The passage below is accompanied by a set of questions. Choose the best answer to each question.


Critical theory of technology is a political theory of modernity with a normative dimension. It belongs to a tradition extending from Marx to Foucault and Habermas according to which advances in the formal claims of human rights take center stage while in the background centralization of ever more powerful public institutions and private organizations imposes an authoritarian social order.

Marx attributed this trajectory to the capitalist rationalization of production. Today it marks many institutions besides the factory and every modern political system, including so-called socialist systems. This trajectory arose from the problems of command over a disempowered and deskilled labor force; but everywhere [that] masses are organized - whether it be Foucault’s prisons or Habermas’s public sphere - the same pattern prevails. Technological design and development is shaped by this pattern as the material base of a distinctive social order. Marcuse would later point to a “project” as the basis of what he called rather confusingly “technological rationality.” Releasing technology from this project is a democratic political task.

In accordance with this general line of thought, critical theory of technology regards technologies as an environment rather than as a collection of tools. We live today with and even within technologies that determine our way of life. Along with the constant pressures to build centers of power, many other social values and meanings are inscribed in technological design. A hermeneutics of technology must make explicit the meanings implicit in the devices we use and the rituals they script. Social histories of technologies such as the bicycle, artificial lighting or firearms have made important contributions to this type of analysis. Critical theory of technology attempts to build a methodological approach on the lessons of these histories.

As an environment, technologies shape their inhabitants. In this respect, they are comparable to laws and customs. Each of these institutions can be said to represent those who live under their sway through privileging certain dimensions of their human nature. Laws of property represent the interest in ownership and control. Customs such as parental authority represent the interest of childhood in safety and growth. Similarly, the automobile represents its users in so far as they are interested in mobility. Interests such as these constitute the version of human nature sanctioned by society.

This notion of representation does not imply an eternal human nature. The concept of nature as non-identity in the Frankfurt School suggests an alternative. On these terms, nature is what lies at the limit of history, at the point at which society loses the capacity to imprint its meanings on things and control them effectively. The reference here is, of course, not to the nature of natural science, but to the lived nature in which we find ourselves and which we are. This nature reveals itself as that which cannot be totally encompassed by the machinery of society. For the Frankfurt School, human nature, in all its transcending force, emerges out of a historical context as that context is [depicted] in illicit joys, struggles and pathologies. We can perhaps admit a less romantic . . . conception in which those dimensions of human nature recognized by society are also granted theoretical legitimacy.

Question 13

Which one of the following statements best reflects the main argument of the fourth paragraph of the passage?


The fourth paragraph discusses the ways in which technology shapes society and the values and meanings that are inscribed in technological design. It suggests that technology, like laws and customs, represents the interests of those who use it and shapes the version of human nature that is sanctioned by society. The paragraph compares technology to laws and customs, stating that they are similar in the sense that they are institutions that shape the way people live. Therefore, the correct statement that captures the crux of the fourth paragraph is Option D [Technology, laws, and customs are not unlike each other if considered as institutions].

Option A: While it is true that technology, laws, and customs are comparable phenomena in this sense, the statement does not adequately capture the main point being made in the paragraph.

Option B: is incorrect because it misinterprets the main point of the fourth paragraph. While the paragraph does suggest that technology shapes the version of human nature that is sanctioned by society, it does not directly compare the effectiveness of technological environments and laws and customs in privileging certain dimensions of human nature.

Option C: is only partially true. While the fourth paragraph does mention the idea that technologies represent the interests of those who use them, it does not specifically state that automobiles represent the interest in mobility present in human nature. The paragraph mentions the automobile as an example of a technology that represents its users, but does not explicitly link it to the concept of mobility.

Hence, Option D is the correct choice.  

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