Cover image for Technology as magic : the triumph of the irrational
Technology as magic : the triumph of the irrational
Stivers, Richard.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Continuum, [1999]

Physical Description:
viii, 240 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
Central Library HM846 .S75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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At first glance, technology and magic would seem to be opposites. Technology is perceived to be rational, scientific and efficacious, whereas magic is thought to be irrational, superstitious and ineffective. Richard Stivers shows how technology and magic, while separate and distinct, are now related to one another in such a way that each has come to take on important characteristics of the other.

Author Notes

Richard Stivers is professor of sociology at Illinois State University

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Thirty-five years after Jacques Ellul stunned the world with his powerful warning against the dehumanizing effects of technology (The Technological Society), one of his ablest students updates his prophetic message for a generation of Web-surfing New Agers. Stivers exposes both our childish faith in technology's power to fulfill our every wish and our dangerous vulnerability to psychological and managerial methods that mimic technological protocols in order to mask their underlying irrationality. Under the scrutiny of his tough-minded skepticism, the psychobabble of the therapist and the statistics of the efficiency expert betray themselves as species of modern magic, invoked to manipulate people for commercial and bureaucratic ends. But far more than a debunking of the technocratic mystique, the analysis summons us to the cultural struggle essential for a recovery of personal freedom and moral judgment. A profound and sobering work. --Bryce Christensen

Library Journal Review

In this convincing and lucid study, Stivers (sociology, Illinois State) warns against our current veneration of technology. Too many of us, he argues, believe that technology can rationally control nature and alleviate boredom and unhappiness. In reality, he suggests, technology has a lot in common with the irrational and ineffective methods of magic. Likewise, Stivers mourns the increasing reliance on quantitative, statistics-based information instead of meaningful qualitative evaluation and fears that individual creativity, compassion, and freedom are being sacrificed: "Advertising ritualizes happiness (as consumption); therapy ritualizes health (as adjustment)." Persuasive and erudite, this work is recommended for larger public and academic libraries.ÄSuzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The easiest form of scholarship is to oppose two topics, such as technology and magic, and then demonstrate why they are not contradictory. Stivers argues that technology works because people believe in it, and thus it is magical, with no claim to rationality. This is not a new insight. Stivers borrows from Jacques Ellul, neglecting recent scholarship that might aid his critique of technological determinism as ideology. The author's critiques of the machinations of the media, the generation and use of statistics, and sections on self-help and management as magic are perceptive. Self-help products are both psychological technologies and magical thinking, working either through placebo effect or as self-fulfilling prophecies. These techniques are inadequate responses to a technological civilization because they promote adjustment rather than resistance to inhumane conditions. Throughout the book, Stivers conflates technology with "high technology" and the complex systems of late-capitalist life. But all societies produce "technologies," from simple artifacts to complex systems of production. Which technologies should a society accept, and why? This requires a nuanced analysis. Stivers's book will thus appeal to a popular audience but do little for serious scholarship in critical technology studies. J. L. Croissant; University of Arizona

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: The Paradox of Technology and Magicp. 1
Chapter 1 Both Technology and Magicp. 14
Ellul's Theory of the Three Milieusp. 16
Magic in the Three Milieusp. 28
Chapter 2 Dramatized Information: The Basis of Psychological Magicp. 43
The Disintegration of Discoursep. 44
Atomistic Words and Phrasesp. 52
Commonplace Expressions, Slogans, and Clichesp. 59
Visual Images in the Mediap. 63
Symbolism in the Milieu of Technologyp. 68
Chapter 3 Statistical Information: The Basis of Administrative Magicp. 79
Statistics Everywherep. 82
Statistics: Moral and Normalp. 92
Equality: Statistical and Socialp. 100
Magical Numbers, Magical Words, Magical Imagesp. 107
Chapter 4 The Mass Media as Magicp. 109
The Fabrication of Imagesp. 110
The Culture of Advertisingp. 118
Technological Utopianism: Myth and Ritual of an Advertising Culturep. 125
Magic in the Mediap. 136
Chapter 5 Therapy, Self-Help, and Positive Thinking as Magicp. 140
Psychiatry, Clinical Psychology, and Clinical Social Workp. 141
Self-Help and Positive Thinkingp. 143
The Effectiveness of Therapyp. 155
Therapy as Magicp. 158
Why the Individual and Society Need Therapyp. 166
Chapter 6 Management as Magicp. 169
A Brief History of Managementp. 170
Contemporary Management Theories and Practicesp. 180
The Relation between Managerial Technique and Successp. 191
Management as Magicp. 195
Why Society and the Individual Need Managementp. 199
Chapter 7 The Triumph of the Irrationalp. 201
The Failure of Educationp. 207
Irrationality and Freedomp. 209
Notesp. 213
Indexp. 237

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