Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation
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The author draws on lesser known archival materials, including Marx's notebooks on women and patriarchy and technology to offer a new interpretation of Marx's concept of alienation as this concept develops in his later works.
transformations of thermodynamics, a category derived from the Hegelian schema of the interface between Spirit and Nature. In this humanism, objectification is the foundational moment of human subjectivity, and human beings are set over against nature rather than viewed in continuity with it.3 We see this older Hegelian structure retained in the Grundrisse, even as the text develops a new vocabulary and means of conceptualizing human beings, labor, and nature. In the passage from the Grundrisse
“objectification” to designate the general, collective production of the human species as a whole, rather than the production of any individual. The chief objectification with which he is concerned is science. Applied to nature, science combats the scarcity of the received natural world and contests its boundaries. The “objects” in question produced by this science, especially machines and agricultural fertilizer, come to benefit their human creators as a species, not simply to benefit individual
natural forces were largely out of the reach of the human mind and will and necessitated 140 Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation an explanatory concept like God. But the steam engine appeared to the natural philosophers of the age as a power source entirely subject to the human will, an instantiation of Baconian nature doing human bidding. This is confirmed when Marx writes that with machinery the human being “for the first time succeeds in making the product of his past labour work
enough to economise his as much as he can” (650). However, the entry of women into wage labor also marks a site of liberation. In this site, women’s contact with technology conditions liberation from bourgeois strictures on femininity and from older structures of patriarchal oppression, including limitations on female skill development. The liberation is twofold. First, technology explodes the naturalistic functioning of categories like strength and skill. Second, the prospect of earning wages
natural science to the attainment of given useful effect. Technology also discovered the few main fundamental forms of motion, which, despite the diversity of the instruments used, are necessarily taken by every productive action of the human body; just as the science of mechanics sees in 170 Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation the most complicated machinery nothing but the continual repetition of the simple mechanical powers. (I.IV.XV.9; MECW 1996, 35, 489; MEGA2 II, 9, 425; MEGA2 II, 8,