Against techno-determinism

Before moving forward with this blog, it is important for me to clarify the standpoint of this research project. It’s not a neutral endeavor. Although I intend to cover and review an ample spectrum of projects and resources related to small-scale agriculture and mobile technologies, I have chosen a position: I am against technological determinism.

Technological determinism is an ideological standpoint that assumes that a society’s technology drives the development of its social and cultural spheres. Those who adhere to this theory tend to see technology and science as morally superior to intellectualism, considering it to be useless and even harmful to society. They believe only in the value of what can be done, and not of what can be thought. Yet, as Kant said, “Experience without theory is blind”. Techno-determinists tend to be blind to all the theoretical and critical developments in society, and ignore the way in which these idea-driven processes actually make technological advancement possible.

I am not against technology: I am against the idea that its instrumental application in everyday life will, by itself, make things better as if by “magic”.

Ford Model T

My ideological standpoint may seem confusing, considering that this research focuses on investigating ways in which mobile technologies can aid in the development of small-scale agriculture. It may be tempting to think that, by sharing the latest technological developments of western societies with the developing world, progress will surely come. But that’s not the way I see it. I have a pressing need to maintain a critical attitude at every step and, while I do not deny the communicative power of mobile technologies, I believe that they can also be potentially disruptive and damaging. In a future post I will explain why; for now, I’d like to focus on agriculture.

After World War II, global developments in agriculture acquired war-like models, adopting even a military language. How many times have we heard that land must be exploited in order to extract the maximum benefits from it?

The battle of Berlin, WW II

Efficiency and productivity became the key words of the so-called “Green Revolution“, in which new agricultural technologies, applied in an instrumental, techno-determinist way, would save the world from hunger. Yet the effects of this revolution are now painfully clear to see: the dominant practices of industrial agriculture are unsustainable, as they destroy and deplete the resources they depends on. They currently contribute 32% percent of the total Greenhouse gas emissions. The cheap food that we now find in supermarkets (food understood as a commodity) came out of a culture of mechanistic utilitarianism.

More recently, free markets have become interested in industrial agriculture as a rich source for profit and speculation. The effects of marketization of food were painfully evident in the 2008 global food crisis, where prizes of basic crops necessary for the livelihood of most of the world’s poor rose above their “real” prices. Unfair trade agreements, concentrated ownership of major food production and speculation were all elements which came into play and aggravated the crisis.

According to Farhad Mazhar, biodiversity, local control and women-centered knowledge are being threatened by food policies imposed by the World Trade Organization. We can rightly suspect that the powerful lobbies of industrial agriculture coorporations are pushing those policies forward, as they do not benefit the people but the large economic players. Defenders of industrial agriculture argue that, without it, the production of food wouldn’t be enough to feed the world. But hunger is not caused by the lack of food, but by the lack of access to it.

In the face of this grim outlook, it becomes necessary to defend alternatives to industrial agriculture, such as small-scale farming. Global movements such as Food Sovereignty stand for “the right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural,  labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances.” These rights include a true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and
culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources, and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies.

Source: Sauti ya wakulima

Source: Sauti ya wakulima

These are the reasons why I do this research: I believe in small-scale agriculture, both in rural and urban environments, as a sustainable way to feed ourselves and our communities in the future. But there’s much to be done and mobile technologies, if cautiously applied, may be one of the key pieces needed to strengthen more sensible and respectful ways to produce, distribute and consume our food.



2 thoughts on “Against techno-determinism

  1. Pingback: The Critical Engineering Manifesto | Small-scale Agriculture and Mobile Technologies

  2. Pingback: The “e-i-ization” of everything | Small-scale Agriculture and Mobile Technologies

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