Can there be an emancipatory politics of technology today?

The “Center for Emancipatory Technology” (CET) tries to open up new perspectives in the prevalent public discourse around technology between product-driven innovation romanticism and fear of joblessness.

On the 7th and 8th of September 2018, the interdisciplinary, German-speaking network of researchers hosted their founding conference under the title “Technopolitics from below. Digitalization, Unions, Emancipation” at the DGB headquarter in Munich. One of the contributors of our blog, Phillip, is founding member of the CET. The event brought together researchers and activists from different fields such as sociology, computer science, hacktivism, the LGTIQ* hacker/maker scene, transnational workers union organizing, grassroots political initiatives and many more. It took place at the DGB (German Trade Union Confederation) headquarter in Munich and thus explicitly paid tribute to the need for involvement of potentially strongly affected workers in the wake of large-scale automation and growing demands for evermore flexibilization which are – as one speaker pointed out – often overlooked by academic scholars. Contributions and subsequent discussions were grouped in three panels, each focusing on different aspects of the discourse around technology today, means of intervention and already happening critical appropriations of technology by grassroots feminist or trade union activists.

The conference created a fruitful room for interdisciplinary exchange and each contribution added another mosaic to the multifaceted challenges and discussions when it comes to how technology today is deployed in and perceived by society. Most importantly, what united the participants and organizers alike was the feeling that the prevalent public discourse around new digital technology lacks a fundamental dimension. While there are lots of voices arguing either in favor of new product-driven digital innovations (and thus advantages for national businesses in the global market economy) or against it due to fundamental doubts whether – as Audre Lorde put it – “the master’s tools could ever dismantle the masters house”, there is a lot less activism let alone research trying to act upon or look at the un(der)developed emancipatory potentials of technologies. Expanding the narrow focus on “competitiveness vs. job security”, the defined goal is to raise awareness for this more hopeful and positive perspectives as a counterpoint to the seemingly eternal status quo and to raise consciousness for social alternatives.

The CET as a (right now mostly academic) network has set out to provide a platform for exchange around these topics as well as a medium for communication of their members ideas around the topic.

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