Gilbert Simondon’s Genetic ‘Mecanology’ and the Understanding of Laws of Technical Evolution

Bontems, V. “Gilbert Simondon’s Genetic ‘Mecanology’ and the Understanding of Laws of Technical Evolution.” Techné: 13(1):1-12. 2009. Bontems describes Simondon's concretization of technical objects as a system of technical evolution that contains its own laws, laws which have little to no relation to capitalistic systems or "customer demand" (2). Concretization is a process of solving specific functional problems through structural reconfiguration of the machine. Bontems points out that Simondon stakes his claim of avoiding use of machines in his analysis because electric, gas, steam and spring engines can all provide power to accomplish the same task, but the task does not help consider the machine's relationship with its environment. As such, user-based capitalistic systems, including aesthetic designs, do not help delineate the evolution or functioning of a machine. Bontems contrasts between invention and innovation, where innovation is caught up in market-driven concerns. Simondon's focus on the relationship between machine and environment traces back to cybernetic systems, though Simondon shows recurrent causality and information are important considerations for all machines, not just cybernetic ones. In the industrial era, standardization allows technical subsystems to undergo a form of concretization through the proliferation of technical elements (tools or components) via networks; it creates a "historicity" of technical reality by saturating the network with available parts.

Bontems's essay highlights the importance of function over use for Simondon and articulates an understanding of machines outside of capitalist power structures. However, Bontems only examines a small part of Simondon's philosophy and does not examine the explicit ethics inherent to Simondon's mecanology, technology's mediation of nature, nor the call for technology to be considered part of culture through its affective forces. This is important, especially when evaluating Simondon's claims that true technological progress lies outside of capitalist structures, more to the point, adopting a "technical mentality" is itself an ethical call on the part of Simondon. Bontems provides an excellent discussion of concretization and links it with other engineering theories, highlighting Simondon's  importance within the philosophy of technology, which will be useful in my discussion of contemporary technology within art.