"+": Commonplaces generating theory
Feenberg identifies patterns (what Critel would call topoi or commonplaces) in philosophies of technology in his work Critical Theory of Technology. His concept of “instrumentalism,” which defines a double logic of decontextualizing and then recontextualizing technologies within a set of ideological social structures, is materialist in nature since those cycles are always defined by unequal power relations and the dominant social arrangements of the time. As Critel rightly pointed out, all pedagogical practices have a direct connection to classroom communities, another of her topoi. Community creation is indeed performative—and oddly self-referential, going back to Stanley Fish’s notion of “interpretive communities” and the waving of hands at one’s other community members in a self-affirming gesture. Critel’s research demonstrates how, more than ever, “community” formation and enculturation is self-defining at best; it is indoctrination and colonialist/nationalist at its worst. There is more promise in other conceptions of communities because they are, by nature, performances based in theories like communities of practice (COP), and cultural-historical-activity-theory (CHAT), in which communities are defined by what they do. Michel deCerteau’s formulation of how of the institutional unifying strategies are always in tension with individual tactics, the “play in the machine,” influenced Feenburg and helped to define the social studies of technology in deCerteau's Practice of Everyday Life.
Our argument here is that Critel’s commonplaces, unlike Feenberg’s patterns, presuppose epistemological assumptions indebted to classical rhetorical theory, and as topoi, they function dialectically within that rhetorical space—in a sense, doing the double work of what Feenberg’s instrumentalism theory aspires to do. More specifically, Critel's and Feenberg’s theoretical suppositions both work to complicate Heidegger's modernist conception of technological systems but also extend Marcuse's emphasis on class struggle (Feenburg). However, Critel’s commonplaces, in particular, allow us to observe at once the modernistic and posthumanistic impulses of participation in the contexts of MOOCs from a more precise, materially situated, and philosophically complicated perspective—one that takes us beyond the now clichéd move of indicting technological systems for what Feenberg calls their "deworlding" properties.
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