Disenchantment and its discontents: Weberian perspectives on science and technology*



Weber's ideas about science and technology have largely been neglected by comparison with his views of modern politics and economics. Yet his notion of disenchantment is central to his conception of modern society and to his comparative studies of the rise of Western rationalism. This importance is underlined by the use to which Weber's ideas have been put by two contemporary thinkers. Ernest Gellner extends the notion of disenchantment in his account of the cognitive style of industrial society, but argues that it does not necessarily pose the threat which Weber's cultural pessimism suggests. Randall Collins, on the other hand, develops a Weberian account of the social basis for technological change, arguing that geopolitical centres give rise to technological innovation. In view of the urgency of the question of the role of science and technology in modern society, these Weberian perspectives provide an important theoretical tool since they offer a framework in which this question can be addressed.