Power of the Machine: Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment / Edition 1

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Overview

Hornborg argues that we are caught in a collective illusion about the nature of modern technology. It prevents us from understanding that the environmental crisis of modern society is a problem of power, culture, and epistemology, and prevents us from imagining solutions other than technocratic fixes. He reveals how the material existence of modern, industrial infrastructure (i.e., "development") ultimately relies upon certain cultural notions about production and exchange, and on the uneven flows of resources that these notions mask and reproduce. Hornborg's perspective and empirical case materials will appeal to readers in the fields of anthropology, economic history, world-systems theory, environmental justice, and the history of science and technology.

Author Biography: Alf Hornborg is professor and chair of the Human Ecology Division at Lund University, Sweden

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Editorial Reviews

Anthropological Theory 3(3)
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
Igor Kopytoff
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.
Ethnos
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.
Journal Of World-Systems Research
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
Anthropological Theory
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
Zygmunt Bauman
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.'
Josiah McC. Heyman
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.
Journal Of World-Systems Research - Mary C. Ingram
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.
Anthropological Theory - Jonathan Benthall
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.
Igor Kopytoff
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.
Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 59, 2003 - E. Paul Durrenberger
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780759100671
  • Publisher: AltaMira Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2001
  • Series: Globalization and the Environment Series , #1
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Alf Hornborg is professor and chair of the Human Ecology Division at Lund University, Sweden

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Table of Contents

List of figures and maps
Preface
Introduction: The Machine As Emperor 1
Pt. 1 Technology and Unequal Exchange
1 Technology and Economics: The Interfusion of the Social and the Material 9
2 Cornucopia or Zero-Sum Game: The Epistemology of Sustainability 23
3 The Thermodynamics of Imperialism: Toward an Ecological Theory of Unequal Exchange 35
4 Ecosystems, World Systems, and Environmental Justice 49
5 Conceptualizing Accumulation from Spondylus Shell to Fossil Fuels 65
6 Use Value, Energy, and the Image of Unlimited Good 89
7 Language and the Material: Probing Our Categories 111
8 Symbolic Technologies: Machines and the Marxian Notion of Fetishism 131
Pt. 2 Money, Modernity, and Personhood
9 Money, Reflexivity, and the Semiotics of Modernity 157
10 Ecology As Semiotics: A Contextualist Manifesto 175
11 Exchange, Personhood, and Human Ecology 191
12 The Abstraction of Discourse and Identity: A Case Study 211
Afterword: Culture, Modernity, and Power - The Relevance of Anthropology 237
References 245
Index 261
About the Author 273
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