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

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March 4, 2014 at 13:13 #11802
 nisa.dedic@gmail.com

I took the liberty of creating a new topic for submitting our reflections. Hope it’s ok.

Here are the instructions:
Student organisers: Archie Davies, Markus Nyström
Reading: Hornborg, A. 2012. Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange: Fetishism in a Zero-Sum World. Routledge.
Instructions: Read the text and follow instructions given by the student organisers. A 1 page reflection according to instructions given by the student organisers must be submitted on 4 march 18.00 in discussion forum. You must also comment a fellow student’s text (2nd in the list of course participants after you that attends the seminar. If you are in the end begin the count again from the start, use the same procedure for remaining seminars) before 5 march 18.00.
3 March 13-15 Discussion seminar with Alf Hornborg (Cm 122 e, Geocentrum, Villavägen 16)
3 March 15-17 English Park Campus ENG 2K-1024. Mind & Nature seminar. “Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange”. Alf Hornborg (Professor of Human ecology division, Lund University). Mind & Nature open lecture.

March 4, 2014 at 13:13 #11803
 nisa.dedic@gmail.com

NISA DEDIC, REFLECTION ON THE SEMINAR “ECOLOGY, HISTORY AND UNEQUAL EXCHANGE” (3RD OF MARCH)
I apologize in advance to the person in charge of commenting my reflection, because I have decided to use this reflection as a kind of exercise in order to clear things up for myself regarding my thesis topic with the help of the theoretical apparatus offered by Hornborg. It might not be in the general interest of the reader, but it might shed some light on the question I have chosen to primarily focus on; i.e. the question of relevance of the nation-state as a scale and as an analytical tool in writing environmental history. This question is particularly relevant to me, since I intend to write about the overlapping processes of industrialization and urban planning of my hometown and how landscape transformation and degradation is distributed along the axis of class and ethnicity.
Prior to the Second World War the territory of what became the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), was generally not industrialized. Thus it is interesting to see how a rapid industrialization process occurred in the second half of the 20th century in a socialist republic with planned economy and collective ownership of the means of production in regard to Hornborg’s concepts of unequal exchange and biophysical flows that do not correspond to the borders of nation-state. We have often heard that the nation-state is not the most theoretically rigorous and relevant scale in writing environmental history, first because of the obvious reason that ecosystems, natural phenomena, landscape transformation do not generally coincide with political borders. To this I will add Hornborg’s claim that taking the nation-state as a point of departure necessarily obscures the unequal flows and structural inequalities that masquerade as governments and state interests. I object to this claim since I believe that in many cases we cannot simply accept that economic interests and capital flows override state autonomy. I believe nation-states have to be considered as carriers of political agency that is not necessarily conflated with capital flows or is subordinated to them. I will explain this claim in regard to its relatedness to my thesis topic. As I’ve mentioned before, SFRY was a primarily agrarian economy up until the 1950s. My hometown, called Velenje (Tito’s Velenje in SFRY) was one of the most rapidly industrialized and urbanized regions in the whole SFRY; prior to the Second World War it was basically a village but in the first wave of post-war industrialization the region became crucial due to the massive quantities of lignite deposits (lignite is a sort of coal with low heat content). In this case a nation-state scale might be relevant, since we are dealing with a planned economy and the Yugoslavian ideal of self-sufficiency meant that the core/perifery dialectics was generally played within the borders. The second issue we must acknowledge here is that the industrialization process and technological development of all socialist republics in Yugoslavia was seen as enforcing the brotherhood (bratstvo) and the common socialist future of the southern Slavic peoples (the name Yugoslavia means exactly that, »the land of Southern Slavs«). Thus the industrialization process and the building of common identity overlap. Since the main focus of my thesis is the urban planning of my hometown, I will now briefly focus on that. The gargantuan extraction of coal deposits demanded a labour force, which in the beginning came from the rural areas sorrounding the valley where coal extraction occurred. The urbanization process occurred according to the utopian vision of urban planning envisaged by the coal mine director and the urban planners; both with a passionate penchant for social engineering. The town itself was planned basically ex nihilo, the terrain was a clean slate upon which to plan an ideal city fit for living of the working class, which was seen as the carrier of revolutionary consciousness. The town was indeed planned and constructed so as to offer an abundance of greenery, recreational surfaces and healthy living conditions in housing. I believe that without acknowledging the state autonomy and political agency of state-envisioned ideas and state financed planners, we might not understand the urbanization process of my hometown. In addition, the fragmentation of land was not an issue to urban planners, since the land was bought by the state from previous private owners (mostly small-scale farmers). Thus, again the state must be acknowledged as the carrier of agency and as a relevant unit of analysis.
There is much more to be said about this; indeed the polycentric conurbanization plan of the 1980s that was the predominant vision in SFRY in that time has to be understood within state governance. The second issue I intend to raise in my thesis, that is how environmental degradation is distributed unequally according to class and ethnicity (public health issues, water safety issues, land sinking in the valley, coupled with socio-economic marginalization of the working class predominantly of Bosnian ethnicity) in my hometown is more a matter of urban political ecology than environmental history, but Hornborg’s elaboration on Marx’s concept of the metabolic rift and fetishization of technology and commodification of workers will indeed be useful to me.

March 4, 2014 at 13:23 #11804
 nickhirschstein@live.nl

Reflection seminar – Alf Hornborg – 3/3/2014 Nick Hirschstein

Define technology: Hornborg was during the seminar quite clear on what in his opinion technology stands for. What I found reoccurring with the book and his explanation on technology, ecology, and economy is that he seems point out that in all cases, it is not necessarily bad, if we use it consciously. As with our technology it has driven us to a globalized economy, and this is not sustainable. If we want to use technology sustainable we should use it more locally, and this will eventually result in a more equal exchange of goods than now is the case. However when I consider this, and everyone would trade locally, promoting equal exchange I would still think is that ‘the southern hemisphere’ on this planet would be in trouble. I would wonder if in countries with large populations would be able to sustain themselves like Europe would (obviously also because of the financial means in Europe and the already high standard of living). In short, if something like this would happen it would mean many people would have to die, in order to come to a ecological and economical sustainable world, which of course is not really optimistic, but that was the feeling I was left with.

Hornborg does point out that something catastrophic needs to happen in order to force people (or rather the society/government/politics to a turning point. I would say that Hornborg has an interesting view on technology, however his sum-zero theory is not something I completely agree on. Using technology wisely has benefited many, and that can continue for ages to come, of course it has it’s downsides, but those are sides to work on, not to turn your back on. According to Hornborg the 1902 president of the American Chemical Association figured that by 1970 the US could be running on solar energy, and since it is now 2014, it is never going to happen according to Hornborg. I find this weak argumentation, especially with the knowledge now that we have about two world wars, which has not helped sustainability research. Even though he mentions these things shortly, I get this feeling on other parts of his argumentation as well.

March 4, 2014 at 13:50 #11805
 ramseymorag@gmail.com

Morag Ramsey
Alf Hornborg Reflection: According to Hornborg, what is technology?

Technology is a word that encompasses many dimensions to Alf Hornborg. In his book, Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange: Fetishism in a Zero-Sum World, he spends a great deal of time introducing his own ideas about technology and how they contrast with a more traditional understanding of the word’s definition. What seems to be one of Hornborg’s biggest grievances with ideas about technology is the way it is imagined as politically innocent (Hornborg, 35).

For Hornborg, this idea of technology being politically innocent partly stems from the manner in which technology is separated from other cultural categories. As he stated in his first chapter, “’technology’, ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’ are cultural categories that train us to think about socio-ecological realities in particular ways.” (Hornborg, 8) This is problematic to Hornborg as it separates entities that he views as being completely intertwined, and allows people to disconnect actions and results occurring in one cultural category from the other. As Hornborg illustrated in his lecture, a brief examination of two global maps, one showing electricity at night and the other GDP per capita, illustrates very clearly that economics and technology are closely connected. As Hornborg simply stated, where there is money there is technology.

This connection between economics, technology and ecology illustrates Hornborg’s bigger picture of technology. For Hornborg, the truest way to see technology is a result of a triangular exchange where someone gains the privilege of more time and space at the expense of someone else’s time and space. As Hornborg commented in chapter four of his book, “Technologies designed to solve one kind of problem will, ironically, tend to generate even more severe problems of another kind, for other groups of people.” (Hornborg, 67) To illustrate his point, Hornborg mentioned open pit copper mining in South America. This work dramatically underpays the miners for their work, and uses up a large swath of their land to extract the copper for exportation. There is a displacement of space and time from one area of the world to another in order to gain a technological advantage. (Which Hornborg would argue is not only a technological advantage, but an economic and an ecological one as well.) A process that leaves such economic, ecological and technological discrepancies between what can be seen as the global north and the global south is not politically innocent, which is what Hornborg stresses throughout his work.

In addition to a looking at technology as a triangular exchange, Hornborg also points to how technology predisposes a global price difference, which only contributes to the inequality. He used the example of price difference between slave labour in Alabama versus labour in England to illustrate his point. While Hornborg’s treatment of technology is extremely interesting and thought provoking, I am slightly disappointed we were not able to hear his lecture on his local currency project as a way to implement a positive change. I was interested to hear how Hornborg’s idea of technology would develop if this triangular exchange disappeared, as he did not have time to expand on this idea.

March 4, 2014 at 14:02 #11806
 gaoyongliang@yahoo.com

A reflection of “technology” by Yongliang Gao

Hornborg’s perception towards technology reminds me the legitimacy of rethinking technology in three facets.

First of all, Hornborg and many others (including me) believe, technology is in close relation to money (in other words, ‘economy’ in Hornborg’s book). Since money can invest and innovate new technology and in turn, the new technology will become a powerful medium to make money. As a result, technology directly or indirectly causes or widens the gap between the rich and poor. Speaking on a global scale, technology, thus could be a good reason in explaining the lag-out of the developing countries and the ahead position of the developed nations. Hornborg interpreted this view in yesterday’s discussion by describing why the industrial revolution initiated in England not in China in the 19th century.

Second, Horborg reveals that technology is meaningful in certain manners considering the fact that it saves space and time. However, during yesterday’s discussion, many of us refuted this idea because when technology saves us time, we naturally expect to do more things, or say to do things more efficiently. Therefore, the time that technology saves is merely a physiological feeling, not the real time. As a consequence, technology on one hand is undeniably able to compress the time of doing things (think of the time differential using email and mail). On the other hand, nevertheless, technology is ‘evil’ in a degree as it triggers social problems. For instance, technology makes human beings increasingly inertia and inpatient. Despite the truth, in my opinion, it is of necessity to categorize technology before blaming its drawbacks. From my perspective, the social problems created by technology are generally unnecessarily required technology (i.e. the technology that fulfills entertaining purposes). A few technologies bring more benefits to us such as medical devices and transportation.

Last but most important, many scholars attribute technology to environmental degradation in an unreflective way. What I believe, however, it is not technology, but the insufficient technology that causes environmental problems. To exemplify, some argue that electronic companies cause electronic garbage as computers, phones and other electronic devices are buried in soil, which causes several environmental problems. My opinion is that if we possess advanced technology that is capable of recycling and reusing those metals, electronic components, wires, or whatever technology builds upon it, those environmental problems would never occur. Hence, instead of blaming technology for environmental problems, I would say, it is the inferior technology that we are currently using produces the environmental problems.

March 4, 2014 at 14:07 #11807
 nik.petek@arkeologi.uu.se

What is wrong with the nation-state as a unit of analysis for environmental history?

Reading through Hornborg’s book there was hardly a point I did not agree with. I thought he put forward a well substantiated argument and methodology on how to study environmental history and environmental impacts that was not just theoretical but also included many anthropological examples. I was in the group talking about the nation-state and if it is a useful concept in the analysis of environmental history. While our discussion took us away from the above question, we did talk about the nation-state as a concept that should/should not be present in the study of environmental history.

To reiterate my thoughts on yesterday’s discussion, I think that the concept of a nation-state should be part of any environmental historical research. The nation-state is the centre of political power nowadays, and it is also a place/space where the general public should (theoretically) have the power to propose new laws, enforce economic change, express their mind etc. Through their actions they should be able to change their countries’ economic outlook. It is also in the nation-state that politicians have the power to make economically irrational decisions and go against a dominant economic thought or the dominant economic system, like neoliberalism. Each nation-state should be seen as a living and changing entity within an economic system that is different from the other, and operates differently. So, in the current global capitalist system, the US does not operate like Sweden, which does not operate like China. This is because each nation-state is trying to do what is best economically and best for its people in the situation that it is at that point, and because the politicians leading the nation-states and their populations have different ideological outlooks.

There are huge global corporations, which transcend the boundaries of the nation-state and which have the power to affect their economy and laws through lobbying. However, the nation-state would hardly allow the corporation to touch its sovereignty and the corporation would have to comply with the nation-state’s laws.

While the nation-state is a necessary and useful concept in the analysis of environmental history, it is not useful as a unit of analysis, which is unchangeable and devoid of external contact. For one, the idea of a nation-state only started gaining ground some 300 years ago or less. Using the nation-state as a unit of analysis means that we lose some of the historical background of certain economic tendencies within the space now occupied by the nation state. Moreover, there are not many environmental histories just as there are not many environments in the world. The world’s environment operates in unity, so the non-appearance of El Nino can produce droughts in East Africa. So saying that the British Empire did not have any major environmental impacts in the 17th and 18th century because it did not deforest its own lands, but imported wood from East Europe would be a major historical fallacy. Nation-states, empires, regions, etc. have economic ties to other places. The economic ties do not stop at the boundary of that nation-state.

That is why Hornborg thinks of the nation-state as not a useful unit of analysis of environmental history, but rather focuses on the economic ties themselves, as these are not bound by political entities, but are shaped by the dominant economic system and that system’s/people’s needs.

March 4, 2014 at 15:02 #11808
 karin_sillen@hotmail.com

Karin Sillén, Reflection on the Alf Hornborg seminar 2014-03-03

What are the gains from applying a world-systems perspective on global environmental history and is anything lost in taking this approach?

I think that a world-system perspective is a good way to analyze environmental issues. It gives a wider perspective. A world-system perspective shows the connections between local, regional, and global. By including the connections we are able to see how environmental problems “work” their way around the globe. For example, Hornborg (2012:11) writes about global terms of trade. In these terms we find unequal exchanges in many areas; labour, profit, and the distribution of resources in the world system. From this point of view I´m visualizing the world from a system that divides the world unequal. This unequal system needs to be recognized.

I also believe that the local is important and must be included in analyzing environmental problems on a global scale. When I think about local I refer to, amongst many things, to the core and the periphery. Hornborg (2012:19) is taking up the problem with core vs. periphery. The core imports from the periphery, and the core imports more than it exports. The periphery works the other way around and exports more than they import.A consequence is that the periphery has less resources left to it´s citizens. Another problem is that the core exports polluting industries to the periphery. Here we see connections between rich and poor areas, and the unequal exchange in trade relations and industries. The core uses the periphery as a dumpster (Hornborg, 2012:55). A world-system perspective is highly useful when looking into these aspects, and the system of unequal change. The local is there, but the connection between different local areas and the exchanges between them are of much value in discussing the environment.

All the above has to do with politics. Hornborg (2012:56) continues with that political issues are an important factor in a global society. When a nation is successful on the world arena, the nation has often relocated it´s own garbage somewhere else in the world. And the periphery has to take the downsides of political and capital success. This shows quite clearly the connections between areas in the world. World-system perspective is good; it reveals the connections that are important factors when dealing with environmental issues. But it also shows that it´s important to think about the local as well.

March 4, 2014 at 15:05 #11809
 berglund_k@hotmail.com

Kristina Berglund
Reflection on discussion seminar and lecture with Alf Hornborg, 3rd of March 2014

According to the instructions I will try to answer one of the questions discussed at the seminar, namely what in Hornborg’s perspective technology is. Hornborg rightfully argues that in modern society, we seem to have an unconditional faith in technology, a belief that technology is the answer to continued growth and development but also the solution to current climate change and environmental challenges. This view of technology is heard from politicians, economists as well as many ‘ordinary’ citizens. But in this view, technology is seen as detached from the social and physical realities that are prerequisites for the existence of the technology in the first place. In other words, we put an immense faith in technology without questioning the underlying factors that made it possible, namely unequal resource transfers causing environmental and social degradation in the areas where the resources are exploited from. Therefore, Hornborg question wheather the modern concept of technology isn’t just a ‘cultural illusion’, and a way of organizing society that turns the blind eye to the fact that technology is a zero-sum game where we in the rich part of the world “save time and space at the expense of humans and environments in the poorer parts”.
A central concept to Hornborg’s argument about technology and modern society is what he calls ‘machine fetichism’ – the kind of illusion that allow us to view machines without any regard of what unequal exchange of time and space, such as natural resources extraction and labor that made the machine possible. We have thus become so ‘dependent’ and greedy for our cherished machines (mobile phones, cars, computers etc.) that we must maintain them at any cost, “even at the cost of the land that support us”.
Horborg’s view of technology is very central to his whole argument about how the modern socity is organized and founded – on unequal exchanges of resources that has benefitted a small part of the world’s population at the expense of the less priveleged’s space and time. When ‘doing’ environmental history therefore, Hornborg argues that we must acknowledge these connection between areas and places in the world, instead of comparing them. We must recognize what is happening in the marginalized areas of the world as a concequence of the richer part of the world maintaining our advantaged positions aquired from the creation of industrial society, with consumerism, burning of fossil fuels and ‘globalized’ society. Hence, we must acknowledge that there are different kinds of environmental problems in the core and the peripheries, that there is not THE global environmental history but different environemental histories depending on which part of the world you are referring to.
For me, Hornborg’s arguments are very clear, sound and easy to comprehend. Since this is not always the case, I found this session very appealing and interesting. Hornborg said various times that his arguments might be very provocative, but I do not think they are. I think it is obvious that we have to rethink our economic system, that the market is not fair and that we have built our wealth on the expense of marginalized people and their environments (and in the extension also ‘our global environment’). The challenge I guess, is to make politicians and economists to think along these lines, and not to mention the large and powerful coorporations. I don’t know what will be needed in order to accomplish this, if it is a severe economic crisis or the end of fussil fuels, but it is indeed a challenge of huge proportions.

March 4, 2014 at 15:19 #11810
 Sarah Rodrigue-Allouche

According to Hornborg, what is technology?
The seminar with anthropologist Alf Hornborg yesterday was fascinating. I think we can gain a lot as students of environmental history from his insights on inequalities and power relationships. His ideas seem highly relevant to me, not only as a student but mostly as a citizen of the world who tries to act and live as ethically as possible.
Here, I choose to address Hornborg’s definition of technology. First, it is very important to note that Hornborg distinguishes two different types of technology. He says that there is the kind of technology related to the science of art and craft-making like the knowledge that enables Indigenous Amazonians to build blowguns (it shall not be forgotten that etymologically “technology” means the science of the art) and another type of technology that relies upon money relationships and that he calls “machine fetishism”.
To him this blind faith in the machine – characteristic of our current societies – conceals the truth about modern slavery. When wealthy people use their laptop, they do not think about the time and resources that have been stolen from other people’s lives in order for them to benefit from this time-saving engine. The technological object embodies the unequal exchange between those who can afford it and those who cannot. Hornborg reminds the 21st century technological optimist of the sad truth about technology. Technology is not a means to save time and space, this idea is an illusion – it only enables to save time and space for a tiny fraction of privileged people on the planet. For the others, its mere existence signifies paying the cost of their human lives and their own resources.
The issue is that when you buy a computer you do not realize that its existence was enabled because Chinese workers in Foxconn jeopardized their own health in order to assemble the toxic pieces together in a cruel factory. Neither do you realize that once your computer no longer serves you, it will be sent to an e-wasteland somewhere in the middle of Africa contributing to more land degradation and health issues. All of these harsh realities are hidden in our machine fetishism.
Hornborg made a really interesting point when he said yesterday that there is no such a thing as a “fair-trade”. When one corner of the world steals time and natural resources from another, how could that ever be called fair? Technological objects are just one more example of global unequal exchange in what he calls a “zero-sum world”.
I find Hornborg’s ideas on technology fascinating. Thanks to a course entitled “Environmental justice” that I took when I was a student at UC Santa Cruz, I have ceased being a technological optimist for some years now. Still, I believe that a locally-built technology which would rely more on ingenuity than on the massive robbery of time and resources from other people could help make our lives easier.
Finally, I do not believe that one corner of the world benefits from industrial technologies while the other loses – I guess we are all losers in this game. The wealthy Westerners who indeed save a lot of time and space thanks to smart phones, airplanes, Ipad… may think that their gains are too precious to be abandoned. But when we think about the health and psychological long-term troubles caused to the avid high-tech consumers, we come to realize that it is not a zero-sum game but indeed a lose-lose situation in which we are stuck.

March 4, 2014 at 15:24 #11811
 anna.shoemaker@arkeologi.uu.se

In the discussion group I joined we explored the gains of applying a world-systems perspective on global environmental history, and asked if anything is lost in taking this approach. The world-systems perspective necessitates that the principal unit of analysis is the earth in it’s core and periphery divisions. By identifying the fluid dynamics between core and periphery in global environmental history we are capable of moving beyond static taxonomies and conceptualizations of state, and trajectories and impediments of development. Using world systems perspectives, which was developed as a way of understanding the capitalist system in which we currently operate, we are capable of tracing the formation of contemporary macro-scale inequalities of access to labor, resources, land, and capital. Another aspect of world-systems theory is the emphasis on inter-disciplinary approaches specifically drawing on and trying to integrate research in social and natural sciences as well as humanities, which is all useful I think for accounts of global environmental history.
The world-system perspective could be criticized perhaps at it’s inception for the focus on the industrial revolution in Europe as being the foundation of the capitalist world economy, but also for taking a reductionist approach to social systems as units of analysis. However, new theoretical developments spearheaded by people like Alf Hornborg demonstrate that the application of world-system perspectives to global environmental history is an incredibly useful adaptation. By challenging our understandings of “the natural world” and including environmental systems alongside social systems as units of analysis, we can achieve a more nuanced perspective on issues central to global environmental history such as human culture, economics, politics, global biophysical repercussions of human actions, and how global patterns of environmental change are portrayed as natural, justifiable, and fair.
Finally, what I find most intriguing is how Hornborg parallels and contrasts the accumulation and control of landesque capital in the past, and in the contemporary capitalist world-system. I find this a fascinating method for highlighting how ingrained our mystifications of cultural concepts such as wages, salaries, and market value are, and how these constructs, just like Incan minkas act to appropriate labor and land and enforce unequal exchange. Of course this drive to highlight capital accumulation in pre-capitalist world-system societies could be used to justify how inescapable and “biologically natural” inequalities are in social systems, and this is a paradox worthy of consideration (as mentioned during the seminar). However, what I find valuable is using examples from pre-modern societies to demystify and deconstruct the current cultural concepts that form the foundation of capitalism as a world-system. To me this demonstrated that while world-systems may be relatively modern the cultural foundations that capitalism encompasses are not. Therefore evaluating pre-industrial global environmental histories from a world-systems perspective still has applications. Examining the formation and dissolution of inequalities in access to labor, resources, land, and capital in past social systems we can comment on the cultural mystifications of the exploitation of subordinates and perhaps transcend objective constructions of nature, technology, and labor.

March 4, 2014 at 15:34 #11812
 wytt2002@sina.com

Current Themes and Debates in Global Environmental History
Yu Wang
History department&Global Environmental History
wytt2002@sina.com
Reflection 2 (2014-03-04)
— Hornborg, A. 2012. Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange: Fetishism in a Zero-Sum World.

What is wrong with the nation-state as a unit of analysis for environmental history?

I was in the group talking about the nation-state and if it is a useful concept in the analysis of environmental history. I would like to explain my point of view from another perspective . I think the way to evaluate the ecological environment is not built on the basis of a fair evaluation , the evaluation results of this approach is to make the most backward developing countries bear the blame pollution of the environment , but did not take into account the globalization of trade as the historical background. Measure ecological status should not only be limited to who developed the resources, but also be clear who is the ultimate consumer of resources.
The 21st century is the global trade century, the world is divided into three regions which is based on the division of labor, namely “the high -tech , capital-intensive and high-wage products located in the core area ”,“low-tech , labor -intensive and low-wage products where in the marginal region”, and the third is mixing zones. Three different regions bear the economic structure in different roles : the core area is control the world financial and trade markets, acting as a price determined. The marginal zone is responsible for providing cheap raw materials and cheap labor as well as the sales market to the core area. The world system presents a serious inequality in the way that undervalued prices. A large number of products exported by developing countries , but the value has long been seriously underestimated , that is, the final price of the product does not contain hesitation mining, processing or environmental pollution caused by transport costs and social costs. On the surface looks like a fair and mutually beneficial trade , but in fact is not ture. Developing countries do not have ability to affect the final price, as no trade option but only to keep explitate their existing natural resource , and in the end make itself as a huge waste landfill. Commodities and resource depletion and environmental pollution costs are transferred to developing countries. This is an important reason for developing today’s context of globalization of trade continued to deteriorate .

March 4, 2014 at 15:34 #11813
 wytt2002@sina.com

Current Themes and Debates in Global Environmental History
Yu Wang
History department&Global Environmental History
wytt2002@sina.com
Reflection 2 (2014-03-04)
— Hornborg, A. 2012. Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange: Fetishism in a Zero-Sum World.

What is wrong with the nation-state as a unit of analysis for environmental history?

I was in the group talking about the nation-state and if it is a useful concept in the analysis of environmental history. I would like to explain my point of view from another perspective . I think the way to evaluate the ecological environment is not built on the basis of a fair evaluation , the evaluation results of this approach is to make the most backward developing countries bear the blame pollution of the environment , but did not take into account the globalization of trade as the historical background. Measure ecological status should not only be limited to who developed the resources, but also be clear who is the ultimate consumer of resources.
The 21st century is the global trade century, the world is divided into three regions which is based on the division of labor, namely “the high -tech , capital-intensive and high-wage products located in the core area ”,“low-tech , labor -intensive and low-wage products where in the marginal region”, and the third is mixing zones. Three different regions bear the economic structure in different roles : the core area is control the world financial and trade markets, acting as a price determined. The marginal zone is responsible for providing cheap raw materials and cheap labor as well as the sales market to the core area. The world system presents a serious inequality in the way that undervalued prices. A large number of products exported by developing countries , but the value has long been seriously underestimated , that is, the final price of the product does not contain hesitation mining, processing or environmental pollution caused by transport costs and social costs. On the surface looks like a fair and mutually beneficial trade , but in fact is not ture. Developing countries do not have ability to affect the final price, as no trade option but only to keep explitate their existing natural resource , and in the end make itself as a huge waste landfill. Commodities and resource depletion and environmental pollution costs are transferred to developing countries. This is an important reason for developing today’s context of globalization of trade continued to deteriorate .

March 4, 2014 at 16:32 #11814
 ellen.lindh@gmail.com

Seminar 3: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange
On: Hornborg, A. 2012. Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange: Fetishism in a Zero-Sum World, Routledge and seminar with Alf Hornborg 2014-03-03 in Geocentrum, Uppsala.
A) What are the gains from applying a world-systems perspective on global environmental history and is anything lost in taking this approach?
I regard Hornborgs theoretical approach to World-system analysis useful in several aspects for writing Global environmental history. The approach is useful, as Hornborg him selves also argues for, in discovering connections and accumulation of “capital” (not only money but technology and energy etc.) or the lack of it over vast geographical areas. The displacement /externalization of environmental problem to another system, can be traced down over time and space. Hornborg is asking for more global environmental history research with the world-system perspective in mind. He empathies that there is always a reason for why the environmental problem exist were it does in relation /connection to something or somewhere else in the world. For example landscape change in Europe can be connected to landscape change of another type in South America, when tracing demand and trade over the world. The gain in this approach is then the possibility to analyze patterns over time and space (lending eg. space from future generations or human time from another part of the world to save time for your selves) and discover how different situation over the world are connected to each other in some extent.
Hornborg makes an important distinction between analyzing connections and comparing case studies around the world. He criticizes the latter approach in making assumptions about societies being isolated and comparing societies on different scales, instead of see the connections between what is happening in the cases in focus.
What could then be the loss with a world-system analysis? I still will argue for that we need the smaller case studies and micro-history to understand and explain on a graspable level. For the reader to connect with the Global environmental history and se relevance for themselves and their own community in the research, the risk with a world-system perspective could be then to only focus on the macro level. But I can´t see that Hornborg is arguing for that either, he wants us as Global environmental historians to also focus and to regard and do research on those larger systems of energy flow in the world not neglect other approaches .

Ellen Lindblom

March 4, 2014 at 17:03 #11815
 michael.deflorian.3871@student.uu.se

Reflection on Alf Hornborg (2011): Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange – Fetishism in a Zero-Sum World

Question 3: What is technology?

Alf Hornborg’s main argument relies on the interconnectedness of the world: social and environmental problems are the consequence of an unequal exchange of resources which is concealed by dominant ways of representing economic and technological progress (Hornborg 2011: 102). Thus, the very aim of Environmental History should not be to to conduct comparisons between social-environmental phenomena but to analyze the connections between them.

As Hornborg specified in his lecture, the rationale modern technology is to save time and space. Labor is to be exercised and land used more efficiently – for those who can afford technology and on the cost of those who can not. This “social strategy” requires price differences in parts of the world. The steam engine in England could ony be developed to an industrial scale because the costs of labor and land were cheaper on US cotton plantages, the latter providing the resources and buying the end product of the early English textile industry. According to Hornborg, the reason why technology is perceived as a “cornucopia”, a gift of Western development, is fetishism: “The mystification of unequal relations of social exchange through the attribution of autonomous agency or productivity to certain kinds of material objects, for instance money” (definition given in the lecture).

Furthermore, Hornborg distinguishes between two kinds of technology. The first one is based on prices and thus the appropriation of time and space of others. The second one is locally developed and thus can be beneficial for all members of a society. While the first one can be found among basically all modern technologies, the second one can only be achieved in a society which is organized in a radically different way.

Hornborg’s approach is strongly compelling. Even more, it is almost impossible to disagree with his simple but critical explanation for environmental and social crises: the world as the reservoir of a vast zero-sum game which led to an unequal distribution of resources that is concealed through the fairy tale about technology by the global elites. To disagree with his perspective would be to disagree with the connectedness of the world, with the dominance of unequal exchanges, with technology as not inherently good, progressive and problem-solving. To not follow his line of thought would entail to leave out fundamental aspects of how the modern world is constituted and functioning. To do so might even contribute the vast “project” of concealing the unequal exchange of human, natural and financial resources. His logic, it seems, is water-proof.

However, there is something that made me feel uneasy while I was reading and listening to him. I do not think it was the insight that the whole Western world, including me and everyone else in the classroom, is sitting in the boat of the global conquerors. The idea of an unequal access and use of resources among the world’s citizens is not new for me: I think everyone who feels convicted to environmentalist ideas knows the internal struggle when buying or using something that is not locally produced or served. The same applies to a critical stance towards the world healing and saving effects of technology. In this sense, Hornborg offers everyone who feels that “something is going wrong out there” with a global framework, a connection of all dots of unease, or in other words, an ontology for environmentalists.

Nevertheless, my strange feeling did not come from a disagreement with Hornborg, but from the way he presented his arguments. Although he is disguising the ideological character of technology, economic growth and sustainable development, he is not clear about his own normative assumptions. Problematizing any unequal exchange of resources (whatever they might be) makes only sense from a strong egalitarian point of view. It is based on the assumption that the world’s resources had been distributed equally in a distant past or that it is possible and desirable to achieve such a situation in the future. Of course such a perspective is shared by the large majority of Hornborg’s readers – or as Anneli called it yesterday, 80% of the audience – but at least I missed a clear positioning of Hornborg. That is not to say that he has to label himself as a (Post)Marxist or something else but to clarify why asymmetrical accumulations and machine fetishes are undesirable phenomenas of the modern world. It would make his arguments more practical and accessable for people who want to engage in a struggle for a more equally and sustainable globe but miss a scholarly base for their endeavor. Of course, one can argue that Hornborg would be criticized for losing his objectivity as a professor of a Swedish university which should be maintained more than anything else. But I am sure that he would be more satisfied about a group of young people holding up his book – in a David Graeber way – while protesting than a couple of righteous scholars.

March 4, 2014 at 17:11 #11816
 archie.oj.davies@gmail.com

Archie Davies Reflection:

According to Hornborg, what is Technology?

This was a fascinating part of the discussion and lecture. Hornborg’s approach to technology is a provocative one. His understanding of technology is multiple. He understands it firstly as the result of price differentials between different parts of the world, based on different valuations of human labour time and natural space. He therefore understands technology as an appropriation of time and space by those who can afford it, at the expense of those who cannot. This leads him to understand technology as an objective consequence of global ecological unequal exchange. I find this a very useful way of reconsidering technology, and assigning it new ontological roles. It allows us to incorporate technology as an active part of analysis, and as a feature of criticism within a consideration of world systems. To this extent I think Hornborg’s analysis is extremely perspicacious and compelling.

However, I do find there to be limitations to Hornborg’s understanding of technology. The first of these is the universality with which he treates technology. His consideration is extremely useful for thinking about the steam enging in 19th century Britain, but is perhaps less helpful for thinking about a new technology for water purification, or the invention of mobile money information technology. It does not seem to me that these are examples of appropriations of time and space by some at the expense of others, and nor do they necessarily fulfil the criterias of being fetishised, which is another key feature of Hornborg’s consideration of technology.

Renewable energy technology was the subject of significant criticism from Hornborg during the lecture. Much of his analysis about the over-stating of the case for some types of renewable technology is absolutely vital to a realistic assessment of how far the current system is from being sustainable, and his clarion call that we must be honest about the causes of ecological disruption is critical. However, I do not subscribe to his ultimate conclusion that there is nothing to be gained from seeking new technological solutions to human/ecological problems. This is key to his argument that about a ‘zero-sum world’. I do not think that it is the same thing to be sceptical, realistic and scrupulous about which types of technologies can be useful for a transition to a less ecologically disastrous global system, as to say that all technology is fetish and therefore all technological optimism is misguided. This may be an overstatement of Hornborg’s case, but not much of one! (He is willing to craft out exceptions for medical and information technologies, but this does not go very far.)

In conclusion, Hornborg’s lesson that we must be analytical, critical and suspicious of technology, what it means, how it is produced and its role in the global system is hugely important. However, I would argue that his approach should be applied not to all ‘Technology’, but rather to to some technologies and to ideas of ‘Technology’ which have been historically, socially and ecologically contextualised.

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