Bimber, Bruce. 1994. "Three Faces of Technological Determinism." in Does Technology Drive History, edited by Merrit Roe Smith and Leo Marx. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Technological determinism lurks in many historical explanations. But there is confusion about the definition of TD.

Habermas observes that society overrelies on norms of efficiency and productivity when considering technological development. Technical development is independent of social development in his form of TD. Eventually society adopts the efficiency judgements of the scientist. Bimber calls this a Normative account.

In this logic and efficiency reign supreme and become all encompassing norms.

A second interpretation is that "given the past, and the laws of nature, there is only one possible future". This Nomological account relies on the laws of nature rather than on social norms. Technology itself exercises causal influence on social practice. Certain technologies require certain forms of societal organization. For example, the railroad necessitates the telegraph, steel production, large industry, etc.

Miller states that social structures evolve by adapting to technological change. It has little to do with what people want or desire. Development happens through some natural logic. Heilbroner is another Nomological writer. There is a specific inevitable causal path of succeeding developments. History is predetermined by scientific laws. Nomological accounts are culture independent, while normative accounts are culture-specific.

A third approach focuses on the unintendend consequences of technical enterprise. Outcomes of actions are uncertain and uncontrollable. Even willful, ethical social actors can't anticipate the effects of technological development. Thus technology is partly autonomous. Technological developments have a role in determining social outcomes that is beyond human control. No underlying logic drives development.

Comparing the Three Accounts

Cohen argues first that TD holds that history is determined by laws or by physical and biological conditions and not by human will. The laws should apply at all times and places. He also states that TD should be technological in meaning. Technology is the medium through which physical laws shape the course of human events. To use his definition TD must be both technical and deterministic.

This definition doesn't admit "hard" vs "soft" considerations. Technology-intensive societies might not be technically deterministic. He also assumes that technology means artifacts -- machines or associated material elements by which these are produced.

In this view Normative accounts are not TD. They see human desires as controlling, and posit that a "technical view" and a value system based on efficiency and logic prevails. This is not TD. Normative accounts actually deconstruct TD into a cultural phenomenon.

Likewise, unintended consequences are also not TD, but indeterminism. Unintended consequences are properties of social action.

Thomas P. Hughes suggests that the term "technological momentum" is more appropriate for describing the increasing capacity of technological systems to influence societies as systems grow in size. The 'reciprocal relations" view is thus more precise.


Applying Model to Karl Marx

Does Marx's historical materialism constitute TD? Marx sees technology only in its impact on economic actitivity -- the forces of production. But how are the forces of production defined, and what can their primacy over other factors and their tendency for development be attributed?

Cohen interprets Marx to define them as means of production and labor force.

Ultimately, Marx doesn't rely solely on technology to explain history. Productive forces of industry depend on science and technology which are in turn related to the development of material production. Marx portrays technology more as an enabling factor than an original cause. The real significance is that as technology progresses the control over individual productive activity is further removed from the laborers. He sees the struggle in human terms, between a desire to accumulate and the resistance to alienation from work.


Marx: Factors Driving the Forces of Production

1. The basic human drive for self-expression.

2. Productive activity forms the fundamental mode of self-expression.

3. The expansion of human needs (causes a perpetual scarcity of a sort).

Conditions the Facilitate Productive Development in History

1. Expanding population

2 Increasing social intercourse

3. Availability of science and technology, especially in later phase of capitalism.

Thus Marx was a determinist, but more of an social-economic one.