7038 - A Paradox in Colonialism and Technological Change

Decades of anthropological studies of colonialism have shown that Indigenous people in contact with Europeans had their own cultural, cosmological, and social interpretations of technology, and they did not necessarily see European technologies as superior. This relativist model of technological change has much to offer to our understanding of technology and technological change, but it still has to contend with one major historical pattern: today, most (but certainly not all) indigenous people in former European colonies have adopted European technologies. This seems to confirm to some anthropologists, and certainly to the public at large, that European technologies are just better, and that indigenous people can discard cultural blinders and favor European rationality. In this paper I defend the idea that technological superiority and rationality are a poor way of explaining technological change, even if major trends of adoption of European technology can be supported by recent historical patterns. This leads me to confront a paradox of narratives of technological change: if European technologies are not really superior, then how have natives come to view these technologies as practical necessities? To explain this pattern, I look at technological examples from Central Mexico, including the adoption of metal tools and machines for grinding corn. Evidence is provided by long-term archaeological and historical data that help explain these patterns.

Keywords: colonialism, technology, Mexico, archaeology

Author: Rodriguez-Alegria, Enrique (University of Texas at Austin, US Minor Outlying Islands)


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