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

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

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