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Social meanings of the personal computer in Puerto Rico: Consumption as communicative praxes of modernization and social power

Maximiliano Duenas-Guzman, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The question that guided my research was: Are alternative, non-idolatrous, discourses and uses of the computer discernible in Puerto Rican society? In Puerto Rican culture, the idealization of modernity and technology has strong historical and cultural roots (Álvarez Curbelo, 2001). In order to gain a better understanding of the multiple connections between modernity and technology, I explored the philosophy of technology, particularly the works of Heidegger. This exploration proved fruitful in deepening my understanding of technology as a cultural and historical phenomenon. Using this understanding as a point of departure, I engaged in a “conversation” with other authors and the insights I gleaned included: the recognition of technology as a space for ideological struggle; the contemporary subordination of political freedom to the promise of technology; consumption and consumerism can usefully be considered manifestations of the promise of technology; consequently consumption has gained importance as a form of communication and of citizenship. This comprehension of consumption as an increasingly significant social phenomenon, led me to explore the specificities of the ways in which goods are socially endowed with meaning. I attempted to apply the general interpretations of the social significance of objects to the personal computer, an object that became a mass consumer good in the United States and Puerto Rico during the decade of the 90s. Early studies of the computer in the 60s and 70s had already pointed to this object's polysemic richness. I selected Thompson's (1990) depth hermeneutics as my methodology because of its usefulness in exploring the meanings given by social subjects to their world and because hermeneutics attempts to liberate rationality from permanent reduction to means-end thinking. Since meaning was a central concern, I appropriated Schrag's (1986) hermeneutical concept of communicative praxis. This concept assigns equal weight to speech and action in the creation of meaning. The search for contestatory communicative praxis led me to analyze written—political party programs and newspaper articles—and oral discourses—generated through interviews and focus groups—on the personal computer in Puerto Rico. Notwithstanding the dominance of discourses of technological idolatry in Puerto Rico, my research found glimmers of contestatory views.

Subject Area

Mass media|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Duenas-Guzman, Maximiliano, "Social meanings of the personal computer in Puerto Rico: Consumption as communicative praxes of modernization and social power" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3110480.