Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Three Theories of Praxis: Sense-Making Tools for Post-Capitalism
by Banks, David Adam, Ph.D., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2016, 246; 10158632
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores the interface between reflecting on ideals and the action or physical transformation that occurs in the world. Rephrased as a question: What are the appropriate and necessary epistemological pre-requisites for scholars that will increase the likelihood that their praxis succeeds in transforming society away from capitalism towards something that does a better job of assuring social justice? This question is good to organize around but makes for a poor research question because its answer is near infinitely debatable. My research questions then, come down to the following: In what ways can a researcher participate in a deliberate cultural intervention through the utilization of technological systems? What makes these interventions successful and what makes them fail? How does a researcher “step back” from such a project and draw out lessons for future interventions?

In service of answering these questions I have developed three “sense-making tools” to work through this difficult position. A sense-making tool is an epistemological framework that comes short of a theory of causation and instead prioritizes a change in perspective on the part of the individual engaging in praxis.

Those three tools are 1) capitalism is an emergent phenomenon, 2) recursivity is an epistemology that prioritizes organized complexity over rationalized efficiency, and 3) once decoupled from its main usage in reference to the Internet, the term “online” is a useful means of describing and understanding humans’ relationships to networks of communication and economic exchange. These three sense-making tools are applied to two case studies, an open source condom vending machine and a mesh Wi-Fi network. Both projects employed an “inverted critical technical practice” methodology that brought together engineering’s tacit ways of knowing and critical theory’s analytic tools to foster a symbiotic working relationship between the two. I fortify this experimental approach with some classic interview and participant observation techniques to ensure sufficient data collection. Taken together, this work tells a story about the importance of thinking deeply about what we as researchers bring to our field sites, both metaphorically and literally.

By evaluating my own projects and sharing what worked and what didn’t I aim to increase the likelihood of achieving successful projects in the future. I have prioritized understanding my case studies and subject position in terms of how to do better work in the future, not necessarily painting a perfect picture of how the world works or even should work.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Eglash, Ron
Commitee: Eubanks, Virginia, Layne, Linda, Mascarenhas, Michael, Nieusma, Dean
School: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Department: Science and Technology Studies
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 78/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Area Planning and Development, Philosophy of Science
Keywords: Commons, Design studies, Open source, Political economy, Praxis, Science and technology studies
Publication Number: 10158632
ISBN: 978-1-369-13640-1
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