Abstract for the keynote lecture: Technopolitics and ecology

Throughout its history, Western capitalism has renewed itself through continuous crises that drove technological innovation and political change. The crisis turned structural when the two transformations conflicted with, rather than complemented, each other. Capitalism has been able to overcome this type of crisis by developing a new techno-economic paradigm. In this light, the moment we are witnessing today is the crisis of neo-liberal informationalism that centers around computer technologies and deregulated global financial markets. This paradigm began to emerge in the 1970s as a response to the crisis of Keynesian industrialism, which itself was a response to the crises of laissez-faire capitalism that followed the crash of 1929.

But this is not all. On a deeper level, materialism and consumerism as a social promise and model for economic growth is reaching hard limits today, generating a planetary ecological emergency. In other words, the current crisis is both one within capitalism, heralding yet another structural transformation, and one of capitalism. The latter because it is no longer possible to treat natural resources as externalities not the be counted (as raw material waiting to be commodified at the beginning of the capitalist process or as waste-ground to dispose of unwanted materials at the end of the process).

In standard theories of techno-economic paradigms, however, culture plays no role. But this is short-sighted. Culture plays an important role, not the least in developing an aesthetic that provides ways of understanding and being-in a new condition. The dominant cultural forms, again primarily in the West, of the most recent paradigm included virtualization, flexibility and differentiation. We learned to understand the world, and our agency within it, as a series of abstract representations and processes, constantly in motion and change, producing an endless series of differences. These basic cultural forms informed both the development of capitalism but also many movements critical of it.

With the current technoeconomic crises, there is also a cultural one – an inability to express how the transformed relationship to the material and natural environment could be experienced. Hence, there is an urgency for an aesthetic as well as a cultural repertoire that enables us to think in concrete rather than abstract terms and to recognize the long-durée of the social but above all the ecological which enables civilization as we know it. A repertoire that allows expressing the underlying affiliations that connect, rather than fragment, a very complex and diverse world.