What Harms Community? Part 2: Technocracy

Harry Boyte in “The Citizen Solution” (2009) notes that the rising dominance of experts (technocracy) is hollowing out civic agency throughout American society. This observation holds equally true across all industrialised countries.

Boyte argues that professionals have all but lost their connections to neighbourhoods, and now are far more likely to identify with fellow professionals in their respective field, than with their neighbours, and the lay people they serve.

It was not always this way. Closely related to technocracy is managerialism; both have had a toxic effect on democracy. Managerialism is now ubiquitous across all industrialised countries; yet prior to the 1920s this was not the case.

Since the 1920s academics like Elton Mayo[1]have popularized managerialism; asserting the view that effective management is a science that should follow a standard set of rubrics, applicable across all organisations. Accordingly, a new class of professionals emerged, whose primary if not only expertise was ‘management’. This standardisation of how institutions are managed, through the science of managerialism, has meant that the structural exoskeletons of government institutions and large not for profits have become almost indistinguishable from those of ‘for-profit’ Corporations. Thereby transforming the institutions that are stewards of ‘Public Goods’ into the service side of the marketplace.

Technology, as most experience it, is the outgrowth of this technocratic impulse to command and control subordinates, living or otherwise, hence why E.F. Schumacher, in Small is Beautiful, (1973) launched a full frontal assault on forms of technology that advanced corporate interests over the rights of indigenous communities.

Schumacher argued not for the abandonment of technology, but for a middle ground between the extremes of the current reality, and its non-modernist opposite. That middle ground he called Appropriate Technology, making the case for forms of technology that would shift the focus from mass production to the production of the masses, hence presenting the world, especially in the Global South with the real potential to end poverty. Not surprisingly this proposed shift enjoys little mainstream favour, since it would strike at a key driver of globalisation: consumerism.

Cormac Russell.

[1] Elton Mayo, a Professor at Harvard Business School popularised managerialism in the 1920s and 1930s. Believing that corporate managers within well functioning organisation could restore a sense of societal coherence lost during the First World War as a consequence of mass immigration and increasing industrialisation.

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