Thread 3: New Forms of Dependence

Thread 3: New Forms of Dependence

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Graham and Marvin make the interesting point that today we are all dependent upon the interwoven infrastructural systems that structure modern society.

If the electrical grid went down for months, how would your life be effected? What things do you do that you would no longer be able to do? How hard would it be for you to adjust to these new circumstances?

What other infrastructural systems do you depend upon? How? Are these infrastructures independent of one another or do they rely on one another to function?

The authors make the point that these infrastructures are very fragile. In what ways are they fragile? What could disrupt their functioning? And how fragile do you think they really are?

Is it morally permissible to make large sociotechnical systems that are both fragile and that, upon their failure, may catastrophically affect the lives of those people who have grown dependent upon them? Is it feasible to engineer sociotechnical systems that are less fragile and upon which human beings may form less dependent relationships? If so, should we endeavor to create these systems?

Thread 1: Modernism, Neoliberalism, and Infrastructure


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The book distinguishes between two different ideologies that have shaped the development of modern infrastructure. One of these is a centralized and monopolistic ideology (let’s call this ideology “modernist”) and the other emphasizes private ownership and liberalization of infrastructure (let’s call this ideology “neoliberal”). Can you explain in more detail these ideologies and the consequences of these two ideologies for how infrastructure is developed? Can you give some examples?

Which of these ideologies do you think is preferable?

In the prologue we have a series of vignettes concerning different types of infrastructure. What do these vignettes reveal about infrastructure? How do these vignettes relate to the above discussed ideologies?

Can you think of other examples that illustrate these same issues?

What moral concerns are expressed by this collection of vignettes?

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