Vanderburg on Galbraith on Technostructure

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Some notes from Living In The Labyrinth of Technology by Willem H. Vanderburg. (University of Toronto Press, 2005). Citing Galbraith’s earlier work, to argue for Ellul’s rise of technique.

The argument is that the corporation has to create a technostructure, a group of committees of technical expertise, because the endeavour is so complex that no one person understands it. The experts can only see through their own area of expertise; everything becomes solutions to problems that they understand. (See also Scott’s argument of hypermodernism in Seeing Like A State in the Yale agrinomics series.) The company, according to his reading of Galbraith, exists for the technostructure. Only two items can challenge the technostructure’s continuance, shareholder and lender challenges to authority of the board, both of which stem from the loss of control due to the need for borrowing money, the first from shareholders and the latter from financial institutions.

The next goal of the corporation is growth because growth is a cultural (and therefore unexamined and unquestioned) imperative.

The last is technical virtuosity:

By this, Galbraith means that when highly educated people in the technostructure are not provided with opportunities to make creative use of what they have learned, they have a sense of being underemployed. There is, therefore, a great deal of pressure in the technostructure to make use of the latest advances in knowledge separated from experience.

[pp. 255]

It’s worth noting that technostructure as used here does not refer to informatics or information technology but to the entire organization of experts, from professional managers and accountants to product engineers and maintenance staff. I surmise from the text that technostructure refers to those higher up in the organization rather than lower, since the lower parts can be fired willy-nilly by corporations with little felt loss.

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