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11. Dogs, Snares, and Cartridge Belts The Poetics of a Northern Athapaskan Narrative Technology Robin Ridington The word technology has come to be understood as a synonym for artifact, rather than for the artifice used in the production of material objects. In recent popular usage, technology refers to objects manufactured through complex industrial systems of production. “High tech” evokes artifacts like computer chips and lasers. “Low tech” evokes snares or bows and arrows. But the word’s root, techne, refers to something closer to technique or performance. In this chapter I describe the performance, poetics, and narrative technology of one hunting people, the Dane-zaa Athapaskans (Beaver Indians) of the Canadian Subarctic. I suggest that their technology is a form of artifice. It is knowledge and performance, not the artifacts that artifice produces (Ridington 1983). Heather Lechtman makes a similar point about technology in general in her essay on “Style in Technology”: “Artifacts are the products of appropriate cultural performance, and technological activities constitute one mode of such performance. . . . It is the synthesizing action of the style, the rendering of the performance, that constitutes the cultural message. Technologies are performances; they are communicative systems, and their styles are symbols through which communication occurs ” (Lechtman 1975:12–13). Pierre Lemonnier, following Mauss, similarly defines technology as action, but he cautions that it “needs to involve at least some physical intervention which leads to a real transformation of matter” (Lemonnier 1992:5). The material connection he points to is not just the artifacts produced by action; it is the entire realm of interaction between humans and the physical world. Technology, he says, is the application of “spe- Dogs, Snares, and Cartridge Belts | 189 cific knowledge” to matter, energy, and objects. By specific knowledge he means “the end result of all the perceived possibilities and the choices, made on an individual or societal level, which have shaped that technological action” (Lemonnier 1992:6). Thus technology is a kind of economizing behavior that can be found within any sort of economy and is amenable to the interpretations of a formalist economic anthropology. From the performance/action perspectives of Lechtman and Lemonnier , hunter-gatherer technology is not necessarily a lower form than that of an industrial society. Both systems use artifice as a means of interacting with the material environment. Both invoke knowledge and performance . Both involve strategic decision making. The obvious difference, of course, lies in the sheer size and complexity of the artifacts produced. Perhaps that difference explains why in contemporary popular usage, technology has come to mean artifact rather than the artifice behind it. As “artifactual chauvinists” conditioned to a world that is saturated with material products, we are inclined to see technology as artifact rather than as an underlying interaction with the physical world. We see products rather than process. We may, indeed, be at risk as a species because of the way our dazzling artifacts blind us to the material limits of a finite global ecology. In a paper on “Tool-use, Sociality and Intelligence” Tim Ingold suggests that a reason why “technology” has come to mean artifact rather than artifice lies in the alienation of productive forces from social life. He writes: “The modern semantic shift from technique to technology, associated with the ascendance of the machine, is itself symptomatic of the disembedding of the forces of production from their social matrix. . . . In hunting and gathering societies, the forces of production are deeply embedded in the matrix of social relations . . . the ‘correspondence’ between technical forces and social relations is not external but internal , or in other words, the technical is one aspect of the social” (Ingold 1993:438–439). In comparing hunter-gatherer technology with that of industrial societies , Ingold points to a transformation of “the entire system of relations between worker, tool, and raw material.” Such a transformation replaces the “subject-centered knowledge and skills” of hunter-gatherers with “objective principles of mechanical functioning.” It reflects an evo- 190 | poetics and narrative technology lutionary “objectification” rather than a “complexification” of productive forces (Ingold 1993:439). As Marx has argued, and Charlie Chaplin so eloquently demonstrated in his classic film Modern Times, workers in complex industrial systems are objectified and commodified. Workers in postindustrial systems may suffer the even worse indignity of being “decommodi fied” and removed from the technological loop entirely. Although all technology may be viewed as being knowledge based, the techniques with...


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