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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Problems of Culture

In making their assessment of the “anthropological variety” of technology (see Li-Hua), the essays of this section attempt to identify and describe the core qualities that can be associated with Islamic, Chinese, Japanese and Western technology. These essays utilize the familiar method of defining by example and discussion, and there is much to be learned from the rich empirical diversity that such an overview provides. It is worth marking at the onset, all the same, that each of these essays takes up a more-or-less bounded and non-problematic analysis of the assigned “culture.” This is especially the case, somewhat paradoxically, when the essays examine instances of the transfer of technology between regions or cultures. Even the idea of a technological “dialogue” between different cultures (used to good effect by Arnold Pacey [1990]) can still carry the assumption that there exists a fundamental, identifiable and more-or-less essential core to the culture(s) under examination. Recently, anthropologists and social theorists have preferred to jettison such essentialist conceptions of culture, and to prefer performative ones. Here, there is no stable core to a given culture – i.e. its essential features – that is constant across time and then that might “change” under one set of circumstances or another. A performative view postulates that cultures are continually re-created and performed, so that changes can be small and incremental and/or large and dramatic. ...

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