My notes on Hudson, M. (2018). Ending technocracy with a neologism? Avivocracy as a conceptual tool. Technology in Society, 55, 136-139.
What does it mean to call someone technocratic? In this intriguing paper, Marc Hudson observes that the term is “thrown about as a term of abuse, but without a clear alternative other than ritual(istic) invocations of the need for citizens to be involved in decision making” (136). The common understanding of the term is clear enough, “derived from Greek words τέχνη, tekhn meaning skill and κράτος, kratos meaning power”:
Technocracy is commonly understood as a type of governing/administration where everything is built upon self-proclaimed fully rationalised (and ideally evidence-based policy) and methods, in which all decisions and actions claim to be based upon scientific and technological knowledge. (136)
But without an antonym, it’s hard to see what is at stake is using the designation and it muddies the war rather than clarifying matters. It is a term that almost always has negative connotations and is used near exclusively by critics of (what they define as) technocracy. A moralistic and pejorative term of this sort is likely to be dismissed by many of those who tend to be defined as technocrats, leading to the ironic state of affairs that it’s a framing which actually empowers those it intends to critique because “because it enables them to dismiss critics as merely moralistic” (136). Hudson therefore seeks an antonym purged of this moralism, able to demoralise claims about sustainability and position them as fully rational alternatives to the status quo. He lays out the case against technocrats on 137:
Technocrats are criticised as actors who – by preventing certainideas, values and their advocates entering the rooms where decisionsare being made – institutionalise epistemic injustice, and use‘practicality’ as an intellectual baton
The core complaints about technocracy are familiar: the hubris of technocrats, their lack of accountability, their depoliticising effects. However it still leaves the question of the antonym of technocracy, with Hudson convincingly arguing that “the term democracy has become so emptied of meaning that on its own it does not act as an adequate antonym to technocracy”, even when qualified as monitory or deliberative (137). He considers a range of other possibilities: Luddism (rejected because of its pervasive, if inaccurate, connotations of technophobia), Holacracy (retaining the impulse towards control but channeling it through self-organised teams rather than a bureaucracy) and Permaculture (building stability through the modelling of natural processes, providing little vantage point from which to problematising technocracy). For this reason he reaches for a neologism:
With the existing possibilities inadequate, what is needed is a word that refers to a form of rule by capturing the importance of acknowledging irreducible uncertainty, ambiguity and uncontrollability, beyond the usual blandishments about a ‘risk society’. A word is needed which espouses cognitive humility, acceptance of limitations (something some policymakers struggle with – and the need for “clumsy organisations” to deal with wicked problems and super wicked problems. (137)