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Culture-Nature Interface

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

The technological dimension of culture is its capital, its tools and skills, and ways of dealing with the physical environment

It is the interface between humanity and nature.

It is not the physical tools themselves which make up the technological dimension of culture, but it is the learned ideas and behaviour which allow humans to invent, use, and teach others about tools.

Technology is much a cultural dimension as beliefs and patterns of interaction; it is symbolic.

This cultural dimension is what the economist may call "real capital" in contrast to financial capital.

It is something valuable that is not produced for direct consumption, but to be used to increase production, therefore more wealth, in the future; investment.

Humans have been called the "tool making" animal.

Other animals use tools, but none have such a well developed sophisticated technology as humans.

It is likely, along with language and the incest taboo, technology goes back to the very origin of humanity itself.

In capacity development, it is one of the sixteen elements of strength that changes (increases) as an organisation or a community becomes stronger.

In the war against poverty, technology provides an important set of weapons.

For an individual or a family, technology includes their house, furniture and household facilities, including kitchen appliances and utensils, doors, windows, beds and lamps.

Language, which is one of the important features of being human, belongs to the technological dimension (it is a tool).

This goes along with communication aids such as radio, telephones, TV, books and typewriters (now computers).

In an organisation, technology includes desks, computers, paper, chairs, pens, office space, telephones, washrooms and lunch rooms.

Some organisations have specific technology: footballs and uniforms for football clubs, blackboards desks and chalk for schools, alters and pews for churches, guns and billie sticks for police forces, transmitters and microphones for radio stations.

In a community, communal technology includes its facilities such as public latrines and water points, roads, markets, clinics, schools, road signs, parks, community centres, libraries, sports fields.

Privately owned community technology may include shops, factories, houses and restaurants.

In general (ie there are exceptions) technology is perhaps the easiest of the six dimensions for introducing cultural and social change.

It is easier to introduce a transistor radio than to introduce a new religious belief, new set of values or a new form of family.

Paradoxically, however, introduction of new technology (by invention or borrowing) will lead to changes in all the other five dimensions of the culture.

There are always exceptions; in Amish society, for example, there is a conscious communal policy to resist the introduction of new technology.

They rely on the preservation of older technology (no tractors, no automobiles, no radios) such as horse drawn carts and plows, to reinforce their sense of cultural identity.

Those changes are not easily predicted, nor are they always in desired directions.

After they happen, they may appear to be logical, even though they are not predicted earlier.

Through human history, technology has changed generally by becoming more complex, more sophisticated, and with a greater control over energy.

One form does not immediately replace another, although horse whips have now gone out of fashion, but not disappeared, after the automobile replaced the horse over a century of change.

Usually changes are cumulative, with older tools and technologies dying out if they become relatively less useful, less efficient and more expensive.

If they are not a positive hindrance, they may stay on for centuries as a residual.

In the broad sweep of history, gathering and hunting gave way to agriculture, except in a few small pockets of residual groups, such as in many First Nations communities in Canada, and among the Pygmies and Koisan of Africa.

Likewise, agriculture has been giving way to industry, although the last fifty years has seen the "corporatisation" of Canadian agriculture.

Where technology is most highly advanced, as in information technology, computers, the internet, today, it is practised by a very small proportion of the world population.

People still practising older less efficient technologies often find themselves marginalized and facing poverty.

This is especially true of hunters and gatherers in Africa.

The Technological Dimension of Society

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Last update: 2012.03.22

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