Artifact Politics


There are only a few technologies that cause every student in a classroom to get out of their seat and out of the door in a matter of seconds, without needing to hear a word from the teacher. This technology is the fire alarm, which detects the presence of fire by monitoring the changes in the environment. It is found in many public areas, especially schools, and it sets off an alarm in the presence of smoke or fire in order to inform people of a potentially dangerous situation. Fire alarms contain an authoritarian power unlike many other devices. Every child learns from a young age the steps to take when a fire alarm goes off: leave everything at your desk, line up at the door, leave the school to a designated area outside in a single file line, and wait quietly until the teacher takes attendance. This means that the fire alarm requires a cooperative “form of life” from everyone present in the building. If a student refuses to line up and leave the room, the student holds back the teacher and other students, which may put everyone in danger.

In the case of the fire alarm, it holds all of the power over the students and instructors within a school. This idea disrupts the social arrangement within a school in which the teachers hold the power over the students, because overall the alarm makes everyone in the school (students, teachers, and the principle) equal in that everyone must exit the building when it goes off. Unlike other technologies that tend to hold authoritarian power over people, there is a small amount of people who would argue against fire alarms due to their overwhelming help in events of danger. However, the fire alarm might also give authoritarian power to a certain student or faculty member. The fire alarm is available for anyone to pull it, meaning one person can easily cause 2,000 people to feel a sense of nervousness and make them leave the building. To be able to affect a large group of people’s feelings and actions gives both the fire alarm and whoever decides to control it an intense amount of power.

In many places, it is a law that all schools in the area must have a fire alarm (and an evacuation plan). All states have some kind of laws about fire alarms. This means that every school is similar due to their system of protecting everyone under the authoritarian power of a specific law.

Another aspect of fire alarms, however, has a democratic sense. Some fire alarms trigger either a sprinkler system within the building or an automatic call to the nearest fire station, which sends a fire truck to the building. In the case of fire alarms in schools, the faculty, students, and firemen must work together in order to solve the problem. It is due to the fire alarm going off that everyone is able to share the power and do their part in order to keep everyone safe.


1. Work Safety Blog: “What is the Difference Between Fire Alarms and Smoke Alarms?” 25 June 2012.

2. AVS Systems Inc: “Fire Alarm Systems” 2010


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