“The concept of time-space appropriation thus offers a way to define and even quantify asymmetric global flows of resources that are fundamental to the accumulation of physical capital.” ~ Alf Hornborg
Technology as Fetish: Marx, Latour, and the Cultural Foundations of Capitalism
by Alf Hornborg
This article discusses how the way in which post-Enlightenment humans tend to relate to material objects is a fundamental aspect of modern capitalism. The difficulties that conventional academic disciplines have in grasping the societal and political aspect of ‘technology’ stem from the predominant Cartesian paradigm that distinguishes the domain of material objects from that of social relations of exchange. This Cartesian paradigm has constrained the Marxian analysis of capital accumulation from extending the concept of fetishism to the domain of technology. Both Marxian and mainstream thought represent technological objects as empowered by their intrinsic properties, which derive from human ingenuity and tend to progress over time. To transcend this paradigm will be possible only through the kind of post-Cartesian perspective on material artefacts that has been championed by Bruno Latour.
The article thus aims to reconnect the discourse on fetishism, the main thrust of which has become largely restricted to exploring personal phenomenologies of aesthetic or sensuous experience, to a general critique of global capitalist relations. The ambition here is not to attempt to review the voluminous discourses on fetishism, animism, epistemology, magic, materiality, technology, or consumption, but to bring together a few essential insights from these various topics to suggest new ways of illuminating some cultural dimensions of modernity and capitalism. More specifically, the goal is to combine some relevant perspectives from cultural anthropology with perspectives from political economy, world-system analysis, and ecological economics in order to ‘defamiliarize’ our everyday understanding of technology.