Nature and technology in history

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30 Scopus citations


This essay sketches an expanded theoretical conception of the roles of nature and technology in history, one that is based on a social ontology that does not separate nature and society. History has long been viewed as the realm of past human action. On this conception, nature is treated largely as an Other of history, and technology is construed chiefly as a means for human fulfillment. There is no history of nature, and the history of technology becomes the history of useful products. The essay discusses the changes wrought in these understandings by a social ontology that depicts social existence as inherently transpiring in nexuses of practices and material arrangements. The first implication is that the domain of history should be expanded from the realm and course of past human activity to the realm and course of past practice-arrangement nexuses. In turn, this wider conception transforms the significance of nature and technology in history. Until recently, most accounts of the relationship between society/history and nature have presumed that society and history are separate from nature. On my account, by contrast, nature is part of society: a component of the practice-arrangement nexuses through which social life progresses. Human history, consequently, is a social-natural history that encompasses the varying presence and roles of nature in human coexistence. Technology, meanwhile, is not just useful products, and not just a mediator of society/history and nature. It also is (1) something through which humans manage social life and the nature that is part of it, largely by drawing nature into this site and thereby conjointly transforming society, technology, and nature in history; and (2) something that, over time, plays an increasingly central role in the nexuses where social life transpires. Through technology, in short, social-natural history takes form and advances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-93
Number of pages12
JournalHistory and Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Philosophy


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