Luddites #altc

Here’s what I learned last week … to call someone a Luddite, in the context of someone who is reluctant to be involved or get involved in technology, is wrong.

Hang on, back up a bit. At ALTC last week Audrey Watters spent a whole hour walking us through technology in history and literature without actually talking about technology at all. From Frankenstein’s monster to Luddites I learned more then than in any single History or literature lesson at school! Yes, really.

So, what’s wrong with Luddites? Well, nothing really, but it’s how we use the term when referring to colleagues who ‘fight’ against technological change or development. Audrey set all of us straight on this – the history of Luddites, and our use of the term, is far from fear of technology or technological change.

I was inspired by Audrey to find out more about Luddites to better understand why I’ve had it wrong for so long. From this article on the Smithsonian website – What the Luddites Really Fought Against – I have a much fuller understanding that “the original Luddites were neither opposed to technology nor inept at using it.”

The brief historical perspective here is that the Luddites existed at a time of change in the UK, a time when industrial revolution was taking manufacturing into a new realm of mass production and large factories. The misconception about Luddites is that they opposed this new direction, the new factories and production techniques. Many of those who were involved in the remonstrations against the factories were “highly skilled machine operators” already embracing the technology. No, what they opposed was the ownership and control the companies who implemented the technologies had over their workers, and the protests started around the need for “more work and better wages“.


As with some highly emotive protests, historical and recent, the situation escalated and violence ensued. While some protests that were labelled as being organised by Luddites were centred around, for example, knitting looms, the Luddites themselves “confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called ‘a fraudulent and deceitful manner’ to get around standard labor practices.

Bring this forward to the modern classroom, and this article – Towards a Luddite Pedagogy – brings this knowledge into sharp focus. The modern “Luddite pedagogues will wield a [metaphorical] hammer, but they won’t see any urgency in bringing it down on trivial things like touch-screen gadgetry. Instead, the targets lie elsewhere.”

So, Luddites do not oppose development or advancement. They do not oppose technology in any form. To brand someone a Luddite is to acknowledge their understanding of the implication and application of technology in the setting described. To call someone a Luddite is to show respect to their moral and ethical consideration of the use of technology?

So, being a Luddites is, well, a compliment?

Image source: Mark Cassal (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • Thanks to Helen Crump for the tweet:

    Yep, winners write history > Luddite = pejorative. But Luddite revolt cont. Check this EdTech article

    A good article, please read.

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  • David, nice to read further support for the campaign against the use of “Luddite” in the pejorative. We hope the movement gains ground and the technofetishists are forced to look for some other condescending term.

    As part of the ongoing debate, we would like to suggest an alternative to your emphasis on Luddites understanding the implications of the application of bits of tech in particular contexts. We would want something a bit stronger: A real dismissal of technology, but not in the sense of wanting to see it all trashed, but in the sense of dismissing that it has anything to do with liberation. Luddism is a movement of liberation, and what Luddites understand – as do many others – is that liberation is a political project.

    Modernity makes freedom the number one value, but this quickly splits into two different projects: Domination (the application of science to dominate nature and the application of new tech and principles of scientific management to society to maximise productivity, etc.), and the project of liberation. The two clash head on when the Luddites confront the new industrialists. Rather than there being a choice between a dynamic future and a nostalgia for the past, the choice is instead between two visions of the future: one of an infinite growth in industrial power and the other a vision of radical political liberation.

    Implicit in Luddism, we would argue, is the recognition that the tech so important for the project of domination has nothing to do with liberation. Liberation is a specifically political project for which there are no technological preconditions. We would consider Illich’s ideas to be congruent with those of neo-Luddism. Illich didn’t think that we had to wait for a new technological breakthrough for a liberation pedagogy to become feasible. The cassette recorder was enough.

    The problem with some of the dominant strands of edtech chatter, on this reading, is that its plans for “liberating” the learner actually fit learners into what has become of the industrial project after most of the messy business of industry has been outsourced. They don’t fit the children into a project of radical political liberation. The edtech “revolution” is laughably apolitical.

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  • I was pointed to this video earlier by Joseph Goddon on G+ … excellent video from the Horrible Histories team –

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