other publications

cubaDemandsThumb
signsThumb
globalMediaThumb

Ursula Franklin: People First Technology

Ursula Franklin

University Professor Emeritas in U of T's Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science, Ursula Franklin is a world-renowned expert in the study of ancient materials. A frequent consultant on the authenticity of artifacts, she is one of only a handful of experts in the world working in the field of ancient materials. Former director of U of T's museum studies program, she is senior resident and fellow of Massey College. A fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, she holds several honorary degrees from Canadian universities including U of T, as well as many civic awards.

In her 1989 Massey Lecture , The Real World of Technology, Franklin makes some fine distinctions in our thinking about the relationship of technology to culture:

Looking at technology as practice, indeed as formalized practice, has some quite interesting consequences. One is that it links technology directly to culture, because culture, after all, is a set of socially accepted practices and values. Well laid down and agreed upon practices also define the practitioners as a group of people who have something in common because of the way they are doing things.

. . . I sat in the back of a large meeting room, listening to a long and boring discussion. I began to knit. A young woman came over, sat down next to me, and whispered, "I'd like to talk to you. You knit just like my mother." Of course, her mother was also German, and there is a German way of knitting.

I think it is important to realize that technology defined as practice shows us the deep cultural link of technology, and it saves us from thinking that technology is the icing on the cake. Technology is part of the cake itself.

Like democracy, technology is a multifaceted entity. It includes activities as well as a body of knowledge, structures as well as the act of structuring. Our language itself is poorly suited to describe the complexity of technological interactions. The interconnectedness of many of those processes, the fact that they are so complexly interrelated, defies our normal push-me-pull-you, cause-and-consequence metaphors. How does one talk about something that is both fish and water, means as well as end? (11-35) Audio file of Massey Lecture, The Real World of Technology, 1989

Canada Under Occupation
....By an Army of Marketeers


Occupations and puppet governments are not only the stuff of wartime - they exist right now under the subjugation of free market supremacy

Life means people, and people mean friendship, support, sustenance and love. Life is justice - the striving for justice.

For some in Canada, however, life means profits, and profits mean pitting people against one another. They suffer from what I can only call moral dyslexia. Unfortunately, unlike children with learning disabilities, those afflicted with moral dyslexia don't come to us for help, don't seek a clearer vision. They are morally disabled by their own choice.

I find the current situation bearable with the help of two things. One is a concept of the reality in which we live, and the second is a look back at history.

I picture the reality in which we live in terms of military occupation. We are occupied the way the French and Norwegians were occupied by the Nazis during World War II, but this time by an army of marketeers. We have, as the occupied nations of Europe had, puppet governments who run the country for the benefit of the occupier. We have, as they did, collaborators.

We, like the French and Norwegians at the time, have to protect our families and so are forced on occasion to work with the occupiers to survive. Like the citizens of Nazi-occupied Europe, however, we must also develop strategies for building a resistance movement. We have to reclaim our country from those who occupy it on behalf of their global masters, who have only contempt for those whose territory they now rule.

Privatization the goal

The goal of the occupiers is privatization, which, in its most brutal terms, means to provide investment and profit opportunities in all those areas that people previously had set aside as common holdings - culture, health care, education, publishing, housing, nature, sports, prisons. Once dismantled, the "public sphere" can be more easily "occupied" - turned over to what I call the Empire of the Marketeers. These warlords will convert the ill-health and misery and basic needs of our neighbours into investment opportunities for the next round of global capitalism.

Regrettably, our occupiers, unlike their German military predecessors, do not wear uniforms, and so we can't identify them as easily as military occupiers could in the past. But this in fact is more of a technicality than a matter of substance. There are other and equally effective ways of identifying our corporate overseers and their agents.

The language of resistance

Take language, for example. One of the things that anyone who has lived under occupation will tell you is that they refused to speak the language of the occupier. That is a good lesson to remember. We, too, should refuse to speak the language of the occupier, which is now the language of the market. It's a language that reflects, as all languages do, the moral values (or lack of such values) of those who speak them.

We should shun such market euphemisms as "the users and providers of health care," or "the consumers of education." These are doctors and nurses and patients; they are teachers and students. They are friends, families and communities.

This option of resistance is open to all of us and we should use it. We must analyze the language of public discourse and point out what words like "globalization," "competitiveness," "downsizing" and "labour-saving technology" really mean. It is amazing how much clarification can help to build a resisting community.

We can also look at how in the past resistance was organized so as to slow down the process and progress of occupation. In the French film 'Les Enfants du Paradise', for instance, we are shown beautiful crowd scenes, but also realize that, through the director's artistry, French youths were kept away from the clutches of the occupiers and saved from being conscripted into the German army or into work gangs.

We need to develop our own tactics for protecting people - especially the most vulnerable - from the modern army of marketeers. We have to devise ways in which we can slow down and frustrate the occupation. In our case, such means can take the form of court challenges, but also well-researched critiques as well as the creative use of the electronic media to bypass the occupation force's control of information.

Death by a thousand bites

When the task of building a resistance seems especially difficult, it helps to look back into history, to see the many efforts made in the past to reform "the system," both from the top and from the bottom. In the period before the Reformation, for example, people lived under the rule of a universal church - an authority that regulated all aspects of their lives. They knew this church had become corrupt - that it wasn't bringing God to them, but using that pretext to consolidate and perpetuate its power.

How did they get out from under that kind of absolute rule? None of the individual efforts to effect change made over many years was able to topple the ecclesiastical structure; but each one shook it a little, and in the process of constant struggle and critique created a climate in which a particular incident or excess could trigger a collapse of the whole ruling order.

The Reformation in the end was triggered by what was historically a very silly incident - the selling of indulgences to reduce the time spent in Purgatory after death. These were clever fund-raising schemes to pay for mega-projects like St. Peter's Cathedral. Somebody who was really smart in the hierarchy thought: we've milked the living for all we can, why not use the dead? People could be made to feel guilty if they didn't buy indulgences to lessen the time their Aunt Agatha or Uncle Horace had to suffer in Purgatory.

It was a scheme that worked for a while, but eventually its legitimacy was widely questioned. Out of this long and broadly-based questioning of authority came the moment when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the cathedral door. In his treatise on the freedom of Christians, Luther publicly denied the absolute authority of the Pope, thereby starting the process that eventually broke his universal authority.

What I derive from such events in history is that no authoritarian structure, no matter how powerful it may seem, is really impregnable - that it can in fact be brought down. Every opposing action, every skirmish, every critique helps to bring closer the time when the occupying army will be thrown out. Exactly when that time will come, when the trigger will come and what form it will take, no one can predict. What we do know for certain is that social justice does not come from passivity or non-caring. Justice must be struggled for. That is what life is, or should be all about - striving for justice. Not only or primarily as individuals, but as members of larger communities.

Our acts of defiance, of resistance, are the building blocks of solidarity. We still have lots of work to do and strong coalitions to build and join if the struggle for a profound "reformation" of our economy and community is to succeed.


.................... :::::::: .................

Dr. Ursula Franklin is a retired university professor, feminist, Quaker, peace activist, and member of the Voice of Women. This article was adapted from a speech she delivered at the Ten Days for Global Justice seminar in Toronto last year. (courtesy of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, ccpa@policyalternatives.ca )

(Reprinted/distributed with permission of People's News Agency, Platanvej 30, 1810 Frederiksberg C, Denmark, gtimes@post8.tele.dk).

Building A People-First Economy

[The following article was part of her talk at the Toronto-Central TEN DAYS event on February 1, 1997, at which she addressed this past year's theme - "The World We Want".]

I find the current situation both here and anywhere else only bearable and understandable with the help of two things: One is a picture that I made of the reality in which we live and the second is a look back into history. I picture the reality in which we live in terms of military occupation. Some of you may have seen an article that was published in Peace Magazine about a year ago where I reflected on the observation, "Why is it that in spite of the disappearance of the Soviet Empire, in spite of the falling of the Berlin Wall, there has neither been peace nor a peace dividend?" The sort of thing that those who argued for peace had hope for, that resources would be available to meet human needs once the arms race had stopped, obviously didn't happen.

The question for me in that article was, "Why?" I suggested that the mechanism of war, that brought us the planning of Star Wars and notion of the Evil Empire, that same mechanism was transposed in the way you would transpose a piece of music. The war theme was transposed from what might be called the military key to the commercial key. It meant that the war that had overtly stopped when the cold war stopped, (and I'm quite mindful of how many actual shooting wars are still going on) remained the theme; but now the war activity was transposed into an economic war activity in which the political hegemony became commercial hegemony. You may say that, surely, every war needs an enemy. Now that the official enemy, "the evil empire", refused the role that they played so well for thirty years, who is going to be the enemy? I'm afraid that the enemy is us. The enemy is people, not THE people, not people identifiable from a passport, but the enemy is the collectivity of ordinary people and what they hold in common: i.e. the commons. What binds us together, activities and institutions that are indivisible, that are conducted for profit but are there as common holdings and ventures, whether this is involves culture, education, nature, sport, health, housing, everything that is common and previously administered and regulated in the public sector is the new theatre of war.

The goal of that war is privatization; in the most brutal terms, it means to provide and open up investment and profit opportunities in all those areas that people previously had set aside as commons - whether it's publishing, culture, healthcare, prisons or education. The purpose of dismantling the public sphere is to occupy its territory and turn it over to what I call the Empire of the Marketeers. These warlords will, in the end, make the ill health or misery of our neighbours into investment opportunities for the next round of capitalism. In my opinion, this is what is going on: We are occupied the way the French and Norwegians were occupied, but this time by an army of the marketeers. We have, as they did, their puppet governments who run the country for the benefit of the occupier. We have, as they did, their collaborateurs. We, like the French and Germans at the time, have to protect our families and on many occasions have to work with the occupiers in order to save lives. We, as they, have to develop strategies on how do you build resistance under occupation. We are, as they were, threatened by deliberate wilfulness, by people who have only contempt for those they occupy and see their mission to turn over this territory to those who are their masters. Unfortunately our occupiers don't wear uniforms. We can't identify them as clearly as military occupiers be in the past but this, in fact, is more of a technicality than a matter of substance. One of the things that anyone who has lived under occupation will tell you is that they refused to speak the language of the occupier. I think that is a good lesson to remember. We too should refuse to speak the language of the occupier; it is not now German or Russian but the language of the market, where they speak of "service providers" and clients, of stake holders and of the bottom line. It's a language that reflects, as all languages do, the moral values of those who speak. One path of resistance is to refuse to communicate in the language of the occupier. Don't talk stakeholders, about users and providers of health care, consumers of education. They are for us teachers and students, nurses, doctors and patients; they are friends, families and communities. This particular option of resistance is open to all of us and we should use it. We must analyze the language of public discourse and have to point out what those words really mean. It is amazing how much such clarification can help to build a resisting community.

We can also look at how in the past resistance worked in cases involving activities designed to slow down the progress and process of occupation. Do you remember "Les Enfants du Paradise", a very long and beautiful French film? It was a beautiful film with vast and impressive mass scenes, but the director's artistry was also the attempt to keep as many people out of the clutches of the occupying army, to try and shield as many young people from being drafted into the German army or into the labour contingencies. Now we must remember such tactics as we need to protect people, particularly the most vulnerable. We have to develop, with each other, ways in which we can slow down and frustrate the occupation. In our case such means can take the form of court challenges, but also critiques and factual corrections as well as creative use of electronic media to bypass the occupation forces' control of information. At the same time we need to enlist the help of the people with whom we are in solidarity in other countries. Urge them not to push what is called progress, because often the process of schooling, of training for production and global commerce can be the means by which marketeers who are getting their dirty paws on yet another conquest. Whether it's here among ourselves or whether it's while working with people in other countries, practices such as not using the language of the market, such as developing and articulating processes of resistance, are applicable. These are the building blocks of solidarity. Every problem that people have with their particular occupying army is the problem that we all have.

And that's where we have work to do and coalitions to build and to join, if global justice is to become a reality.