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Robotopias: mapping Utopian perspectives on new industrial technology

Firth, Rhiannon and Robinson, Andrew (2020) 'Robotopias: mapping Utopian perspectives on new industrial technology.' International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. ISSN 0144-333X

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Abstract

Purpose This paper maps utopian theories of technological change. The focus is on debates surrounding emerging industrial technologies which contribute to making the relationship between humans and machines more symbiotic and entangled, such as robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. The aim is to provide a map to navigate complex debates on the potential for technology to be used for emancipatory purposes and to plot the grounds for tactical engagements. Design/methodology/approach The paper proposes a two-way axis to map theories into to a six-category typology. Axis one contains the parameters humanist–assemblage. Humanists draw on the idea of a human essence of creative labour-power, and treat machines as alienated and exploitative form of this essence. Assemblage theorists draw on posthumanism and poststructuralism, maintaining that humans always exist within assemblages which also contain non-human forces. Axis two contains the parameters utopian/optimist; tactical/processual; and dystopian/pessimist, depending on the construed potential for using new technologies for empowering ends. Findings The growing social role of robots portends unknown, and maybe radical, changes, but there is no single human perspective from which this shift is conceived. Approaches cluster in six distinct sets, each with different paradigmatic assumptions. Practical implications Mapping the categories is useful pedagogically, and makes other political interventions possible, for example interventions between groups and social movements whose practice-based ontologies differ vastly. Originality/value Bringing different approaches into contact and mapping differences in ways which make them more comparable, can help to identify the points of disagreement and the empirical or axiomatic grounds for these. It might facilitate the future identification of criteria to choose among the approaches.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Robots, Cybernetics, Posthumanism, Humanism, Utopia
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology, Department of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 30 Apr 2020 18:56
Last Modified: 30 Apr 2020 18:56
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/27416

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