Ursula Martius Franklin, CC OOnt FRSC (16 September 1921 – 22 July 2016), was a German-Canadian metallurgist, research physicist, author, and educator who taught at the University of Toronto for more than 40 years. She was the author of The Real World of Technology, which is based on her 1989 Massey Lectures; The Ursula Franklin Reader: Pacifism as a Map, a collection of her papers, interviews, and talks; and Ursula Franklin Speaks: Thoughts and Afterthoughts, containing 22 of her speeches and five interviews between 1986 and 2012. Franklin was a practising Quaker and actively worked on behalf of pacifist and feminist causes. She wrote and spoke extensively about the futility of war and the connection between peace and social justice. Franklin received numerous honours and awards, including the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case for promoting the equality of girls and women in Canada and the Pearson Medal of Peace for her work in advancing human rights. In 2012, she was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame. A Toronto high school, Ursula Franklin Academy, has been named in her honour.
Franklin is best known for her writings on the political and social effects of technology. For her, technology was much more than machines, gadgets or electronic transmitters. It was a comprehensive system that includes methods, procedures, organization, “and most of all, a mindset”. She distinguished between holistic technologies used by craft workers or artisans and prescriptive ones associated with a division of labour in large-scale production. Holistic technologies allow artisans to control their own work from start to finish. Prescriptive technologies organize work as a sequence of steps requiring supervision by bosses or managers. Franklin argued that the dominance of prescriptive technologies in modern society discourages critical thinking and promotes “a culture of compliance”.
For some, Franklin belongs in the intellectual tradition of Harold Innis and Jacques Ellul who warn about technology’s tendency to suppress freedom and endanger civilization. Franklin herself acknowledged her debt to Ellul as well as to several other thinkers including Lewis Mumford, C. B. Macpherson, E. F. Schumacher, and Vandana Shiva.