Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Technology of Consent
The 1980s in the United States have come into focus as years of extensive ideological and socioeconomic fracture. A conservative movement arose to counter the progressive gains of previous decades, neoliberalism became the nation’s economic mantra, and détente was jettisoned in favour of military build-up. Such developments materialized out of a multitude of conflicts, a cultural crisis of ideas, perspectives, and words competing to maintain or rework the nation’s core structures. In this dissertation I argue that alongside these conflicts, a crisis over technology and its ramifications played a crucial role as well, with the American public grasping for ways to comprehend a nascent technoculture. Borrowing from Andrew Feenberg, I define three broad categories of popular conceptualization used to comprehend a decade of mass technical and social transformations: the instrumental view, construing technology as a range of efficient tools; the substantive view, insisting technology is an environment that determines its subjects; and a critical approach, which recognizes the capacity for technology to shape subjects, but also its potential to aid new social agendas. Using Feenberg’s categories as interpretive lenses, I foreground these epistemologies in three of the decade’s most popular formations of literary science fiction (sf), and describe the broader discourses they participated in: military sf is connected to military strategy and weapons development (instrumental), cyberpunk to postmodernism and posthumanism (substantive), and feminist sf to feminist theory and politics (critical). These were not just discursive trajectories, I claim, but vital contributors to the material construction of what Antonio Gramsci would call hegemonic and counterhegemonic formations. While the instrumental paradigm was part of the decade’s prevailing hegemonic make-up, substantive and critical discourses offered an alternative to the reality of cowboy militarism and unchecked technological expansion. By engaging with the decade’s texts—from There Will Be War to RoboCop to “A Cyborg Manifesto”—I hope to illuminate what I call the technology of consent, the significance of technological worldviews for modern technocultures, where such views are consented to by subaltern groups, and at the same time the existence of consent itself as a kind of complex social technology in the first place. Author Keywords: American History, Discourse, Hegemony, Science Fiction, Technoculture, Technology

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