Technological Determinism and Permissionless Innovation as Technocratic Governing Mentalities: Psychocultural Barriers to the Democratization of Technology

  • Taylor Dotson New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Keywords: technological determinism, permissionless innovation, governing mentalities, psychocultural barriers, technological governance, democracy


Despite no shortage of thoughtful analysis concerning how to more democratically develop and assess new technologies, practical progress toward democratized innovation has been paltry. This state of affairs suggests that the barriers to such democratic ends merit more attention. Building upon calls to more seriously examine citizens’ understandings of technology as autonomous or deterministic, this paper characterizes the assumptions, beliefs, and patterns of thought undergirding technological determinism and permissionless innovation as technocratic governing mentalities. That is, they contribute to the biasing of political discourses, practices, and organizations toward non-decision making and adaptation with regards to technological change. Indeed, permissionless innovation is quickly becoming the motto of those aiming to legitimate a “hands-off” approach to the sociotechnical “disruptions” sought by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Moreover, this paper explores how STS, as both an academic and political endeavor, might better respond to the challenges these modes of thinking present. Drawing upon relevant work within social psychology and communications, several fruitful avenues for engaged research regarding undermining technocratic governing mentalities become apparent. Not only is there a pressing need for accessible and parsimonious counternarratives to technological determinism and permissionless innovation but also rhetorical strategies for making the democratization of technological appear continuous with aspects of status quo systems. Finally, given that technocratic governing mentalities are likely to have practical and material roots, inquiry should be directed toward understanding how different sociotechnical arrangements impact citizens’ perception of the desirability and feasibility of democratizing technology.

Author Biography

Taylor Dotson, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Assistant Professor of Social Science

Department of Communication, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

29 Dec 2015