Argues that we are caught in a collective illusion about the nature of modern technology that prevents us from imagining solutions to our economic and environmental crises other than technocratic fixes.
Hornborg argues that we are caught in a collective illusion about the nature of modern technology that prevents us from imagining solutions to our economic and environmental crises other than technocratic fixes. He demonstrates how the power of the machine generates increasingly asymmetrical exchanges and distribution of resources and risks between distant populations and ecosystems, and thus an increasingly polarized world order. The author challenges us to reconceptualize the machine- industrial technomass -as a species of power and a problem of culture. He shows how economic anthropology has the tools to deconstruct the concepts of production, money capital, and market exchange, and to analyze capital accumulation as a problem at the very interface of the natural and social sciences. His analysis provides an alternative understanding of economic growth and technological development. Hornborg's work is essential for researchers in anthropology, human ecology, economics, political economy, world-systems theory, environmental justice, and science and technology studies. Find out more about the author at the Lund University, Sweden web site.
There is more to culture than meets the eye, that product of cultural processing designed to overlook that 'more'; that 'more' being the allegedly natural and objective foundations of our life in common with all its iniquities and inanities. This is the message of Hornborg's astonishing book, bound to spur the social-scientific community to take another hard look on their own seemingly self-evident concepts and hidden from view assumptions. The book crowns years of study and thought which went deeper than even the most earnest and acute self-scrutiny of anthropologists and economists went thus far. Very seldom is describing the publication of a book as revolutionary event as apt. Hornborg's oeuvre stands a chance to revolutionise not only the paradigm of the theory of modern society, but the way we divide human actions from their precultural conditions and so called 'unanticipated consequences.' -- Zygmunt Bauman, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Universities of Leeds and Warsaw This book will be the talk of anthropology in the next decade, since it provides a compelling connection between culture theory, social justice, and environmental crisis. The linkage of energy, unequal exchange, and world systems theory is original and masterful. The discussion of money, fetishism, and meaning is likewise. Hornborg's thoughtful and rigorous synthesis renews critical social science in a time of fragmentation and doubt. Scholars in anthropology and interdisciplinary environmental studies are sure to be impressed. -- Josiah McC. Heyman, (Michigan Technological University) The strength of the book is its interdisciplinarity...This book would be appropriate reading for those social scientists, whether anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, or environmentalists, interested in global studies, Marxist critiques of culture, human-environmental relations, and science and technology studies. -- Mary C. Ingram, University of California, Santa Barbara Journal Of World-Systems Research At a time when some paleobiologists are predicting that humanity has so fouled its nest that our planet will eventually be ceded to rats and ants, Alf Hornborg is more hopeful... [an] ambitious, thought -provoking study of the tensions between conservation and economic development...Hornborg is convincing. He says one of anthropology's greatest challenges is to deconstruct the most powerful discourses of our time which present themselves as somehow above and beyond culture. -- Jonathan Benthall, University College London Anthropological Theory Hornborg's The Power of the Machine offers a rich theoretical analysis of how technology masks the inequalities between nations, humans, and ecosystems within the World System... he challenges conventional political economic and sociological perspectives about global underdevelopment... As a truly interdisciplinary writer, Hornborg combines perspectives from natural science, political economy, and cultural anthropology to critique not only global unequal exchange but also the very categories that we, as social scientists, use to analyze such exchange... The strength of this book is its interdisciplinarity. One would hope to find an interdisciplinary focus in a volume written by several authors, but not expect to find such focus in a single-authored text... I appreciate Hornberg's two-pronged goal: not only does he demonstrate how technology operates as a mechanism of Western hegemony but he challenges us as social scientists to be wary of the role that we play in analyzing such inequities - to not reify the machine is to call global exchange by its real name: deliberate uneven development. -- Mary C. Ingram, University of California, Santa Barbara Journal Of World Systems Research, Ix, I, Winter 2003 Hornborg will be aware of the irony that his thoroughly modern study (professional erudition, academic logic and technique, mass-produced book aimed at an academic audience, etc.) is a radical critique of the conditions of its own production. But in so doing Hornborg poses new and interesting questions. By also suggesting how we might approach the issues they raise the author has made a major contribution to debates about modernity, global inequalities, technology and the fate of the environment. Ethnos This is a critical discussion of the whole range of world-system type theories, which is simultaneously a highly original contribution to the genre and a splendid introduction to the implicit and explicit understandings of the relevant literature. The discussion, which ranges widely through cultures and history, is firmly anchored in classic anthropological theory and data even as it projects its conclusions onto the varieties of malaise that bedevil the modern world. The impression is of disciplined, learned open-mindedness. This is the sort of book one reads with pleasure and profit even while one may disagree with some of it-what a real 'contribution' is all about. -- Igor Kopytoff, (University of Pennsylvania) This is one of the most thought provoking books I've read lately... Hornborg wants to understand how it is that relations of power come to seem inevitable and natural... He urges a truly holistic study of humankind. We Americans would all do well to follow his example and learn from one another. -- E. Paul Durrenberger, Pennsylvania State University Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 59, 2003
Table of contents
Chapter 1 Preface Chapter 2 Introduction: The Machine as Emperor Part 3 Part 1: Technology and Unequal Exchange Chapter 4 Chapter 1: Technology and Economics: The Interfusion of the Social and the Material Chapter 5 Chapter 2: Cornucopia or Zero-Sum Game: The Epistemology of Sustainability Chapter 6 Chapter 3: The Thermodynamics of Imperialism: Towards an Ecological Theory of Unequal Exchange Chapter 7 Chapter 4: Ecosystems, World Systems, and Environmental Justice Chapter 8 Chapter 5: Conceptualizing Accumulation from Spondylus Shells to Fossil Fuels Chapter 9 Chapter 6: Use Value, Energy, and the Image of Unlimited Good Chapter 10 Chapter 7: Language and the Material: Probing our Categories Chapter 11 Chapter 8: Symbolic Technologies: Machines and the Marxian Notion of Fetishism Part 12 Part 2: Money, Modernity and Personhood Chapter 13 Chapter 9: Money, Reflexivity, and the Semiotics of Modernity Chapter 14 Chapter 10: Ecology as Semiotics: A Contextualist Manifesto Chapter 15 Chapter 11: Exchange, Personhood, and Human Ecology Chapter 16 Chapter 12: The Abstraction of Discourse and Identity: A Case Study Chapter 17 Afterword: Culture, Modernity, and Power: The Relevance of Anthropology Chapter 18 References Chapter 19 Index
Alf Hornborg is professor and chair of the Human Ecology Division at Lund University, Sweden