Geoengineering Project SPICE

Technofixes are technological solutions to a problem (Harvey, 2003a). They are based on the belief called “technological solutionism*” (Morozov, 2013) – i.e., that social and ecological problems can be solved with new or emerging technologies without addressing the root causes of the problem and without changing the underlying social structures and behaviours. Technofixes exist in various domains but are particularly promoted in relation to the climate crisis (geo-engineering, e-everything), the agrofood system (gene editing, digitalisation), and human medicine (human ‘upgrading’ through high-tech). However, as Leach, Scoones, and Stirling (2010) have highlighted, technological fixes usually don’t fix the problem they are supposed to address because the world is more complex than the labs and models they are built upon – and such fixes too often produce new (socio-)environmental problems on their own. Hence, they are first and foremost a good business model, not something societies should rely on when it comes to address today’s intricate socio-ecological crisis.

Social anthropologists have found that the sense of where the solutions to our societal and environmental problems could be found varies tremendously between socio-cultural groups but also the sense of what risks are associated with different pathways of solutions to these problems. This is the case because, as already Douglas and Wildavsky (1982, p. 8) emphasised, the social perceptions of risks are closely linked to cultural values: “common values lead to common fears (and, by implication, to a common agreement not to fear other things)”. However, as the worldviews and values associated with technological ‘solutions’ are hardly ever made explicit and up for debate, they are silently enacted in technological “innovations” and “risk management” schemes alike (see Wynne, 2002). Furthermore, such modernist technologies and the risks associated with them are not voluntary, as Beck (1986) pointed out: they are increasingly globalized, pervasive, and with all-too-often no possibility for opting out (take, for example, pesticide residues in food and groundwater, radiation from cellular networks, the radiation from collapsed nuclear power plants etc.). Narrowly focused technology assessments and economically acceptable legal limits for chemical substances or radiation often authorise the roll out of technologies while externalizing the human and ecological costs and harm caused by them (see European Environment Agency, 2002, 2013).

Against this backdrop, every discourse of risk can be understood as a problematisation characterised by powerful "truth games" (Rabinow, 2003). Such truth games are conducted by political actors (politicians, interest groups, economic stakeholders, NGOs etc.) under certain cultural and economic conditions and by invoking certain bodies of knowledge (scientific!) – with far-reaching consequences for the view on, and the handling of, technologies (see, for instance, Hajer, 1995). We thus need a sort of technology compass that is much broader in its scope – and particularly takes a deeper look at a technology’s underlying worldview, its relations with power, and its social character/effect on social fabrics – than usual risk-opportunity analysis of technology assessments.

A narrow concept of marketable innovation and techno-economic projections through notions like “growth” and “progress” have too long been used to impose capital-concentrating and resource-intense technofixes upon our societies instead of building upon available, less risky – and often common-pool or open-source – solutions and techniques that defy further capital accumulation. As Harvey (2003a) highlighted, the two key drivers for technological “innovations” are capitalist profit and military strength. Technofixes tend to go hand in hand with a narrow and market-based notion of innovation. They are usually large-scale, resource-intense, and high-risk enterprises owned by few but imposed on many – if not all of us – and readily feed into the cycles of accumulation by dispossession and disenfranchisement (Harvey, 2003b). We are challenging these often veiled or ignored connections between technology, innovation, and capital accumulation.

A strong (but usually unacknowledged) worldview lies behind a lot of the technological ‘improvements’ of humans and ‘controlling’ nature: transhumanism – the belief that humans are deficient by natural design and these deficiencies can be overcome by ‘smart’ technologies – and a strong human-nature dichotomy, in which humans stand outside ‘nature’ and above all other forms of life (e.g., Bostrom, 2005; Harari, 2016). But the very same worldview of human exceptionalism and detachment from our common earthly ‘oikos’ has led us to the current state of crises (Davis, Moulton, Van Sant, & Williams, 2019; Plumwood, 2002). And it is at odds with worldviews that could show us pathways out of the mess: worldviews rejecting the human-nature dichotomy and seeing the lives of humans and non-humans deeply intertwined, as for instance a convivialist/buen vivir worldview (Acosta, 2015; Adloff & Caillé, 2022; Mignolo, 2011).


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* Solutionism “holds that because there is no alternative (or time or funding), the best we can do is to apply digital plasters to the damage. Solutionists deploy technology to avoid politics; they advocate ‘post- ideological’ measures that keep the wheels of global capitalism turning” (Morozov, 2020).