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

This topic contains 36 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  Markus 3 years, 2 months ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 16 through 30 (of 37 total)
Author Posts
Author Posts
March 4, 2014 at 17:12 #11817
 fszys1990@gmail.com

Reflection by Yaqi Fu

What are the gains from applying a world-systems perspective on global environmental history and is

anything lost in taking this approach?

In Hornborg’s book, he adopted a world system perspective trying to analyze the reasons why

environmental problems occur and who should be responsible for these problems. From his points

of view, I find it’s not proper to barely blame the countries which now are causing and suffering

environmental pollution, but the “core” countries can not escape the condemn. It exists a kind of

unequal exchange of time and space between core and periphery countries. The raw material which

produced by periphery countries usually costs more labors, time and space than the processed

products by the core countries. This whole process is driven by the world trade and functions in the

logic of capitalism.

The world-system perspective allows us to take different parts of the world into a comprehensive

understanding of environmental change. Environmental problems usually have no clear boundaries

compared with other issues. In a global respect, an environmental crisis happened in one country,

and to find the reason, connection should be made to other parts of the world. This connection

broad our visions, urge us to reflect upon ourselves and help us construct a much better solution

to the problems with the efforts of related countries. Moreover, we are able to find and take more

factors into consideration in world-system perspective. When we face a national range, what we can

find is the essentials that this country or the people in this country present. Our focus then become

narrowed and it leads our research to a sophisticated but restricted way which encloses us from the

outside world. But if we jump out of this structure and try to adopt a world-system perspective, from

other parts of the world, we can borrow some ideas and methods that will helpful to solve problems.

These new knowledge also gives a hint of something maybe important which we ignored before.

However, bounded by a world-system in analyzing environmental history, it will make some

conclusions less convincing if not enough facts and details are appropriately present. If common

sense mistakes about a country usually happen in a world system work, the readers, if I were one

of them, would not believe anything that the author wants to demonstrate, even how beautiful

some theories are. The author should be careful, prudent and precise when trying to write a global

perspective work. I understand being an expert in a global issue is extremely hard. To become

a expert even in singular area in one country is never a easy job without years of hard working.

A world-system expert, he or she should be well learned in different aspects and have deep

understanding of national issues as these certain experts.

In conclusion, I will here use a metaphorical way to end this reflection. From what I know, the

philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine sees a body as a whole. It emphasizes not the strength

on certain parts of a body, but the whole balance among each part. when your get headache, the

problem maybe is on your feet. I hope the world system perspective can absorb something from this

philosophy and help the uneven world regain its balance.

March 4, 2014 at 17:48 #11818
 archie.oj.davies@gmail.com

Response to Michael’s Reflection:

I shared your unease with some of the manner of Hornborg’s analysis, and completely agree that it would have helped his argumentation if he had explained in basic terms what his principal political assumptions are, particularly with regards environmental justice. His argument makes more sense if it is read as a response to a basic political positioning which states what it believes in. Without this, the analysis seems to attempt to speak for itself in a way which I do not think is wise. That is to say, his conclusions are not politically neutral, but he suggests that they could be.

Your reflection references an issue which I found interesting and difficult in what Hornborg said with regard local sustainability about which you asked him (about delicious bananas). I did not think his answer to your question was fully convincing. He argued (in the lecture but also in other conversations during the seminar etc) that we should return only to a local mode of production. I know this is also a very attractive model for many environmentalists (you included to some extent I think Michael!), but I would contest that it is always the best socio-ecological approach. Ecological resources are not evenly distributed across the world. If everyone returned to local production there would therefore be a consequent inequality in the ability (and certainly the ease) with which different populations were able to achieve different levels and qualities of life, including in fundamental issues such as life-span, as well as in areas such as labour input per calories produced. Hence a unitary localism does not appeal to me as a model of sustainability. A classic example is that of the Jamaican milk industry; imports of milk powder in the 1980s destroyed the local milk industry and stopped Jamaicans being able to have local milk, but the imports of cheaper milk powder benefited poor families and infant health. That, and any other, story is not straightforward at all and I don’t want to oversimplify it, but in essence I believe that trade can, in theory, be a source of social benefit. Simply because trade is not fair and is a factor in driving ecological damage at the moment is not an adequate analysis to prove that trade cannot be fair, nor that it could never be ecologically sound. Which is not to say that localism, organic etc cannot be extremely beneficial, but that I do not believe it is adequate.

One further point you raise is about the strength of Hornborg’s basic analysis. I agree with you in essence, and I’m part of the 80%! However, I think it is important that in criticising global capitalism as the source of all ills we do not fall into the trap of suggesting that other approaches are necessarily better, and that the current world system is somehow ultimately bad. Environmental history (the bits of it I’ve read, anyway!) demonstrate that multiple different systems result in multiple types of damage. Judith Shapiro’s book Mao’s War Against Nature demonstrates that a Maoist system resulted in devastating environmental damage, and we should resist simplistic renderings that says that global capitalism equals environmental destruction. We don’t have another global system to compare it against; perhaps a population of over 7 billion people would do what we’re doing to the world under a different system anyway? Or worse? For example, there’s no guarantee that more income equality would lead to less environmental damage; this sometimes seems to be a suggestion implicit in what you could broadly term Marxist analyses.

To be clear – I’m not suggesting that you’re making this argument, my point is that perhaps a world-systems type approach can easily fall into this kind of determinism.

Thanks Michael!

March 4, 2014 at 17:49 #11819
 Sabbath Sunday

Seminar 3, Mon 3rd March:
Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange
Reflections by Sabbath Sunday

Alf Hornborg’s book: Hornborg, A. 2012. Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange: Fetishism in a Zero- Sum World, is another piece of academic work aimed at arguing out the dynamics of world systems order. Under the theme of ‘Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange’, my reflection will be based on the development in time and space of unequal exchange and its impact on world ecological systems. In this case ‘time’ refers to the chronological events that have resulted into socio-economic disparities among humans and the geographical ‘space’ which is the ecosystem.

From a historical point of view, unequal exchange came about because of capitalism which was according to J. W Moore, characterized by developmentalism, financialism, globalization and accumulation. In a show of wealth and power the postmedieval European nations, rushed out to conquer new frontiers looking for new lands for mining, agricultural investments and other cheap raw materials. It was the discovery of the ‘New World:’ the Americas and South East Asia, which culminated into the practice of unequal exchange. With the advent of Industrial Revolution and subsequent proliferation of machine driven fossil fuels, both human labour and vast areas of land were highly exploited. The cheap raw materials for European industries were unfairly extracted by poorly paid or slave labour from the New Worlds. The notion of the ‘old world’ and the ‘new world’ is clearly reflected in the modern theory of ecological and economic world systems whereby, the core nations (developed) are engaged in the unequal exchange with the periphery nations (developing) in the zero-sum capitalistic game.

I agree with Alf Hornborg’s argument that the modern mainstream thinking is quite unaware of unequal exchange games behind resource converting and space adjustment technology which represents a ‘cornucopian perception of development.’ The interconnected illusions about technology, economy, and ecology have resulted into machine fetishism, monetary fetishism and commodity fetishism. Hornborg’s argument is that technology which is a cultural concept is a global social phenomenon that actually represents labour input and ecological space somewhere else, which is unfairly considered. Due to consumer blindness about unequal exchange, the affluent societies tend to worship their commodities little knowing that the raw materials for manufacturing the commodity are ill-gotten at the expense of environmental integrity and cheap human labour and even lost lives. Some examples to this are the ‘blood diamonds’ from conflict regions, coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has got the largest deposits of this mineral in the world. Coltan is a mineral used for the manufacture of capacitors and integrated circuits (ICs) for all electronics.

My final reflection on Hornborg’s arguments about unequal exchange is that he does not seem to have a solution for this global economic and ecological problem. For sure, the two world systems i.e the core and peripheral regions remain to co-exist on interdependency of each other in their unequal exchange game, maybe until the collapse of capitalism and a new dispensation. His other suggestion of the introduction of a common global metric unit of exchange may however not go smooth with those who are already lost in the illusion of ‘development.’

March 5, 2014 at 09:35 #11820
 Sarah Rodrigue-Allouche

Reply to Yu Wang’s reflection
Dear Yu,
If I understood your reflections correctly, you suggest that the nation-state is not a correct unit of analysis for global environmental history because we live in a world divided into three different regions based on the division of labor. This is an interesting way to analyze the way commodities fluctuate as well as environmental degradation.
I surely agree that some people provide the resources and the cheap labor for producing new products, other people enjoy the high-tech gadgets, and then the waste accumulates to the detriment of other groups of people, but I believe that your representation of three different world regions is way too simplistic and does not represent the reality. The world is not divided in three regions, I think it’s much more complex. In every part of the world, there are people who pay the cost of land degradation and environmental pollution. Even in the United States, the wealthiest state of the world and the holy temple of consumerism, communities of immigrants and lower class workers pay the price of pollution with their own health while they can’t afford the latest I-pad.
Besides, in your reflection you do not really seem to answer the question “What is wrong with the nation-state as a unit of analysis for GEH?”. In the beginning of the year we read a brilliant essay by American historian Richard White “The Nationalization of Nature” in which he clearly explained that since nature knows no frontiers, the nation-state appears as a flawed scale of analysis for environmental history. The nation-state conception of history is inherited from a certain vision of history that emerged in Western Europe during the modern era.
It appears that in a world where everything is connected, considering history through the lens of the nation-state scale does not make sense. As Hornborg argued on Monday afternoon, environmental history should be about connections and not comparisons. I certainly agree with his advocacy of a world-system analysis instead of a nation-state analysis when it comes to understanding environmental history.

March 5, 2014 at 09:42 #11821
 nickhirschstein@live.nl

Reply to Ellen’s comments:

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.

For the most part I agree with Ellen and Hornborg with their view on World-systems thinking. There is a certain degree of isolationism when (environmental) history considers and research case studies, while these often have very extensive relations to other cases and parts of the world, especially when we regard our environmental we experience right now. Over the years we have displaced our production to the poorer countries and now we expect them to deal with it. However I do think that in a lot of historical cases local focus is the solution for a lot of environmental problems, and hornborg seems to suggest this as well, although i’m unsure whether this fits his view of world-systems theory. As he added in the discussion he thinks that a local currency for for instance buying food will stop the world from needlessly globalizing, which he considers to be happening for quite awhile now. So I think that it is smart to consider cross-continetal relations and influence as an important factor in historical research, however when it comes to solutions, conclusions and discussions it can be good to set local limits and experiment with local ideas, since this is the direction that you want to head towards.

We also still need to recognize that every case is different and can’t predict the future, it can help us in the future, but in the end every case study is unique, and sometimes the limits that are set are there for a reason, and in every case this reason can be different. So if some case studies ignore cross-continental relations there is probably a good reason for it

Nick Hirschstein

March 5, 2014 at 11:05 #11822
 michael.deflorian.3871@student.uu.se

Comment on Yaqi’s reflection:

Yaqi provided here a balanced and critical reflection on a world-systems approach following Alf Hornborg. I totally agree with you that such a perspective offers two advantages: first, it illuminates that the world is strongly connected (not just since people talk about ‘globalization’) and that any analysis that focusses on environmental problems in only one country or on even only one continent falls short in the addressing the full chain of events that lead to social and environmental problems. Second, a world-systems approach helps to understand why the world is connected in this particular way and why that triggers continuously to multiple crises: because the logic of capitalism that is based on the permanent accumulation of various resources (time, land, money ect.) and leads to an unequal ratio of these materials. For a global perspective, a world-systems approach might indeed be one of the most fruitful ones in Environmental History.

Nevertheless, as you pointed out, it looses its explanatory power when it comes to a lower scale, be it national or local. World-systems scholars might be so occupied with analyzing with global connections and processes that they loose their eyesight for local and national factors. The nuclear crisis of Chernobyl could be traced back to a couple of human failures that do not reach out the regional scope. Mao Zedong’s Great Sparrow Campaign could be rooted in a modern undervaluation of ecology, but was conceived and affected millions of people within the national borders of China. The fact that there is a world-system does not mean that there are no connections on a lower scale, nor does it mean that these systems affect societies or nature in a minor way than the global system. It is always up to the Historian to scrutinize all connections she or he can observe in her or his work – and depending on each case, their will be different factors that are more relevant than others.

Finally, I would like to refer to your thoughtful metaphor in your conclusion. In appreciating the connectedness of the human body, Chinese medicine had been ahead of Western medicine and might still be (I don’t want to know how many poor patients had unnecessarily lost body parts because doctors just chopped off the hurting region of the body). However, I think you can go even further and extend this idea to the sphere outside the single body, that is society. Your headache might be caused by something wrong in your feet. But that might have been affected by overly pressure due to hard labour which is demanded by a lord, state or company. You can apply this extended metaphor even to contemporary nations. This morning I heard in the news that China’s Premier Li Keqiang announced on the National People’s Congress a “war” on pollution while slowing down economic growth. Indeed you can diagnose that environmental pollution is triggered by overly economic growth. But you can also “zoom out” and trace the vast flows of goods to the so-called “Industrialized Countries”. Why should China have to cope with the negative effects of its export economy alone if was the West that had outsourced those harmful economic activities before, to countries they have already exploited in the past? I think, if it comes to the health the Chinese national body, a world-systems approach might be the best diagnosis.

March 5, 2014 at 11:16 #11823
 Sabbath Sunday

Reply to Archie Davies’ Reflection: By Sabbath Sunday

Thanks Davies for your critical reflection to Alf Horborg’s arguments about ‘technology’ in the capitalist world system. However, my take on his actual definition of technology is that it is a cultural concept inspired by the ‘illusions of development’ which culminated in the quest for wealth and power by industrialized or affluent societies. On the other hand Hornborg defends himself by giving another definition that the technology that allows people or some societies to adjust well in their environments without exploitation of labour and degradation of ecosystem is not part of his argument.

Hornborg’s arguments about the driving forces behind ‘technology’ are also reflected by J.W. Moores who describes it as a tool for ‘accumulation, financialism and developmentalism’ that traversed the world in a form of globalization ever since the industrial revolution. New frontiers were sought, in order to maintain the status quo at the expense of world ecological systems. So behind all this phenomena, there was the power of ‘technology’ both at home to produce ‘modern products’ for trade and more technology was exported to their foreign territories to hasten the activity of exploitation in form of machinery for agriculture, mining, transport and semi-processing the raw materials for their home industries. It was this kind of technological era that Hornborg characterizes with unequal exchange that has led to a zero-sum world. In other words, the core nations are fleecing the peripheral nations with no or little concern to environmental integrity and cheap labour compared to the price tags on finished products.

Furthermore, on the issue of fetishism, Hornborg argues that our modern technology has created a ‘cornucopian perception of development’ that represents a diversity of economic illusions which have become ‘religious.’ He breaks down these illusions as ‘machine fetishism, monetary fetishism and commodity fetishism.’ The affluent societies are blinded by this fetishism, flexibility and comfort aided by machines, money and commodities, not knowing that all these are factored by technology at the expense of ‘space’ in terms of ecological degradation and ‘time’ which is the unfairly compensated and painful cheap labour.

I certainly agree with your critique on Hornborg’s exceptions in which he appears to defend information technology and medical technology that they represent a fairer view of capitalism development in that rather than exchanging physical materials, it will only be ideas and information which is a replacement for unequal exchange. And also he says that more medicines are required for world population. My observation is that, Hornborg needs to adjust his argument because the equipments for information technology are manufactured through the process of unequal exchange and zero-sum game. The mineral (coltan) for manufacturing capacitors and ICs used in all electronics comes from Democtratic Republic of Congo. Both its extraction and exchange affects space and time in terms of labour and ecology leave alone the factor that this is a conflict area. On medical technology, the capitalist pharmaceutical companies have intentionally refused to manufacture a vaccine for malaria so that they continue sustaining their wealth by incessantly selling malaria medicines which sometimes also keep changing brands and confusing. So conclusively, my plea is that capitalism should be replaced by a revolution or another organization of society to benefit all mankind and respect ecology. Unequal exchange and unequal development facilitated by ‘technology’ that degrades ecosystem is nothing but a signature of doom for Mother Nature. Thanks Davies raising these issues.

March 5, 2014 at 12:04 #11824
 gaoyongliang@yahoo.com

Reply to Nick’s post
By Yongliang Gao

I agree with you that if technology is used locally, perhaps a larger gap would be occurred between the North and South. In my opinion, I think it is rather difficult to use technology locally considering current world system. The world is like a pyramid, and the North stands on the top of it while the South stays on the bottom. The North manipulates financial circuit and core technology while the South is forced to accept it because of the lack of money and technology. This means, to alleviate world’s inequity and injustice, the South ought to use the technology in a way the North does in order to climb to the top of the pyramid, because just like what Hornborg had said, money invests technology and technology makes money. In this sense, technology should be used globally rather than locally.

Besides, I agree with you on the zero-sum theory. I believe technology does not cause a zero-sum consequence. Instead, it is the world system that technology builds on lead us to the zero-sum scenario. We should not in any circumstances, contaminate technological progress because nobody is willing to go back to the time when technology was not as influential as it is today and besides, nobody can do it. Rather, we should keep moving and use it wisely.

March 5, 2014 at 12:06 #11825
 gaoyongliang@yahoo.com

Reply to Nick’s post
By Yongliang Gao

I agree with you that if technology is used locally, perhaps a larger gap would be occurred between the North and South. In my opinion, I think it is rather difficult to use technology locally considering current world system. The world is like a pyramid, and the North stands on the top of it while the South stays on the bottom. The North manipulates financial circuit and core technology while the South is forced to accept it because of the lack of money and technology. This means, to alleviate world’s inequity and injustice, the South ought to use the technology in a way the North does in order to climb to the top of the pyramid, because just like what Hornborg had said, money invests technology and technology makes money. In this sense, technology should be used globally rather than locally.

Besides, I agree with you on the zero-sum theory. I believe technology does not cause a zero-sum consequence. Instead, it is the world system that technology builds on lead us to the zero-sum scenario. We should not in any circumstances, contaminate technological progress because nobody is willing to go back to the time when technology was not as influential as it is today and besides, nobody is able to achieve that. Rather, we should keep moving and use it wisely.

March 5, 2014 at 12:19 #11826
 ramseymorag@gmail.com

Reponse to Sarah’s reflection by Morag Ramsey

I definitely agree with you in many respects about the gains of studying Horborg’s work when it comes to his insights about inequalities and power relations.

However, I am not sure I agree with Hornborg’s reflection that wealthy people do not think of the inequalities and time and resource lost by others to provide them with technologies, such as a laptop. This may be naivety on my part, but in some respects I feel this idea of an unequal exchange is not an uncommon way to see the world, especially in past few decades with different negative connotations associated with ‘sweatshops’ and such. I feel it is probably not that radical to understand that certain technologies come at the expense of others, and I hope that it is a general bewilderment at how an individual can change such an entrenched and powerful system of unequal exchange, and not a total lack of humanity, that keeps consumers consuming. Although during our discussion, Hornborg did mention that he does not advocate for, or think individual guilt over one’s consumption habits is a desirable outcome of learning about this system.

It is quite possible my own paradigms and perspective of the world taints the way I think others understand it, but it just does not seem like much of a stretch to grasp that there is an unequal exchange that occurs globally. I feel when I hear this kind of argument I have a hard time understanding who is the exact ‘perpetrator’ of the general deteriorating global environmental state. Hornborg spoke of dismissing the anthropocene as lacking depth in how it perceives the ‘we’ of humanity, but I’m not sure I feel entirely convinced the other way of looking at it is more constructive by having just two dimensions. I agree that it is overly simplistic to think of humanity as one actor when it comes to the environment, but I feel that the alterative explanation is unsatisfactory in someway. Perhaps it is because the individual is dismissed as an actor to some extent, and I am overwhelmed thinking of it purely in terms of systems. I am unsure about all of this obviously! And hopefully things become clearer eventually.

I thought your inquiry into the psychological state of ‘affluent westerners’ who have access to such technologies was an interesting avenue to pursue, and I wish we had had time to discuss it more thoroughly in the seminar!

March 5, 2014 at 12:27 #11827
 ellen.lindh@gmail.com

Reply on reflection by Nik Petek

I interpret your reflection Nik, that you think the nation state is a valid and useful object for studying environmental history but in some extent not. I don´t think that the nation state should be dismissed in environmental history because it is, as you say, an actor and agent in changing the landscapes inside its own territory and in relation to other nation states and organizations, be it company’s, NGO:S or other international and political entities. The nation state is also a place for power but there is also much in Global environmental history of research interest that is not bound to the nation’s state and not to mention that nation states tend to change over time and geographical spac. People are constantly moving and crossing boarders, “culture” is a complex phenomenon and does not “belong” to the nation state. Gender order is another interesting aspect of environmental impact, but maybe the strongest argument for not having the nation state as main focus of environmental history is that “nature”, including weather phenomena’s as you are on to in your discussion, animals ecosystems etc., has no nation state boarders, maybe not even continental boarders in some cases. The same goes for diseases in a connected world. I agree with you Nik, that Hornborg has some strong argument for his point of wives and there is no doubt in that energy flow and economic resources is a major factor in environmental change over the globe, but also that nation states make different decisions and therefore have different impact on the globe and the ecosystems.

March 5, 2014 at 12:37 #11828
 Mirabel Joshi

”..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”.

March 5, 2014 at 12:38 #11829
 Mirabel Joshi

”..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 argument 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, hectares 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 asymmetric. The use of money disguises this problem of reciprocity as it operates as a universal 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 solvency 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.

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 exchangeable are made visible. I however do not agree that information technology and advances within medicine are any different to other technology. They are also drivers in this game of capital accumulation and unequal exchange and would perhaps. 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”.

March 5, 2014 at 13:19 #11833
 wytt2002@sina.com

Current Themes and Debates in Global Environmental History
Yu Wang
History department&Global Environmental History
wytt2002@sina.com

Reply to saelrodr’s comment
Dear Saelrodr:
Thank you so much for your comments on my recfection. I also notice that I forgort to mention my view in the end about question “What is wrong with the nation-state as a unit of analysis for GEH?” I have to say that the function of analtysing GEH as a unit of the nation-state is not easy to get proper answer when we look at different situations. I agree that nation- state as unit will help people to focus on GEH on a high level and also give the politicions more pressure to do more things agaist the polution today. What I really question is, how to ask and even believe in that the political system could make the balance between “The central government with local governments” and “Economic development with environmental protection”? We can not escape from the question about police implementation. In China, the local goverments always have big pressure of develop economic. The proportion of GDP accounted extremely important achievements in local government evalution system.From the south to north, from the east to west, the unbanlanc economic development characteristics making it is easier to transfer the results of the environmental damage from an rich area to other poorer regions.
Another significant issue is the envrionmant law as a legal issue. National level does have more power higher level on pass environmental protection laws, but the abstract concept of state, especially for the country that democratic process has not been established totally, the countries always play in the adverse environmental effects. They excluside individuals own jurisdiction on environmental rights. China, for example, due to the previously mentioned the different interests betwteen local government and the central government, China more emphasis on environmental protection by the State as a subject. But the result is that individual citizens lose their right to sue. Environmental pollution is treated as public interest litigation from legal level, and the state becomes to the only prosecution body. What we notice is in China, Nation-State as the subject of proceedings, almost never prosecuted any environment pollution behavior, but the consequences of pollution are borne by everyone like us.
My conclution about the question is, “the nation-state as a unit of analysis for GEH” is too general, ignore the particularity of national structures. And the realistic results is due to this particularity powerless to prevent contamination.

March 5, 2014 at 14:24 #11835
 nisa.dedic@gmail.com

Comment on Yongliang’s reflection
Dear Gao, thank you for your reflection. I agree with you on several points, especially with your claim that time/space compression that technology enables to those who can afford it, indeed has its dire consequences not only for its producers but its consumers too. I missed this aspect in Hornborg’s text too, but I guess it is beyond the scope of the book, which primarily deals with unequal flows and structural inequalities that are hidden in every manifestation of technology. Like you said, the understanding of psychological consequences that happen when technology rewires us according to its capacities is of utmost importance. Or for example how societal relations are being shaped according to the mold of technology and not the other way round. It is as if technology is shaping, disciplinizing us and we have never actually controlled it. One case in point is the use of industrial machinery; because machines can function 24/7, human beings are forced to work night shifts (or for example how human movements are constituted by the speed of an industrial conveyor belt). However, your thoughts in the first two paragraphs are kind of contradicted with what you claim in the last paragraph, where you claim that sufficient knowledge could help us to harness technology and that way environmental problems would not have occurred. It is precisely the belief that we can use technology in an instrumental way, like it is just another tool, that obscures the power of technology to shape us. I believe Hornborg’s definition of technology is not narrowed down only to machinery, appliances, gadgets, but is a more fundamental way of organizing economy, hence our time and our lives. When it comes to the notion of time, I find your distinction between time as an external reality and physiological time very interesting; by compressing our physiological time, we have an illusion of gaining some time in a general sense, whereas it is actually the other way round, because our time is all we have. I think that is one of the greatest illusions of capitalism, by taking time away from us, it creates an illusion that it is actually giving us time. I have drifted away now, so I would just like to conclude that we should be wary of optimistic faith in technological fixes and apply a political critique to the credo that techno knowledge will save us.
As for the matter of GDP and technology overlap and your claim that technology perpetuates the income gap, I agree with you fully, since technology is a manifestation of capital accumulation and a way of organizing labour according to the demands of capital. All in all, you wrote a very good reflection and brought up new ideas, like for example distinction between two kinds of time. I believe that could be a very productive line of thought.

Viewing 15 posts - 16 through 30 (of 37 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.