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What Have We Done? Law, Responsibility and Technologies


The relationship between humans and the environment is becoming unsustainable. Technologies mediate this relationship. In turn, technology is a product of dense cultural phenomena, from research institutions to capitalism, from ethics to cosmology. This paper investigates the ‘cosmotechnics’ of technical interactions with the environment and explores the sources of these social, ethical and environmental problems. The disconnect between humans and nature is traced to the roots of Western culture, while alternative views have emerged within the West and through its awareness of other cultures.

Technology in the West betrays a titanic urge to overcome nature. Since all technologies mesh with their immediate and global environment, invention arises from the interaction between assemblages of humans, machines and the environment. All contribute incrementally to new developments, which are not conscious projects fulfilling specific intentions, but evolving scenarios.

Without any clear intentional drive determining technological developments—nor any clear distinction between intended and unintended consequences—the concept of intention has little probative value. Instead, we approach the ethical judgment of outcomes from the viewpoint of responsibility. The social milieu and its actors are to be held to account for the consequences, regardless of intentions.

The paper identifies a malaise arising when the products of labour are split from an awareness of agency. This alienation opens up a misrecognition basic to unsustainable technologies. It operates at three discernible levels: technology split from culture; technology split from ethics and values; and theory split from technological practice. Solutions are sought through overcoming each of these gaps.

Published: 2020-05-06
Pages:45 to 56
Section: Symposium. Law, Culture and Things: Human Links to the Material
How to Cite
Mohr, R. (2020). What Have We Done? Law, Responsibility and Technologies. Law, Technology and Humans, 2(1), 45-56.

Author Biography

Social Research, Policy & Planning Pty. Ltd.
Australia Australia

Dr Richard Mohr is an urban and legal sociologist who has worked as coordinator of a community health service (NSW Health) and as a consultant and researcher with Social Research Policy & Planning. Work on the social relations of knowledge led to interdisciplinary teaching in schools of Architecture, History and Philosophy of Science, Sociology, and Law at the University of Sydney, UNSW, University of Wollongong and McGill University. At the University of Wollongong (1992–2015) his roles included research director of the Centre for Court Policy and Administration, director of the Legal Intersections Research Centre, and managing editor of Law Text Culture. He continues as a director of SRPP Pty Ltd, with Dr Margot Rawsthorne as principal. Many of his articles from socio-legal and semiotic journals are at


Open Access Journal
ISSN 2652-4074