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11. Ellul and Technology Studies (A Media Ecology Review)

Communication Research Trends 2004, Summer, 23, 2

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The most radical of Kuhns's (1971) post-industrial prophets is the French social critic Jacques Ellul. Ellul rarely addresses the effects of individual technologies, instead focusing on technology at the highest level of abstraction, as a system, worldview, and way of life; the term he uses in this context is la technique. In what many consider his major work, The Technological Society (1964), Ellul argues that we have entered a historical phase in which we have given up control over human affairs to technology and the technological imperative. According to Ellul, technology has become autonomous and automatic, self-augmenting or expanding at an ever increasing rate, and encompassing every sector of human society. It dominates the natural world and has replaced religion and even science as our governing ideology. Except that technology is not really an ideology, he argues, in that it represents no set of ideas or values other that itself. Efficiency is the only thing that matters in a technological system, so all other considerations are subordinated to efficiency, if not eliminated outright. Ellul continues his argument in The Technological System (1980), where he refers to technology as an environment and ecology, and like Mumford (1970) is critical of McLuhan's stance on technology. And he returns to it once again in The Technological Bluff (1990), where he critiques computers and technological networks. Apart from his three major technology books, Ellul also followed up The Technological Society with Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (1965), focusing on propaganda as a particular type of technology or technique, one whose aim is to control human behavior so that we are integrated into the technological system. Here he discusses different categories of propaganda, including the propaganda of integration (which aims at keeping the individual satisfied with the status quo) and agitation (whose purpose is to move the individual to action); sociological propaganda (a subtle form that works through entertainment, advertising, schools, the arts, religion, etc.) and political propaganda (the most obvious type of propaganda); and horizontal propaganda (through peer groups) and vertical propaganda (coming from authorities). Ellul notes that literacy and mass communications technologies are vital for propaganda, for without a means of delivering the messages, there is no way for propaganda techniques to influence populations. This line of inquiry continues into The Political Illusion (1967), where Ellul discusses the need to maintain the illusion that public opinion controls political decision making in order to maintain legitmacy. He argues that this illusion is used to counter the reality that government decisions need to be based on the technical criterion of efficiency, which in turn requires the use of propaganda techniques to direct public opinion to support those decisions and maintain the illusion of popular support and sovereignty.

11. Ellul and Technology Studies (A Media Ecology Review)
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  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: 22 June 2004
  • Publisher: Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture
  • Print Length: 10 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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