Symbolic technologies: Machines and the Marxian notion of fetishism

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By extending the Marxian theory of fetishism from money and commodities to machines, we may achieve an epistemological shift in our understanding of the foundations of 'technological development'. The first part of the article discusses previous definitions of fetishism in order to distil some central themes that appear to be particularly significant to the argument on machine fetishism. It is argued that semiotic theory can be useful in distinguishing different varieties of fetishism. The core of the Marxian definition is understood to be the mystification of unequal relations of social exchange through the attribution of autonomous agency or productivity to certain kinds of material objects. The attribution of productivity to modern technology is here interpreted as a mystification of the unequal, global exchange of (labour) time and (natural) space.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-496
JournalAnthropological Theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social and Economic Geography

Free keywords

  • semiotics
  • technology
  • material culture
  • fetishism
  • economic anthropology
  • unequal exchange


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