chapter  2
Fetishism, dissociation, and the cultural analysis of capitalism
Pages 18

In the previous chapter, I showed how the concept of fetishism can help explain why most modern people tend to think of new technological inventions as signs of human progress, rather than implying accumulation and unequal exchange. In this chapter, I will discuss more extensively how the way humans relate to material objects is a fundamental aspect of industrial capitalism. The aim is to reconnect the discourse on ‘fetishism’, the main thrust of which has become largely restricted to exploring the personal phenomenologies of aesthetic experience (cf. Apter and Pietz 1993; Spyer 1998; Mitchell 2005; Latour 2010),1 to a general critique of global capitalist relations. For obvious reasons, 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 and 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.