Times of the Technoculture: From the Information Society to the Virtual Life

By Kevin Robins; Frank Webster | Go to book overview

2

ENGAGING WITH LUDDISM
No doubt we are intelligent. But far
from changing the face of the world, on stage
we keep producing rabbits from our brains
and snow-white pigeons, swarms of pigeons
who invariably shit on the books.
You don't have to be Hegel to catch on to the fact
that Reason is both reasonable and against Reason.

(Hans Magnus Enzensberger, The Sinking of the Titanic)

In this chapter, we want to consider the meaning and significance of Luddism. It is an issue that we took up in the 1980s, when we wrote a book on information technology with the subtitle 'A Luddite Analysis'. 1 Reacting to the reflex dismissal of the Luddites, we urged that they be approached with more understanding, and that there should be a more historically grounded awareness of the particular circumstances to which they were responding. Our intention was never to argue for reinstating classical Luddism as a political strategy. What we acknowledged and emphasised was that the Luddism was born out of a particular historical moment: it was the uncompromising response of an emerging proletariat experiencing the displacement of traditional social relations by the relations of laissez-faire capitalism. Luddism represented an attitude of resistance, of refusal by working people to be defined and dominated by capital, that was appropriate to the early nineteenth century.

The point was, however, to bring the Luddite experience into play in the discussion of the new technologies of the late twentieth century-particularly because the opprobrium of being a Luddite was being directed against anyone with the least critical response to the proliferation of information technologies. What those who railed against Luddism wanted to tell us was that there was no way in which the new technologies could be opposed since there was nothing in the technology itself that could be argued about. Along with a number of other writers, 2 we were critical of those who were presenting the development of information technologies as somehow having

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