chapter  3
15 Pages

Standardization, Justice, and the Built Environment

In everyday life, the term “standardization” is a pejorative one. Citizens of the US in particular tend to conjure up visions of uniform Soviet housing blocks or low-level corporate office cubicles when they hear it. Yet aspiring to “standards” has a ring of high, rather than low performance, as in “setting the standard” in an athletic competition. Timmermans and Epstein, cited above, “argue against any simple suggestion that standards or standardization are inherently either good or bad.” “This does not mean,” however,”that standards are intrinsically neutral. Standards’ objectivity, universality, and optimality are hard won victories that can be heavily contested by third parties lobbing accusations of bias and politicization.”3 For example, it is not by accident that aerial photo graphs of the US, Britain, or Mali are so radically different. The land use patterns found in these images are the reification of informal and formal land manage ment standards as they have developed over time. Such standards operate like “recipes for reality,” as Busch claims above, or like maps-they eliminate most classes of information from the field of action, so that actors can choose between a few that are deemed worthy by the chef or map-maker. Were this not the case, the recipe or map would necessarily be as big as the world itself and, thus, not manageable.4 Standards exist, then, to make complex tasks such as constructing a building manageable within a field of possibilities

radically narrowed by experts in the field-they discipline technology using a particular set of values. In a directly political context, Brownsword holds, in “the techno logically enhanced state . . . there is a danger of the Rule of Law being displaced by the Rule of Technology.”5 But, in the end, standards, like recipes and maps, can be suggested or imposed by experts from above-by government, religious authority, industrial power, by aggressive retail practices —or they can emerge from contested public talk and political consensus-as in the case of the disability rights movement (DRM), discussed in Chapter 9.