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Faculty of Economics

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Lawson, C.

Technology and the extension of human capabilities

Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour

Vol. 40(2) pp. 207-223 (2010)

Abstract: There is a tension in many discussions of technology concerning the distinction between technical objects and other artefacts. On the one hand, a variety of artefacts, such as paintings, sculptures, jewellery, food, toys, passports, etc., tend not to be considered as technical objects. Such artefacts do not enter into accounts of technical change or technological trajectories and are not referred to in order to illustrate major theories of technology—for example, it is hard to image a theory of technological determinism having emerged from a concern with such artefacts as paintings or jewellery. On the other hand, general discussion of technology tends to shift between the word technology and undifferentiated reference to material artefacts or even simply artefacts. That is, specific talk of particular “acceptably technical” objects, such as computers or hammers, when generalised, quickly take the form of discussions of artefacts or material things with no clearly or explicitly distinguished technical characteristics. No doubt much of this tension arises for the simple reason that it is not easy to establish what it is about certain artefacts that make them unambiguously technical in nature. Various attempts have been made to use some conception of “function” or “means” to mark the difference. But such attempts quickly unravel. Is art or food without function? Are not most actions or productions a means to some other action or production?

Author links: Clive Lawson  

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