|Occupation||Thomas Phelan Chair, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute|
|Spouse(s)||Gail P. Stuart|
Langdon Winner was born in San Luis Obispo, California on August 7, 1944. He received his B.A. in 1966, M.A. in 1967 and Ph.D. in 1973, all in political science at the University of California, Berkeley. His primary focus was political theory.
He has been a professor at Leiden, MIT, University of California, Los Angeles and at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Since 1985 he has been at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; he was a visiting professor at Harvey Mudd College (2000) and Colgate University (2001). In 2010 he was a Fulbright Fellow visiting the Universidad Complutense in Madrid.
In 1980 Winner proposed that technologies embody social relations, i.e. power. To the question he poses "Do Artifacts Have Politics?", Winner identifies two ways in which artifacts can have politics. The first, involving technical arrangements and social order, concerns how the invention, design, or arrangement of artifacts or the larger system becomes a mechanism for settling the affairs of a community. This way "transcends the simple categories of 'intended' and 'unintended' altogether", representing "instances in which the very process of technical development is so thoroughly biased in a particular direction that it regularly produces results heralded as wonderful breakthroughs by some social interests and crushing setbacks by others" (Winner, p. 25-6, 1999). It implies that the process of technological development is critical in determining the politics of an artifact; hence the importance of incorporating all stakeholders in it. (Determining who the stakeholders are and how to incorporate them are other questions entirely.)
The second way in which artifacts can have politics refers to artifacts that correlate with particular kinds of political relationships, which Winner refers to as inherently political artifacts (Winner, p. 22, 1999). He distinguishes between two types of inherently political artifacts: those that require a particular sociological system and those that are strongly compatible with a particular sociological system (Winner, p. 29, 1999). A further distinction is made between conditions internal to the workings of a given technical system and those that are external to it (Winner, p. 33, 1999). This second way in which artifacts can have politics can be further articulated as consisting of four 'types' of artifacts: those requiring a particular internal sociological system, those compatible with a particular internal sociological system, those requiring a particular external sociological system, and those compatible with a particular external sociological system.
Winner contributed piano and backing vocals to the hoax album The Masked Marauders created by Rolling Stone. He also played piano on "Church Key" by The Revels. Winner is also notable for having written a negative review of one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 1970's, Neil Young's After the Gold Rush.
Over the years one focus of Winner's criticism has been the excessive use of technologies in the classroom, both in K-12 schools and higher education. Winner's critique is well explained in his article "Information Technology and Educational Amnesia," and expressed in his satirical lecture, "The Automatic Professor Machine."