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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

6 - The Ontology of Technology

Summary

A central theoretical challenge that has haunted me ever since the 1970s is how to articulate and pursue the conviction that our most tangible manifestation of capital accumulation – modern technology – is to be understood as a global phenomenon (Hornborg 1992, 2001). Many people would immediately agree that such an observation is historically valid, but my ambition has been to give it a more literal significance than reflected in conventional acknowledgments that the emergence of industrial technology was conditioned by global processes (e.g., Wolf 1982; Marks [2002] 2015). My reason for devoting this chapter to the ontology of technology is my conviction that mainstream modern perceptions of what technologies basically are derive from the distorted understanding of technological progress that emerged from the historical experience of nineteenth-century Britons in the core of their colonial empire. The ontological shift required to grasp the scope of this distortion demands the readiness to deconstruct familiar categories that is the hallmark of the “ontological turn” in anthropology, but paradoxically also the kind of analytical reason that is associated with the very Enlightenment that the ontological turn repudiates. As I shall show in the following chapters, the illusions of machine fetishism continue to constrain our deliberations on the potential of our species to avert environmental disaster, for instance by shifting to renewable energy (Chapter 7) or to a socialist economy in which technologies are meant to serve the interests of justice and sustainability (Chapters 8 and 9). My intention, in advocating a fundamentally revised ontology of technology, is to expose the hegemonic illusions of machine fetishism.

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