Fetishistic causation (The 2017 Stirling Lecture)

Alf Hornborg


In this lecture I argue that anthropology can grasp the cultural peculiarity of modernity by critically scrutinizing its foundational categories of “economy” and “technology” and its particular ways of detaching exchange and production from morality. Economic and technological developments in nineteenth-century Britain are interpreted as local manifestations of global processes of unequal exchange and accumulation. The so-called Industrial Revolution reconfigured both the material circumstances and the worldview of the people at its imperial core. This modern worldview continues to shape contemporary aspirations to deal with global inequalities and environmental change, but remains incapable of grasping the interfusion of social and natural aspects of economic and technological development. Its delineation of the categories of “economy” and “technology” is conducive to a specific modality of exploitation that can be understood as a modern form of magic, defined as contingent on the unacknowledged material efficacy of human beliefs.


modernity, economy, technology, magic, beliefs

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.3.005