Submitting to objects: animism, fetishism, and the cultural foundations of capitalism

Authored by: Alf Hornborg

The Handbook of Contemporary Animism

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9781844657117
eBook ISBN: 9781315728964
Adobe ISBN: 9781317544500


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This chapter discusses how the specific way in which “post-Enlightenment” humans tend to relate to material objects is a fundamental aspect of modern capitalism. 1 The aim is to reconnect the discourse on “fetishism”, the main thrust of which has become largely restricted to exploring personal phenomenologies of aesthetic or sensuous experience (cf. Apter & Pietz 1993; Spyer 1998; Mitchell 2005; Latour 2010), 2 to a general critique of global capitalist relations. The ambition here is not to attempt to review the voluminous discourses on fetishism, animism, epistemology, magic, materiality, technology, or consumption, but to bring together insights from these various topics to suggest new ways of illuminating some cultural dimensions of modernity and capitalism. More specifically, the goal is to combine some relevant aspects of culture theory with perspectives from political economy, world-system analysis and ecological economics in order to “defamiliarize” (Marcus & Fischer 1986) our everyday understanding of technology. Empirically, the discussion ranges from early British textile factories and the Luddite movement to indigenous Amazonian animism and ancient Andean ritual.

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