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Anthropological Quarterly 77.1 (2004) 181-196

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Misa, Thomas J., Philip Brey and Andrew Feenberg, eds. Modernity and Technology.MIT Press, 2003.

Four of the eleven papers in this collection perhaps can most usefully structure readings of this volume: David Hess and Arthur Mol describe the evolving loci of "CAM" (complementary or alternative medicine) and environmentalism, respectively; Johan Schot and Haider Khan, provide comparative, longer-term histories to understand these shifts. Together the four prepare the ground for what Ulrich Beck (a frequent reference) calls reflexive or second order modernization, and for how this differs from nineteenth century socialist or twentieth century social democratic and modernization theory. The editors and several contributors claim that they want to "bridge the gap" between theories of modernity which they claim are not empirical or able to deal with micro level data, and histories of technology which are good at micro level contingencies but are not theoretical. The four papers mentioned demonstrate otherwise, and one is struck by how the other papers fail to seriously engage with such traditional heuristics for dealing with "the gap" as the contradictions between forces of production (technology) and relations of production (e.g. legal notions of property rights and public goods) in the Marxist tradition (as Schot and Khan explore), alternative modernities in the current development literature (as Schot, Murata, Hess, and Mol explore), systematic and increasing underdevelopment in the 1970s literature on Africa and Latin [End Page 181] America (and recent literature on foreign aid, NGOs, and failures of capacity building), dual economies, and so on, all of which intimately involve detailed and micro histories of many technologies. A number of papers cite Marx, Weber, Habermas, Beck, Giddens, and others, but systematically erase the technological and historical contexts of their writing and heuristic concept formation.

Having studied CAM for cancer patients (and spiritualist healing in Brazil), Hess is able to describe the mainstreaming of CAM as a social movement, limited by testing, regulation, and licensing. Practitioners are in hospitals, but at a cost of (i) status deprivation to being auxiliaries like nurses or physical therapists, (ii) support mainly for therapies that complement conventional medicine, (iii) acceptance of those medicinals that meet both profitability and regulatory standards. CAM comes from many cultural backgrounds—U.S. chiropractic, Indian Ayurveda, Chinese acupuncture, Japanese macrobiotics, Central European anthrosophy—all contributing to a larger ecological-biological-health framework. CAM has spawned legislative reforms (access to care laws), has raised again the value of retrospective cohort studies and best case series against the "gold standard" (and expensive) clinical trial methods.

Mol provides a parallel account of mainstreaming ecological perspectives into industrial and capitalist social formations, using the chemical industry as an index. He sketches four environmentalist frameworks, of which the most robust seem to be the neo-Marxist notion of ecological crises producing contradictions within capitalism that militating towards new forces and relations of production; and the similar but more Weberian notion of an emergent semi-autonomous sphere of "ecological governance (1980s environmental ministries, regulations, monitoring, auditing, NGOs, and periodicals). The largest European chemical companies have introduced environmental management systems, with annual audits, certification, increasing expenditures on green R&D, new products, major shares in plastics recycling companies, and responsiveness to insurance, financing, and other pressures that come from legislation sanctioning environmental damage. Low organic solvent paints gained sufficient market share for the Netherlands to ban high organic solvent paints; PCV has been losing market share to PP and PE products. These pressures now have global reach. The utopian calls of the 1970s for dismantling chemical production in favor of 'soft chemistry' (coproduction with nature) have declined (e.g. natural paints proved to be poor quality), and instead a "modernization of modernization" has promoted a more "sustainable" chemistry. There is resistance. One of the more intriguing observations, left unexplored, is the claim that in Britain the chemical, electric and electronic industries have been environmental [End Page 182] leaders, mechanical engineering the most laggard, and food industries intermediate.

These shifts in CAM and environmentalism are put into larger historical and comparative perspective by Johan Schot and Haider Khan. Schot tracks...


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