Langdon Winner is a political theorist who focuses upon social and political issues that surround modern technological change. He is the author of Autonomous Technology, a study of the idea of "technology-out-of-control" in modern social thought, The Whale and The Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology, and editor of Democracy in a Technological Society.
Praised by The Wall Street Journal as "The leading academic on the politics of technology", Mr. Winner was born and raised in San Luis Obispo, California. He received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley with a primary focus upon political theory.
Langdon is Thomas Phelan Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Over the years he has taught at The New School for Social Research, College of the Atlantic, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, Harvey Mudd College, MIT and Colgate University. Langdon has lectured widely throughout the United State, Europe, China, and Latin America. In the early 1990s he was research fellow at the Center for Technology and Culture at the University of Oslo, Norway. In 2010 he was Fulbright Scholar at the Complutense Unversity in Madrid and regularly participates in research projects on computers and ethics there organized by his colleague Professor Javier Bustamante.
Langdon is perhaps best know for posing the question, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" and for answering, 'Yes,' the dimensions of which he has explored in numerous essays and lectures over the years. While some readers have focused upon particular illustrations in his discussion, for example the height of bridges on the Long Island Expressway in New York, Winner sees the matter far more broadly: a question about the basic compatibility (or lack of compatibility) between the desired character of democratic society and its technological devices and systems.
His courses at Rensselaer include "Contemporary Political Thought," "Race and Technology," "Technology and Social Theory," "China and the United Sates", and "American Politics in Crisis". Mr. Winner also teaches "Design, Culture and Society", the S.T.S. Department's Design, Innovation and Society major.
Mr. Winner is past president of the Society for Philosophy and Technology. A sometime rock critic, he was contributing editor at Rolling Stone in the late 1960s and early 1970s and has contributed articles on rock and roll to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and The Encyclopedia Britannica. In the early 1980s he was consultant on Godfrey Reggio's film "Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance."
At present Langdon is preparing a book of his essays, Political Artifacts, and working on a study of 20th century American technology critics and their disquieting insights. His occasional writings on various topics appear in his blog "Technopolis". With time divided between a home in Chatham, New York and a quiet seaside cottage near Brunswick, Maine, he lives with his wife Gail Stuart and three boisterous Labrador retrievers.
Langdon's basic position:
I regularly praise technologies that reflect reasonable practices of democracy, justice, ecological sustainability, and human dignity. Unfortunately, a great many of the technical devices and systems that surround us are designed, built and deployed in flagrant disregard of humane, ecologically sound principles. To an astonishing degree, today's technological society is based upon a collection of bad habits inherited from a reckless industrial past. A partial list of these habits would include:
-- excessive dependence upon fossil fuels as an energy source;
-- blind faith in economic "growth" and its technological expressions;
-- needless destruction of living species and ecosystems;
-- pollution of the air, land and water;
-- reluctance to admit the lethal consequences of massive carbon emissions
upon Earth's climate system and biosphere;
-- exploitation of working people;
-- surveillance as a means of social control;
-- celebration of technical toys as if great social accomplishments;
-- homogenization of cultural expression;
-- militarism as first response to disagreement and conflict.
To oppose these bad habits and the systems that embody them, as well as to suggest reasonable alternatives to them, is enough to get a person branded "anti-technology" and drummed out of town. Again and again, we are urged to celebrate the latest so-called "innovations" regardless of the deranged commitments and disastrous consequences they often involve. While the rise of the scholarly field of Science and Technology Studies once promised to address such matters squarely and energetically, its evolution has tended to favor research and theories offering delicately nuanced, largely disengaged, academic accounts of "technoscience" and its beguiling panoply of projects. By the same token, what passes for leadership in today's central technological enterprises echoes the corruption of the Renaissance popes and perhaps foreshadows a new reformation. As Martin Luther King once observed, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."