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Schatzberg, Eric, 1956- / Wings of wood, wings of metal : culture and technical choice in American airplane materials, 1914-1945

1. Materials, symbols, and ideologies of progress,   pp. [3]-21

Page 20

20                                                      CHAPTER ONE
the machinist on the shop floor. But as Noble and Harley Shaiken have
shown, the successful numerical control technology also failed to live up to
its ideological billing, as manufacturers often found it necessary to continue
employing skilled machinists on the new machines. Although Noble does
not use the concept of symbolic meaning, in effect he shows that the suc-
cess of numerical control depended as much on what it symbolized as on
what it achieved in practice. In other words, numerical control succeeded
because it symbolized the ideals of total control, technical elegance, and
de-skilling that were central to the ideology of the military-university-
industrial complex.48
Aside from Noble, only a few scholars have explicitly addressed the role
of ideology in shaping technical change.49 In part, this neglect results from
the dominant instrumentalist view of technology as an exemplar of rational
action. But leaving technology aside, the concept of ideology itself has come
under attack from a variety of intellectual directions. Critics argue that the
word has taken on so many divergent meanings as to make it practically
useless. In traditional usage going back to Marx, ideology implies irrational-
ity, dogmatism, and a lack of objectivity This pejorative sense, critics con-
tend, makes ideology more a weapon of political rhetoric than a tool of
intellectual analysis. In other contexts, in contrast, the concept of ideology
has evolved into a neutral term, one that has expanded to cover all human
ideas and cultural systems. In this all-encompassing sense, ideology loses all
utility as an analytical concept.5°
Yet despite these apparently conflicting definitions, the concept of ideol-
ogy remains essential, especially for making the moral judgments implicit in
the practice of history But to retain ideology as a useful analytical as well as
evaluative tool, the historian needs to combine both types of definition, the
pejorative and the neutral. Paul Ricoeur achieves such a synthesis by draw-
ing on Marx, Weber, and Geertz to define three levels of ideology: integra-
tion, legitimation, and distortion.5"
Following Geertz, Ricoeur insists that at its deepest level ideology must
be understood as a symbolic system not as a set of ideas. According to
Geertz, ideology functions as an explicitly articulated symbolic system that
helps define a community and provide a common program of action. In this
integrative role, ideology allows a community to make sense of situations in
which myth and tradition prove inadequate, as they so often do during
periods of rapid social change.52 At the same time, argues Ricoeur, ideolo-
gies provide legitimation, ensuring at least some degree of consent from the
governed, consent that is necessary to sustain every system of power, how-
ever tyrannical. At this level, ideologies do not necessarily sustain systems
of domination: they can legitimate both just and unjust structures of power.
But legitimation always involves an element of distortion, and distortion is
central to the concept of ideology. As systems of distortion, ideologies limit

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