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Fetishised Objects and Humanised Nature: Towards an Anthropology of Technology

Bryan Pfaffenberger
Man
New Series, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Jun., 1988), pp. 236-252
DOI: 10.2307/2802804
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2802804
Page Count: 17
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Fetishised Objects and Humanised Nature: Towards an Anthropology of Technology
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Abstract

The concept of technology becomes useful only when its tacit preconceptions are unpacked. Linked with the term in Western discourse are two poles of mythic thinking: technological determinism and technological sommambulism. The former depicts technology as the cause of social formations; the latter denies a causal link. Both, however, disguise the social choices and social relations that figure in any technological system. To counter such notions, technology is redefined here as a total social phenomenon in the sense used by Mauss; it is simultaneously material, social and symbolic. To create and use a technology, then, is to humanise nature; it is to express a social vision, create a powerful symbol and engage ouselves in a form of life. The study of technology, therefore, is well suited to the interpretive tools of symbolic anthropology. This point is illustrated in a brief analysis of Sri Lanka's irrigation-based colonisation schemes.

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