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A technocrat, according to the most basic meaning of the word, is someone who advocates or governs a technoc-racy—the rule of technical experts. The roots of the word technocrat lie in the classical Greek words for “skill” or “craft” (techne) and “rule” (kratos). The word technocrat is typically used to convey derogatory or ironic attitudes about technology and about the authority or power of those who understand and use technologies. Thus a technocrat is one who advocates technological or technical, rather than political, solutions to collective problems and who fails to consider the humanistic, historical, symbolic, moral, or personal elements of collective decisions. In France, for example, the word technocrate (“technocrat”) is used by both the political left and right as an epithet for one who is said to administer or manage an organization on the basis of narrow technical expertise, and who lacks class consciousness, democratic commitments, moral conscience, and basic humanity (for example, Hecht 1998).
Daryush Sheyagan in Cultural Schizophrenia (1992) characterizes technocrats as “the managers of the technical, political, economic and scientific spheres of a modern society. They … take on the depersonalized, neutral quality of the world for whose efficiency they are responsible. They symbolize pure function stripped of all personal connotations . they are indifferent to the ethical purposes of what is produced” and can serve one type of political regime as well as another (pp. 148-149). However, if, as Jacques Ellul (1964) and Langdon Winner (1977) have suggested, technology is autonomous and technological imperatives determine decision outcomes, then in principle technocracy would not involve the authority of technocrats, for the real sources of authority and power would be impersonal and systemic.
Unlike the term bureaucrat, which since introduced by Max Weber has had a well-established place in the conceptual vocabulary and research of the social sciences, technocrat has had little use in social science research. Moreover, while a technocrat may also be a bureaucrat, technocrat can refer more generally to anyone who exercises scientific, technological, economic, administrative, or environmental authority.
The term is also used to refer to a member of a movement or organization that advocates governance by engineers or other technically trained experts instead of by politicians. Since 1933 in the United States, Technocracy, Inc. has been the principal research and educational organization representing the technocracy movement. Its predecessor, the Technical Alliance, was founded in 1919 by Howard Scott (1890-1970), who had been inspired by the writings of Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929). The official publication of Technocracy, Inc. is North American Technocrat. Henry Elsner Jr. (1967) has traced much of the history of the technocratic movement in the United States.
- Ellul, Jacques. 1964. The Technological Society. Trans. J. Wilkinson. New York: Vintage Press.
- Elsner, Henry, Jr. 1967. The Technocrats: Prophets of Automation. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
- Hecht, Gabrielle. 1998. The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Shayegan, Daryush. 1992. Cultural Schizophrenia: Islamic Societies Confronting the West. Trans. J. Howe. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
- Technocracy, Inc. Web site. www.technocracy.org. Veblen, Thorstein. 1921. The Engineers and the Price System. New York: B.W. Heubsch.
- Winner, Langdon. 1977. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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