Human agency in post-automation

Professor Adrian Smith and Dr. Cian O'Donovan from the University of Sussex, SPRU, will give a talk on the appropriation of digital design and fabrication technologies in non-industrial settings at the TIK centre on September 6th.

Dr. Cian O'Donovan
Photo: University of Sussex

Contrary to much analysis and commentary, automating technologies do not arise autonomously of society, but result from sociotechnical choices amongst actors in those societies. Our research aims to develop a social theory of post-automation, grounded in this reality, and that focuses upon human agency in pursuit of sustainable developments.

Human agency is taken, for now, to be evident when individuals or collectives are able to independently appraise a (structured) situation and act autonomously within it, and including an ability to change the situation to some degree. Digital design and fabrication technologies, and their non-industrial use in community settings such as hackerspaces and makerspaces are sites where appropriations of hitherto ‘automating’ technologies may take place in ways never imagined by the original designers. These workshops offer a site for new empirical research. Enthusiasts celebrate a widening appropriation of tools such CAD/CAM, 3D printers, laser cutters and routers.

Yet it is curious how computer-controlled technologies that deskilled and damaged manufacturing worker communities in the past, are now celebrated as providing new skills and users with new capacities for human development. Perhaps the real picture is somewhat ambiguous and ambivalent?


For further details, please refer to the full paper abstract


About the speakers

Adrian Smith is a Professor of Technology and Society at the University of Sussex (UK). You can read more about Adrian's research here.

Cian O'Donovan is a Research Fellow in Science and Technology Studies at the University of Sussex (UK). You can read more about Cian's research here.


To register for the seminar, please send an e-mail to ( with the title "Seminar Smith and O'Donovan".



Published Aug. 22, 2017 4:39 PM - Last modified Aug. 23, 2017 9:45 AM