In my presentation, I conceptualize the relationship between public action and technology by combining my phenomenological interpretation of the philosopher Hannah Arendt’s thinking with sociotechnical approaches.
For ages, immateriality has been taken as an ontological assumption in the field of media and communication studies. The research has focused mostly to language, meaning and representation. Technology is generally understood instrumentally, as a medium for transmitting message, or at the most, as a mean of expression, which might have characteristics that will affect interpretation or transmitting the message. Anthropocentrism characterizes also the theories of public action, which focuses foremost on analysing human beings as “speaking creatures”. Obviously, these approaches are not wrong, but most of the time they are not capable to grasp the material conditions behind the human action.
In recent years, the effects of social media algorithms on public debate are forcing researches to take the role of technology and materiality into precise focus of their analyses. In media studies, new materialism is realised as, for example, popularity of theories of affects, affordances, and infrastructures. However, the role of technology and more systematic analysis of agency as a part of theory of public action has been marginalized in communication and political studies. Public action is a key concept as part of thinking of the possibilities of citizens to participate in democracy and thus, cannot be left only as a theoretical ideal. It must be seen in a new relation with dynamic material environment.
In the presentation, I will provide new view on the debate by considering philosopher Hannah Arendt as a phenomenological theorist of science and technology. In the field of communication studies, Arendt has been mostly approached through “Habermasian lenses”. Whereas my interpretation emphasizes phenomenological reading of pluralism inherent in Arendt’s thinking while opening her other concepts in a novel to philosophical discussion. The pluralism is not something that just is but something that we must do - it manifests itself only as the actualization of pluralism in the realms of appearances. I put forth that, to forget the phenomenological dimension of Arendt’s thinking is to leave the conception of pluralism as a superficial and not to acknowledge her view of the nature of being-in-the-world as material and intersubjective. Against this interpretation, it becomes also easier to understand Arendt’s criticism of cartesian dualism and modern technology, in which the technology has a central role in the alienation from the common world.
My interpretation of Arendt resonates meaningfully but unheeded way with the central premises of social technology studies (STS). Especially critical posthumanistic theorists of technology have been striving to conceptualize non-human agency and criticize the central worldview of humanism as insufficient in present world that challenges traditional dualistic divisions between social and material. By combining Arendt's analysis of the disappearance of the foundation of politics in the modern world with understanding of the intertwining relationship of critical technology studies, opens up theoretical framework which allows to study political agency as something that originates through the human and non-human interaction.