The Democratic Shaping of Technology: Its Rise, Fall and Possible Rebirth

  • Langdon Winner Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


In the 2020 Prague Virtual Conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), Langdon Winner was awarded the society’s John D. Bernal Prize jointly with Sharon Traweek. The Bernal Prize is awarded annually to individuals who have made distinguished contributions to the field of STS. Prize recipients include founders of the field of STS, along with outstanding scholars who have devoted their careers to the understanding of the social dimensions of science and technology. This essay comprises Winner’s acceptance speech and is followed by a short postscript written in 2021. The postscript captures a brief reflection on the upheavals of the COVID-19 pandemic and the US election results which shifted the US to a Biden administration.

In their award statement, the Bernal Prize committee noted: “Winner’s most cited article “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” of 1980 has inspired a wide spectrum of critique and analysis of technological arrangements as, among other things, political orderings of our society. Since then, his career has focused on the political dimensions of science and technology, technology policy and the politics of technology. Winner has addressed key intellectual questions of classical and modern political theory in order to debate how order, power, freedom, authority and justice had resonance within technological devices. More specifically, he has brought a new dimension into the field by addressing how these classic questions in political theory are often deeply embedded in technical and material frameworks. His work emphasizes that “because technological innovation is inextricably linked to processes of social reconstruction, any society that hopes to control its own structural evolution must confront each significant set of technological possibilities with scrupulous care.”

Author Biography

Langdon Winner, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Langdon Winner is an American political theorist and an accomplished and recognized scholar in the field of Science and Technology Studies. He is Thomas Phelan Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. In 1990, he was a research fellow at the Center for Technology and Culture at the University of Oslo, Norway. In 2010 he was Fulbright Scholar at the Complutense University in Madrid. He is also Visiting Professor of Informatics and Society at the Pontifical University of Salamanca in Madrid and Visiting Professor at the Department of Philosophy of Technology, Northeastern University in Shenyang, China.

05 Oct 2021