Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

Author Replies
Mirabel Joshi # Posted on March 5, 2014 at 12:37

”..we tend to be deluded by modern technology.” (Hornborg 2011: 3)

What does technology entail according to Hornborg? Technology is not just the manifestation of human innovation! Technology does not save time and space! Technology is not non-controversial!

From Hornborgs perspective technology is the main driver of inequality in the world. The arguement goes that technology is part of the infrastructure that enables accumulation of capital and an unequal exchange within the global economic system. Net transfers of physical resources as labour time, hectars of land, energy and material volume is needed to produce technology and to build and maintain the infrastructure it requires. Therefore technology does not save time and space it only moves whose time and space is used in the production process and where it moves depend on the exchange rate.

The ideology of reciprocity within the economic system is from this perspective flawed as the flows of matter and energy are assymetric. The use of money discuises this problem of reciprocity as it operates as a univeral solvent of value and creates a market where anything is interchangeable. However, argues Hornborg, there are absolute values however obscured by using universal exchange rates. In the process of solvence these values can morph and accumulate into a different shape as for instance climate change.

So, the potential capacity of technology to save time and space is always on the expense of human time (and surely also pig, cow, tiger etc. time) and natural space. The technical end product only saves time and space in the environment it is (used). Therefore there always has to be an unequal exchange rate or else there will be no accumulation of capital. In a zero-sum world there are no gains to be made through technological innovation.

Technological development is part of the grand idea of progress, a sign of able men and great nations – a key to surplus production and economic growth. In history this is closely linked to developments within agrarian technology which has led on to expanses of territory and power.

Hornborg makes the distinction between two different types of technology which we might call local innovative solutions which are attached to a particular area and problem within a cultural domain of utility and universal technology which aspires to solve problems of a particular type not within a cultural domin of utility. Hornborg takes the example of the construction of veapons to kill a particular type of animal in a in a particular type of environment

What is most interesting to me from Hornborgs argument is the distinction made between the particular and the universal in connection to value and how the problems that arise when solvent is used to make all values inexchangeable are made visable. I however do not agree that information technology and advances within medicin are any different to other technology. They are also drivers in this game of capital accumulation and unequal exchange and would perthaps. It is widely known that advances within these fields are available to the ”winners” within the system and to a lesser extent to the ”loosers”.