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Alf Hornborg

Alf Hornborg

Professor

Alf Hornborg

Machines as manifestations of global systems : Implications for a sociometabolic ontology of technology

Author

  • Alf Hornborg

Summary, in English

Anthropologists have generally found it reasonable to understand the Industrial Revolution in Britain as a product of global historical processes including colonialism and the structure of world trade. The extent to which the industrialization of British textile production was contingent on global processes has been illuminated in detail by historians such as Joseph Inikori. Andre Gunder Frank proposed that we should reconceptualize technological development as a ‘world economic process, which took place in and because of the structure of the world economy’. Yet the theoretical implications of understanding industrial technological systems as global and unevenly distributed phenomena have, by and large, not contaminated mainstream conceptions of technologies as politically neutral and fundamentally innocent manifestations of enlightenment, detachable from the societal contexts in which they have emerged. Social theory nevertheless offers perspectives for a radical rethinking of this conventional ontology of modern technology. If the premises of actor–network theory, material culture studies, Marxism and poststructuralist critiques of power and inequalities are combined with the perspectives of ecological economics on global social metabolism, the fossil-fuelled textile factories of 19th-century Britain can be reinterpreted as social instruments for appropriating embodied human labour and natural space from elsewhere in the global system. A renewed ‘anthropology of technology’ might focus on the observation that technology is not simply a matter of putting nature to work, but a strategy of putting other sectors of global society to work

Department/s

  • Human Ecology

Publishing year

2021-06-01

Language

English

Pages

206-227

Publication/Series

Anthropological Theory

Volume

21

Issue

2

Document type

Journal article

Publisher

SAGE Publications

Topic

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Keywords

  • technology
  • sociotechnical system
  • world-system
  • unequal exchange
  • social metabolism

Status

Published

ISBN/ISSN/Other

  • ISSN: 1741-2641