Archive for the ‘Texts in English’ Category

Mara Hvistendahl, Inside China’s Vast New Experiment in Social Ranking, 2018

23 juin 2019 Laisser un commentaire

In 2015, when Lazarus Liu moved home to China after studying logistics in the United Kingdom for three years, he quickly noticed that something had changed: Everyone paid for everything with their phones. At McDonald’s, the convenience store, even at mom-and-pop restaurants, his friends in Shanghai used mobile payments. Cash, Liu could see, had been largely replaced by two smartphone apps: Alipay and WeChat Pay. One day, at a vegetable market, he watched a woman his mother’s age pull out her phone to pay for her groceries. He decided to sign up.

To get an Alipay ID, Liu had to enter his cell phone number and scan his national ID card. He did so reflexively. Alipay had built a reputation for reliability, and compared to going to a bank managed with slothlike indifference and zero attention to customer service, signing up for Alipay was almost fun. With just a few clicks he was in. Alipay’s slogan summed up the experience: “Trust makes it simple.” Lire la suite…


James C. Scott, Crops, Towns, Government, 2013

2 avril 2019 Laisser un commentaire

Jared Diamond, The World until Yesterday:
What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?,
Penguin, September 2013.

It’s a good bet a culture is in trouble when its best-known intellectuals start ransacking the cultural inventory of its ancestors and its contemporary inferiors for tips on how to live. The malaise is all the more remarkable when the culture in question is the modern American variant of Enlightenment rationalism and progress, a creed not known for self-doubt or failures of nerve. The deeper the trouble, the more we are seen to have lost our way, the further we must go spatially and temporally to find the cultural models that will help us. In the stronger versions of this quest, there is either a place – a Shangri-la – or a time, a Golden Age, that promises to reset our compass to true north. Anthropology and history implicitly promise to provide such models. Anthropology can show us radically different and satisfying forms of human affiliation and co-operation that do not depend on the nuclear family or inherited wealth. History can show that the social and political arrangements we take for granted are the contingent result of a unique historical conjuncture. Lire la suite…

Maria Mies, The Subsistence Perspective, 2005

30 septembre 2018 Laisser un commentaire

I’m Maria Mies, a retired sociology professor. I started working at the Fachhochschule here in the Department for Social Pedagogy in 1972. I am also quite active in various social movements: initially in the women’s movement, but then also the ecology movement became part of these activities, the peace movement, and recently, since 1997, I’ve been active in the anti-globalization movement.

First of all, I have to say that we are not talking specifically about subsistence economy. When I say « we, » I am referring to my two friends Claudia von Werlhof and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, with whom I developed this approach in the mid-1970s. We aren’t speaking of a subsistence economy, but of a subsistence perspective. That is to say, it’s not an economic model, but rather, a new orientation, a new way of looking at the economy. That means something entirely different. It doesn’t just apply to the economy, but also to society, culture, history, and all other possible areas. The second thing is that a lot of people ask: what do you mean by subsistence? I usually say: for us, subsistence is the opposite of commodity production. Commodity production is the goal of capitalist production, in other words, a general production of goods, everything that there is, has to be transformed into a commodity. It is possible to observe that today, especially in the course of globalization. Subsistence production has an entirely different goal, namely, the direct satisfaction of human needs. This isn’t accomplished through money and the production of goods. For us, quite essential is that it is a direct production and reproduction of life. That’s why we talk of « life production » rather than « commodity production. » Lire la suite…

Gilbert Simondon, Save the Technical Object, 1983

9 septembre 2018 Laisser un commentaire

The following is an English translation of a 1983 interview that Simondon gave to the French magazine Esprit #76, april 1983.

Anita Kechickian: In 1958 you wrote about alienation produced by non-knowledge of the technical object. Do you always have this in mind as you continue your research?

Gilbert Simondon: Yes, but I amplify it by saying that the technical object must be saved. It must be rescued from its current status, which is miserable and unjust. This status of alienation lies, in part, with notable authors such as Ducrocq, who speaks of “technical slaves”. It is necessary to change the conditions in which it is located, in which it is produced and where it is used primarily because it is used in a degrading manner. The automobile, a technical subject that everyone uses, is something that fades in a few years because the paint is not intended to resist weathering, and because it is often after electric welding points have been made that at the interior of the assembly of the body there develops a rust which demolishes a car in a few years, whereas the engine is still good. This fact leads to the loss of the entire building of technics. It is a similar crushing that I stand against. Lire la suite…

Cecilia Calheiros, Cyberspace and Eschatological Expectations, 2014

On How Techno-Sciences Bolster the Belief in a Spiritually Connected Humanity


Following the studies analyzing the phenomena of religiosity that new technologies create (O. Krüger, D. Noble, H. Campbell), this paper questions the ways in which the Internet is understood as a salvation means. This media, closely linked to the idea of spiritual unity of humanity as a higher stage of evolution, inspired technological innovations underpinned by eschatological concerns. These expectations are related to the way the mind works and how increasing it through techno-sciences. The former are motivated by a quest for immortality by getting rid of the body, transferring the human spirit into the machine. Thus, predictive softwares, such as the Global Consciousness Project, the WebBot Project or Google Brain, have been designed mixing global consciousness, the anticipation of the future and apocalypse. What is the meaning of the phenomenon of spiritual reappropriation of the Internet? How do we move from a technological link to a spiritual connection that would supposedly transcend humanity? Most importantly, what links could be found between predictive softwares and the willingness to disembody man to make him immortal? Based on an analysis of the canonical sources of cyberculture and a study of communities following anticipations of predictive softwares, this paper analyzes the uses of belief in global consciousness when linked to Internet-assisted divination. First, it shows that the development of these softwares reveals a certain secularization of the discourses around global consciousness, while scientific positivism emerges from then. Then, it enlightens us about the role of techno-sciences in the building of lived utopias. Lire la suite…

Georges Canguilhem, What Is a Scientific Ideology?, 1969

6 février 2018 Laisser un commentaire


What is a scientific ideology? This is a question that arises, or so it seems to me, in the practice of the history of science, and its answer may be of importance for the theory of that subject. Perhaps the first question to ask is what it is that the history of science claims to be the history of. An easy answer is that the history of science is the history of a certain cultural form called “science”. One must then specify precisely what criteria make it -possible to decide whether or not, at any given time, a particular practice or discipline merits the name science. And it is precisely a question of merit, for “science” is a kind of title, a dignity not to be bestowed lightly. Hence another question becomes inevitable: Should the history of science exclude or, on the contrary, should it tolerate or even include the history of the banishment of inauthentic knowledge from the realm of authentic science? I use the word banishment quite intentionally, for what is at stake is nothing less than the legal withdrawal of legitimately acquired privileges. We have long since ceased to believe as Voltaire believed, that superstitions and false beliefs were invented by cynical dervishes and foisted upon the innocent by ignorant nursemaids 1. Lire la suite…

Diane B. Paul, Darwin, social Darwinism and eugenics, 2003

7 février 2017 Laisser un commentaire

Download this paper in PDF format

I. Ambivalences and influences

How does Darwin’s Darwinism relate to social Darwinism and eugenics? Like many foes of Darwinism, past and present, the American populist and creationist William Jennings Bryan thought a straight line ran from Darwin’s theory (“a dogma of darkness and death”) to beliefs that it is right for the strong to crowd out the weak, and that the only hope for human improvement lay in selective breeding 1. Darwin’s defenders, on the other hand, have typically viewed social Darwinism and eugenics as perversions of his theory. Daniel Dennett speaks for many biologists and philosophers of science when he characterises social Darwinism as “an odious misapplication of Darwinian thinking” 2. Few professional historians believe either that Darwin’s theory leads directly to these doctrines or that they are entirely unrelated. But both the nature and significance of the link are disputed.

This chapter examines the views held by Darwin himself and by later Darwinians on the implications of his theory for social life, and it assesses the social impact made by these views. More specifically: section II discusses the debates about human evolution in the wake of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) 3. Sections III and IV analyse Darwin’s ambiguous contribution to these debates. Sometimes celebrating competitive struggle, he also wished to moderate its effects, but thought restrictions on breeding impractical and immoral. Sections V and VI see how others interpreted both the science and social meaning of Darwinism. Darwin’s followers found in his ambiguities legitimation for whatever they favoured: laissez-faire capitalism, certainly, but also liberal reform, anarchism and socialism; colonial conquest, war and patriarchy, but also anti-imperialism, peace and feminism. Section VII relates Darwinism to eugenics. Darwin and many of his followers thought selection no longer acted in modern society, for the weak in mind and body are not culled. This raised a prospect of degeneration that worried people of all political stripes; but there was no consensus on how to counter this threat. In Nazi Germany, eugenics was linked to an especially harsh Darwinism. Section VIII sees “Darwinismus” embraced initially by political progressives, and only later by racist and reactionary nationalists. Section IX concludes by assessing Darwin’s impact on social issues and by reflecting on where we are now. Lire la suite…

Teodor Shanin, The Idea of Progress, 1997

24 janvier 2017 Laisser un commentaire

The he idea of progress is the major philosophical legacy left by the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries to the contemporary social sciences. The idea was secular, departing from the medieval mind-set where everything could be explained by God’s will, and it offered a powerful and pervasive supra-theory that ordered and interpreted everything within the life of humanity – past, present and future. The core of the concept, and its derivations and the images attached to it, have been overwhelmingly simple and straightforward, with a few temporary deviations, all societies are advancing naturally and consistently “up”, on a route from poverty, barbarism, despotism and ignorance to riches, civilization, democracy and rationality, the highest expression of which is science. This is also an irreversible movement from an endless diversity of particularities, wasteful of human energies and economic resources, to a world unified and simplified into the most rational arrangement, It is therefore a movement from badness to goodness and from mindlessness to knowledge, which gave this message its ethical promise, its optimism and its reformist “punch” The nature of the interdependence of the diverse advances – economic, political, cultural and so on – has been the subject of fundamental divisions and debate; for example, is it the growth of rationality or of the forces of production which acts as the prime mover? What was usually left unquestioned was the basic historiography of the necessary sequence and/or stages along the main road of progress as the organizing principle on which all other interpretations rest. Lire la suite…

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Experiment as Mediator of Object and Subject, 1792

18 juin 2016 Laisser un commentaire

As soon as we perceive the objects around us we consider them in relation to ourselves – and rightfully so. For our entire fate depends upon whether they please or displease, attract or repel, benefit or harm us. This completely natural way of considering and judging things seems as easy as it is necessary. But it also makes us susceptible to a thousand errors that can shame us and embitter our lives.

Those human beings undertake a much more difficult task whose desire for knowledge kindles a striving to observe the things of nature in and of themselves and in their relations to one another. We no longer have the standard that helped us when we looked at things in relation to ourselves. We lack the measure of pleasure and displeasure, attraction and repulsion, use and harm. We must renounce these and as quasi-divine beings seek and examine what is and not what pleases. True botanists should not be touched by the beauty or the utility of a plant. They should investigate the plant’s formation and its relation to the remaining plant kingdom. Just as the sun coaxes forth and shines on all plants, botanists should consider all plants with an even and quiet gaze and take the measure for knowledge – the data that form the basis for judgment—not out of themselves but out of the circle of what they observe. Lire la suite…

Bernd Rosslenbroich, On the Origin of Autonomy, 2014

10 juin 2016 Laisser un commentaire

Bernd Rosslenbroich

On the Origin of Autonomy

A New Look at the Major Transitions in Evolution

Springer, 2014.

This volume describes features of biological autonomy and integrates them into the recent discussion of factors in evolution. In recent years ideas about major transitions in evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. They include questions about the origin of evolutionary innovation, their genetic and epigenetic background, the role of the phenotype, and of changes in ontogenetic pathways. In the present book, it is argued that it is likewise necessary to question the properties of these innovations and what was qualitatively generated during the macroevolutionary transitions.

The author states that a recurring central aspect of macroevolutionary innovations is an increase in individual organismal autonomy whereby it is emancipated from the environment with changes in its capacity for flexibility, self-regulation and self-control of behavior.

The first chapters define the concept of autonomy and examine its history and its epistemological context. Later chapters demonstrate how changes in autonomy took place during the major evolutionary transitions and investigate the generation of organs and physiological systems. They synthesize material from various disciplines including zoology, comparative physiology, morphology, molecular biology, neurobiology and ethology. It is argued that the concept is also relevant for understanding the relation of the biological evolution of man to his cultural abilities.

Finally the relation of autonomy to adaptation, niche construction, phenotypic plasticity and other factors and patterns in evolution is discussed. The text has a clear perspective from the context of systems biology, arguing that the generation of biological autonomy must be interpreted within an integrative systems approach. Lire la suite…