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© Photo: GDP density from ‘Geography and Economic Development’ published in the International Regional Science Review (1999) by John Luke Gallup and Jeffrey D. Sach with Andrew D. Mellinger. Poster: Matilde Igual Capdevilla

Machines as Machinations: Rethinking the ontology of technology

Lecture & Workshop with Alf Hornborg

LECTURE: 25th April I 19:00 I Depot, Breitegasse 3, 1070 Vienna
Chair: Kilian Jörg (Philosopher/Artist)
Discussion with Anita Kaya (Im_flieger Artists’ Association, Vienna), Bernd Kräftner (Art & Science, University of Applied Arts Vienna)

WORKSHOP: 26th April I 09:00-13:00 I Im_flieger@Schokoladenfabrik, Gaudenzdorfergürtel 43-45/4C (4th floor), 1120 Vienna
Limited spaces & reader available, so reservation necessary:
Chair: Bernd Kräftner

Technological infrastructures developed in wealthier parts of the world are products of accumulation based on asymmetric global flows of biophysical resources from less affluent areas. Technological progress, in this view, is not so much a matter of ingenious and innocent breakthroughs in engineering as of devising new and profitable systems for displacing work and environmental pressures to other populations and geographical areas. This, I argue, is the essential rationale of globalized technological systems: rather than an index of generalized human progress – the pure, transcendent knowledge epitomized by the myth of Prometheus – technology since the Industrial Revolution is fundamentally an arrangement for redistributing resources in global society. Modern technology requires not just ingenuity and specialized knowledge, but also global discrepancies in market prices. It is thus as inextricably connected to societal injustices as slavery or serfdom.

Alf Hornborg is Professor of Human Ecology at Lund University since 1993. He received his Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Uppsala in 1986 and has taught at Uppsala and at the University of Gothenburg. He has done field research in Peru, Nova Scotia, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Brazil. His primary research interest is the cultural and political dimensions of human-environmental relations in past and present societies, particularly from the perspective of world-system analysis. This has led him to explore various perspectives not only from anthropology but also from trans-disciplinary fields such as environmental history, ecological economics, political ecology, and development studies. The central ambition has been to examine how specific cultural assumptions constrain human approaches to economics, technology, and ecology, and how such assumptions tend to serve as ideologies that reproduce social relations of power.

Invitation by the Art  & Science master’s programme, University of Applied Arts Vienna, in context of the lecture series “Natura Naturans: In the woods”; In cooperation with Im_flieger, in context of the transmedia research project STOFFWECHSEL – Ecologies of Collaboration, Vienna; and Depot, Vienna.

Which ingredients are necessary to transform Nature into ‘Natura naturans’–a place wherein bodies strive to enhance their power of activity by forging alliances with other bodies in their vicinity? (Bennett, J. on Spinoza, 2004)

Presumably, the notion of matter has to change: instead of postulating inanimate matter which does nothing more than composing the world out of long concatenations of cause and effect where nothing is supposed to happen (Latour, B. 2010), a “new materialism” installs freedom, movement, creativity in the very heart of things. What tools might be appropriate to realise this conceptual change from passive to active matter, to transport various kinds of ingredients into the motley arena of things? Transport and transportation need mediators that import and export and thus traverse. Metaphor, in facts, means “transport“. And this is a (research)question: Can metaphors act as mediators for transportation? Like Gaia, mediators can be human and non-human things that invent but also can betray, that nourish, but also can be mistaken. Transportation (metaphors) can be the craziest and the most certain – metaphors as messenger create contradiction and foreignness/otherness that may be the route to invention. (Serres, M., 1995)

This module explores the transdisciplinary conditions for transportations and their consequences for invention. We meet in the woods, this proud and humble emblem of nature. And there is a method: “Research in the wild” aims at exploring actors and active entities that populate this emblematic site. Point of departure of Research in the Wild: the wood as a polluted, impure, composite reality, and, secluded research in laboratories that risks paralysis if it refuses to cooperate with research in the wild. (Callon, M., Rabeharisoa, V., 2003)

And there is a caveat: when “first” Nature (and the hegemony of scientific knowledge that claims to define that “first” nature for its own part) starts to lose its monopoly (see e.g. “multinaturalism”), it seems to be fair to distrust a “second” Nature: Economy as the universal dialect of a globalised world, and, to avoid believing that the Economy would supply “the unsurpassable horizon” of investigation and nevertheless respect what informants say about the troubles with subsistence.

There is an aim: to explore and chart a site-specific transdisciplinary trajectory of metaphors: a model of the fictional existence of a forest area. A time-based chart that encompasses the multiplication of goods and bads, the production and following organisational scripts, the exploration of the links between ends and means, the risks of reproduction. A chart that “animates”.

Fact Box

Machines as Machinations: Rethinking the ontology of technology
April 25, 2017, 19:00h
Depot, Breitegasse 3, 1070 Vienna