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The technology of meaning: theorizing user agency

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Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
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This thesis addresses the question of how users can be seen as legitimate agents in technology’s generative process, a question essential to defining freedom in a technologically mediated society. User agency, the capacity to influence the social world, rests on users’ awareness of how technology shapes thought and action. This thesis explains this shaping by re-conceptualizing technology as deeply connected to social meaning. However, to avoid both essentialism and relativism, this thesis proposes that all technologies, by mediating social action, are forms of communication technologies. Thus requiring a phenomenological approach, this thesis proposes a hermeneutics of technology that helps clarify technology’s involvement in humans’ self-interpretation and interaction with their world. Such a framework then provides a way to evaluate how well a society’s technological basis supports user agency, while also showing that agency has a transformative potential even in a technocratic world.
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