The discussion between artefacts and politics, and how composed artefacts play a role in the political elements within our world have puzzled me into asking myself do artefacts have politics? I think it is not only appropriate but also fascinating to say no. We are often informed that only people can have politics and that people can have motivations of both power and authority. But objects/artefacts, in my point of view that is not possible.
Reasonably the closest original analysis of many of the related concepts is Langdon Winner’s essay in 1980 – “Do Artefacts have politics?”. Regarding Winner’s work, artefacts refer to the technologies around the world. But first, what is an artefact? (The English language & usage) defines the meaning as “An artificial product or effect observed in a natural system, especially one introduced by the technology used in scientific investigation or by experimental error.” The smart phones that we have and the computers that we use in our daily lives are both great examples.
The significant growth of people using smart phones nowadays is obvious and the way information are spread via social media and on another internet platforms are getting easier. (Note Page) shows a report about 88% of American voters own smart phones and 27% of them uses their smart phones for politics-related purposes. From the provided source, I can say that there is a clear connection between smart phones and the growing population within the political sphere.
On the other hand, Winner also discussed the idea that technology affects culture and culture affects technology. He said – Quote: “The factory system, automobile, telephone, radio, television, the space program, and of course nuclear power itself have all at one time or another been described as democratizing, liberating forces.”
(Do Artifacts Have Politics? – Langdon Winner 1980, Page. 121)
Winner (1980, p122) explains that the point of view is all society is behind technology. Any technology is determined by what the social and the economic system is, what matter is not technology itself but the social or economic system in which it is embedded. However, Winner suggested that this argument is not good enough as it is sort of an obvious argument and there is more to it. His next argument was “Naive technological determinism” which apply to technology just is and we cannot do anything about it and we must follow everything technology wants. He also discussed the arrangements of power and authority. At the beginning of my essay, I have talked about from my point of view how I don’t comply artefact or an object to be political. Well, Winner argued that accusing having virtues or evils seems just plain wrong.
Below, I will be giving one of the example from Winner’s work to show how technologies and designed constructions had political and social effect in the society.
(Parkway bridge from New York City to Long Island, built by Robert Moses 1931)
The bridge was built by Robert Moses, a famous architect who was known as the ‘Master Builder’ in the 20 centuries. His work included the Triborough Bridge, also called the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge which connects to America biggest cities Queens, Manhattan and Bronx. The Downing Stadium in New York city and the Jones Beach Theatre.
One of his well-known work which was mentioned by Winner himself was the Parkway bridge above the highway from New York City to Long Island. The bridge was designed deliberately and was calculated with low clearances as high as 3 meters only. Daily commuters would never take a second to look at the design of the bridge because they drive under them every day, it became just a part of their acceptant. Long Island was a very beautiful district and only upper-class citizen lives there. Therefore, upper-class people who owned a car would be able to drive through under the bridge into Long Island. Lower-class people who uses public transport such as buses will not be able to go, that include African-American. This was a technology that very deliberately limits what people can do and affects the culture in Long Island.
This got me asking myself why was the bridge implemented? Winner (1980, p124) Quoted: “Many of his monumental structures of concrete and steel embody a systematic social inequality, a way of engineering relationships among people that, after a time, becomes just another part of the landscape.” This was a way to achieve a particular social effect on the society. Moses’s idea was an obvious reflection of both his social bias to the upper-class as well as his racial prejudice, these artefacts embodied and maintained a systematic social inequality and the politics which were intentionally added to the foundation are alarming. However, Winner (1980, p124) defines the passage of time that people accepted as part of its urban landscape. Yet
Moses’s technologies are the manifestation of his political desire. This was also used to reinforce the right, jurisdiction and ability of some over others.
(Propaganda designs on Hong Kong’s protest movement, South China Morning Post. 2014)
The reason why I am mentioning about the designs and art in the Umbrella Revolution (Occupy Central Protest, Hong Kong) in 2014 is because these designed artefacts also reflects on the social movement and the political issues in Hong Kong. Many people do not realize the idea of the so-called Umbrella as the 2014 Hong Kong protect iconic symbol that thousands of people adores in Hong Kong.
Tensions between Hong Kong and China have been unstable since 1997 (Hong Kong was handed back to China) promising Hong Kong would preserve some of its autonomy but we can argue that Beijing is reneging on that promise. Since Hong Kong belongs to China nowadays, people are anxious of the Chinese government limiting independent judiciary and its freedom of speech in Hong Kong. Subsequently in 2012, the newly elected Chief Executive (prime minister) C-Y Leung attempted to implement national education to build a Pro-Communist ideological education. Soon after the Chinese Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed the scheme – ‘Universal Suffrage’ to settle on its own terms. To explain this, the Chinese government dictated candidates who ‘love’ the country would be able to run for Chief Executive of Hong Kong in the 2017 debut. This has neglected the freedom of Hong Kong voting rights and the ‘Basic Law’ which covers the ‘One country two system’ concept. Therefore, students around Hong Kong began a class boycott.
Umbrellas turned inside out to provide better protection against the brutal force used by the Hong Kong Police. Riot Police were called out in force deploying tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullet. Sautedé (2016, page 1) mentioned that “to symbolise the peaceful resistance of democracy-craving youth against abusive state power”, the protest was a non-violence event to parade Hong Kong citizen’s fear and distress to the government, also demanding full democracy. Demonstrators defended themselves with masks, goggles. Umbrellas were not only used to protect themselves from authority but also from the sun during day time. Although the umbrella is not an international symbol, it became a new symbol and a new meaning of the umbrella. Peter Ford (2014) quoted that “Not a burned car, nor a smashed shop window in sight.” This is obvious that the iconic umbrella is a very efficient way to express peacefully, no violence was occurred by the demonstrators but from the police force. It was also cleared that the symbol was used the design of the umbrellas in many ways, from shielding against arms to creating a 3D sculpture in a political way, gloves were added onto the shaft of an umbrella and at the tip of a bamboo stick which were used as barricades. The gloves shaped into ‘middle fingers’ pointing at the police force, the protest itself is also as similar as the Tiananmen Square protests, 1989 – which was caused by the lack of democracy, political corruption and freedom.
(Hong Kong Protester Barricade, Imgur, 2014)
The designed artefacts of the umbrella posters maintained and achieved a strong effect during the protest and even post-protest. It works because of how simple the umbrella is as an everyday object and that it has given the object an emblematic position at a political level. Additionally, represents resistance and the hidden social injustice. Moreover, the Chinese government has banned all umbrella related imagery which included posters, banners and other designed artefacts. Anyone from China whom associates with any art and objects from the Hong Kong protest will be prosecuted without a reason. This is a way on how they can control and censor any types of ‘anti-china’ or ‘anti-communism’ information and to stop them from leaking into China.
(The Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, News Mobile, 2017)
It is a strange to question to ask that whether the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) should be included as a designed artefact or not. For many people the DMZ is viewed as the aftermath of the conflicts between North and South Korea, more like a location in-between than an artefact. However, in my opinion I consider this as a designed artefact and because of this I also believe that there are strong political effects towards the social development between the North and the South and the unforeseen tension with one another.
The creation of the DMZ was caused by the end of the second world war. The 38th parallel was created when the Soviet Union took over Japan’s year of occupation in the Korean Peninsula which was based on the upper half what is now called North Korea, and the United States moved into what is now called South Korea.
(The 38th Parallel, War History Online, 2016)
Today, the DMZ operates as the border between North and South Korea. Within the DMZ, there are few buildings that are built for the two countries to hold meetings and agreements; they are called the Conference Row. It is the only area where two countries have troops glaring at each other, yet you can visit these buildings as a tourist with signed documents due to the possibility of injury or even death. The DMZ is seeming to be a friendly yet intense area for both countries to discuss problems. Riddle (2016) quoted that “The conflict is even sometimes referred to as the Second Korean War.” By what he said we can understand that the rivalry between the North and South Korea are mostly happened within the DMZ. This can be linked with ‘The Blue House Raid’ which happened in 1968, 124 North Koreans soldiers crossed the DMZ to try and assassinate the President of South Korea at the Blue House in South Korea. The loosely organized pressure between the North and South created a publicity effect using both propaganda and technologies. North Korea attempted to circulate by sending out drones near the DMZ towards South Korea, they wanted to carry out a ‘Tactical Recognizance’ on the DMZ boarder. Since the North Korea does not have the technology like South Korea, the drones are used to figure out South Korean troops location. On the other hand, this led to provocation by North Korea in a way to show its military force and power. This does not end here; North Korea uses balloons to drop propaganda leaflets. BBC (2016) mentioned that North Korea sent out propaganda leaflets that contains slogans to attack the South Korean president – “Let’s beat up Park Geun-hye’s clique like you would do to a mad dog”.
The two countries use loudspeakers to ‘verbally fight’ across the DMZ boarder. South Korea broadcast K-Pop music into North Korea, North Korea censored any kinds of k-pop and western music within the country. The only way North Koreans can overhear is in the DMZ.
(Loudspeakers located in South Korea near DMZ, Mirror 2017)
In November 13, 2017, a North Korean soldier escaped passed the DMZ into South Korea boarder. He was shot five times but luckily he survived. From this, the South Korea has boosted its propaganda against the North by turning up the volume on the loudspeaker to announce the news across the border. They broadcasted news about the condition of the deflected soldier and the TV programmes that he is watching in the hospital such as Disney Channel and K-Pop Channel which they are banned inside North Korea. The messages that was broadcasted also highlighted violations of the armistice agreement by the North Korea soldiers who fired at him. This is a way technologies are used in propaganda and to impact the society and cultural, using loudspeakers to inform is like talking using our mouth. The north cannot control what the south should say and neither can the south because it is not one country.
Thus, it is fair to conclude that when new artefacts are developed and blended into our world, we begin to locate ourselves in changeable degrees of both power and knowledge.