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The Origins of Cornucopianism: A Preliminary Genealogy

Fredrik Albritton Jonsson
Critical Historical Studies
Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2014), pp. 151-168
DOI: 10.1086/675081
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/675081
Page Count: 18
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The Origins of Cornucopianism: A Preliminary Genealogy
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Abstract

AbstractThe threat of accelerating climate change has revived a long-standing debate over the environmental limits to economic development. Can the biosphere sustain exponential economic growth over the long run? This article explores the historical origins and logic of cornucopianism as an ideology. I take issue with Timothy Mitchell’s recent argument that the postwar oil economy gave rise to dreams of endless growth. Instead of a single technical or conceptual breakthrough, we appear to be dealing with overlapping myths of abundance and exploitation, shaped in great part by the promise of available technology and its environmental limits. Natural philosophy, frontier expansion, and manufacturing development gave rise to alternating objects of cornucopia. Each of these visions of abundance proved unstable and temporary. Indeed, cornucopianism and environmental anxieties have been closely intertwined in theory and practice from the eighteenth century onward.

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