Technology and Magic Author(s): Alfred Gell Source: Anthropology Today, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Apr., 1988), pp.

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Some tools. especially chimpanzees. but its purpose is to control and modify But what does the adjective 'technical' mean? 'Tech.T. It is tween a set of 'given' elements (the body. Technology is coterminous with the various pursuit of a wide variety of other goals.which are presumedto have been im. Highly 'technical' processes combine a mythopoeic or religious one. which can be seen as falling under three main nique is a certain degree of circuitousness in the headings. is those forms of social rela. The degree of technicality is proportional to the number and complexity of the steps characteristics possess? we The answers which have been suggested to this ques.McGrew the for RAI's Committeeon Biological and Social Anthropology.they can be deployed to Homo technologicus is a rational. and provide the thic period on.pleasure. the 'techniques of the body' listed forms a part?At this point I would like to offer a classiby Mauss-which do not make use of tools that are arte. artefacts. bestage in appropriemploymentof technology as an equally 'serious' affair. between productionprocesses which do.Indeed. requirea imagined as a serious. which constitutetechnology as a 'system'. technology not only consists of the artefacts aginative side of humannature. rules of procedure. state the probwhich are employed as tools. like those bodily skills which have to be acquired before a axes and scrapers. Technol. means. But what is 'technology'? and how does it articulateto the other species some desired result. This 'food quest' has been baseballbat.thatthis aptitudeis unconnectedwith the playful and immum. technicality'. not just to making 'tools' such as axes and haruals in technical activity. for diversion. It is this elaboratestructureof inempty speculation. because the objectives of technicalproduction statues. and have been since a very early a simple one.skills. such as a but ported in the 'food quest'. no less than an axe. April 1988 . their ogy. without any doubt. Techniquesform a bridge. life-or-death. is the peculiaraptitude Although it may be useful for certain classification of the technological animal. the steps which enable one to obtain remagical is without foundation. which are not networks of social relationships which allow for the materialbut symbolic or expressive. if not from the very beginning. But this is not all. sometimes a very complicated one. Magic 6 'Technological' capabilitiesare one of the distinguishing be ingenious.e.or technology is much more than this. adornment. Z. or ogy' with 'tools'. From the palaeolitransmission of technical knowledge. Thispaper was given on 6 January last at a seminar in London on Tool Use in Man and Animalsorganizedby W. Human beings.which link the initial givens to the final goal which is to tion have suffered from a bias arising from the miscon. in the widest sense.ficatory scheme of human technological capabilities in facts. are themselves shaped by the social achieved. each of his problemsand takes off into the realms of fantasy and which must be attainedin due orderbefore the final result can be achieved. which he only becomes many elements. weapon. but also includes the sum lem in these termsis to see immediatelythattherecan be total of the kinds of knowledge which make possible the no possible distinction. in order to (finally) obtain ately understoodif it is simply identified with that techniquehas to called the 'Technology of Production'. beads. from any explanatorypoint of view even all truethatthis propensityis displayedexclusively. The first of these technical systems. this point. which can be achievement of any given objective. creature.C. but equally to the making of flutes. and the equally 'technical' context. some raw mano longer possible to claim 'tool using' as an uniquely terials. clever.from the standpointof 'degree of invention. sometimes only featuresof our species. There can be 'tech. But this opposition between the technical and the tervening steps. But one cannot stop even at poons. are exceptionallyrudimentary.general. or do not. nical sequence. indicate an either/ordistinction thanto dismemberthe bodies of animals. ate learning settings. in the context of subsistenceproduction.Technology and ALFREDGELL The author is reader in anthropologyat the LondonSchool of Economicsand has done fieldwork in both Papua New Guinea and central India. But not less 'technical' are identified with 'tools' and 'tools' with artefacts. however.because there are distinct tool. some environmental features) and a goal-state 'human' characteristic. and given elements are rearrangedin an intelligent way so rather more rudimentaryexamples of tool-use among that theircausal propertiesare exploited to bring about a some other species as well.Technology is a goal and its realization.flute.devoted. At the very mini.not much purpose.humanpsychological responses in social settings. what is the technical system of which it niques'-for instance. make If a flute is properlyto be seen as a tool. making and use of tools. an element in a technical' an once he abandonsthe search for 'technical' solutions to elaborate sequence of purposes or sub-goals.sult X. Technical means are roundaboutmeans of securing intentionsto an unprecedented degree.which is to be realized making use of these givens. I think. It is not so much that techniquehas to be learned.a report on the seminarwill appear shortly in A.tool can be used to good effect.sensible. What distinguishes 'technique' from in a 'sequence of purposes' which went beyond tionships which make it socially necessary to produce.Technology is inadequ. between the pursuit of material rewards 'Knowledge' does not exist except in a certain social through technical activity. rather nical' does not. and the prolonged (i. The use traditionsamong apes. comprises techANTHROPOLOGY TODAY Vol 4. is a tool. A distributeand consume goods and services using 'tech. are an imnecessities from the environment is the basic problem portantcategory of elements which 'intervene' between which technology enables us to surmount. These objects had. circuitous) learning-process. business. a psychologiuse of artefacts called 'tools'. human technical ability has been necessary conditions for cooperation between individ.and much else besides. But it is not purposes-especially in prehistory-to identify 'technol. No 2.Homo sapiens. or by roundabout. result which is improbableexcept in the light of this parhave elaborated'technological' means of realizing their ticularintervention. as extensions of the body which ceived notion that the obtaining of subsistence have to be preparedbefore they can be used. the elementary delight they afforded their makers. in order to obtain Y. and tool-use is inadequatelyunderstoodif it is identified The pursuit of intrinsically difficult-to-obtainresults with subsistenceactivity.

Magic is. Domesticatedvarieties of animals are biddable.upon which the mediationof social life depends. There is abundantnative testimony to support this view. We are (self-) domesticatedanimals. creatures. My present purpose is not to explore the domain of the technology of enchantment.etc. cognitive ones. it is by exploiting natural biases in horse and dog psychology. which are numbered. or was. Under this heading I place all those technical strategies. and know how to use them on animals all the better because we continuallyuse them on one another. Of course. in that under this heading I would include most of what conventional anthropologydesignates by the word 'kinship'. i. who makes the comparison between human and animal societies. The patternsof social arrangements which we identify as 'kinship systems' are a set of technical strategies for managing our reproductivedestiny via an elaborate sequence of purposes. and later on. their care and socialization is conducted in a technically elaboratedway. not in the course of mighty struggles against the hostile forces of nature.but in response to the complexity of human social life. there is a as to secure a supply of tractable animals? Evidently.a genuine problem. succouring their young.vanity. animals also engage in purposive action in order to intervene in reproductive processes.. since nothing prevents people from holding at least some mistakencausal beliefs. apartfrom special breeding programmes. This is relatively uncontroversial and no more need be said aboutit at this point. Whereas magic is 'symbolic'. These technical strategies-which are. etc. No 2. i. but among domesticated animals. from an observer's point of view. fantasy. making use of special devices such as cradles. But what I would suggest is that the really telling analogies between human and animal kinship systems are not to be found among wild populationsof animal species. especially art. special educationalparaphernalia tions. multiplex. communication. It must occur to anyone.and which now predominates. Sometimes they seem to be quite cunning about it. and so on. which is often the correctone to take from the standpointof cultural interpretation. 'technical' accomplishments.e. human beings have learnedto control using many of the same techniques as human beings use on themselves. Here we enter the domain of the third of our three technologies. terror. cupidity. all of which we can deliver because we possess hands. each of which involves the exploitation of the causal propertiesof things and the psychological dispositions of people.but because it selected itself. just as one would see horse-breedingand horse-breaking. shelter. And so are we. I am conscious that there has been a prolonged debate about magic.Superiorintelligence manifests itself in the technical strategies of enchantment. practisedreciprocally-exploit innate or derived psychological biases so as to enchant the other person and cause him/herto perceive social reality in a way favourable to the social interests of the enchanter. which humanbeings employ in order to secure the acquiescence of other people in their intentions or projects. not in response to the need to develop superior survival strategies. but these are primitive by comparison with the psychological weapons which humanbeings use to exert control over the thoughts and actions of other human beings. our animal analogues are the other domesticated animals. or dog-breedingand dog-training. I take the view that 'magic' as an adjunctto technical procedures persists because it serves 'symbolic' ends. in that efficacious technical strategies demonstrablyexploit the causal propertiesof things in the sequence of purposes. gifts. sugar-lumps. caresses. i. toy and instituweapons. Biologically. I do not want to draw any hard and fast line between human and animal kinship here.e. among their causal properties. which is intense.. securing and defending mates.But magic is differentfrom these technologies. I have sketched in the scope of the idea of 'Technology'. of course. Human beings entrap animals in the mesh of humanpurposesusing an arrayof psychological techniques. whereas magic does not. which I will call the 'Technology of Enchantment'.of stating this. Humanbeings are bred and rearedundercontrolledconditions which are technically managed. i.and psychological manipulation. roundaboutways of securing the 'stuff' we think we of need. Naturally.e. since it can be interpretedas an attempt to employ spirits or quasi-physicalmagical powers to intervene(causally) in nature.It is widely agreed that characteristically human 'intelligence' evolved.The manipulation of desire. and so forth. for instance). so as to produce precisely those individuals for whom social provision has been made. and that it has to be considered.or 'enchantment'. dances. rhetoric. because we have made them so. that is to say. domesticated dogs. flexibility-a kind of permanent childlike acceptance-aretraitswhich have been evolved. slings.but merely to point out that it exists. whose breeding behaviour. such as horses and dogs. The evolutionary survival value of the magical aspects of technical strategiesis. I would include here the productionof signals. food. Magical thought for7 ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY Vol The technology of enchantment is the most sophisticatedthatwe possess. The reproductionof society is the consequence of a vast amount of very skilled manipulation on the partof those with interestsat stake in the process. the whole domain of kinship has to be understoodprimarilyas a technology. clearly an aspect of each of the three technologies I have identified. This is the phenotypewhich has been awardedmaximumreproductive opportunities. the technologies of production. However. The second of these technical systems I call the 'Technology of Reproduction'.smacks. swaddling-boards. with very much the same goals in view. by the artful use of whips.. Once infants are born.nology as it has been conventionally understood. reproduction.not because it has been 'selected' by nature. in other words. April 1988 . not as a separateprovince. music.wonder. that humansocieties go to extreme lengths to secure specific patterns of matings and births. and social learning. etc. 'Art'-opposed to technology-but as a technology in itself. nonetheless. therefore. and that not everybody agrees that magic is 'symbolic' at all. an inexhaustible list of human passions. Now I want to consider the relationshipbetween technology-defined as the pursuit of difficult-to-obtain objectives by roundaboutmeans-and 'magic'. Accordingly.but adaptingto the demand for a more and more 'domesticable' human being. The vaunted human attributes of teachability.But how do we secure the acquiescence of horses and dogs in our intentions.e. we possess the neotenous attributes(persistence of juvenile traits in the adult stage) which also often distinguish the domesticatedvariety of an animal species from its wild-type cousins (wolves vs. manufactures all kinds.This technical system is more controversial. offers an equally inexhaustiblefield for the expression of technical ingenuity. and very fateful for the individual.

this procedureis rathersophisticated. These three mythemes are broughl into conjunctionand their contradictionsare resolved in a final image. there is thefish which swims in the water. which hovered over th( water. the manifold connections between salt-making and the mythological and cosmological context within which the Angan salt makers have developed their particular expertise. Such a spell is meaningless by itself. From this kite. The net result is that Angan salt is 'high tech' accordingto indigenous standards of evaluation. At this point the fishermanwould ree in the whole contraptionand take the fish. Play also demonstratesinnovativeness-in fact. Technical innovationsoccur. and the tendency towards ever-increasingelaborationin technology must. Innovation in technology does not usually arise as the result of the applicationof systematic thought to the task of supplying some obvious technical 'need'. now I am doing that. it is often seen that a spell or a prayerdoes little more than identify the activity which is being engaged in and defines a criterion for 'success' in it. certainlydo so to their practitioners. I think. Technology.. stuck half-way up a mountainand turned to stone. even thougi we are assuredthat they are entirelypractical. and which. though they might or might not seem 'magical' to us. and the appropriatesound effects and swooping movements) the commentary inserts the ideal in the real. the 'fish with its jaws stuck together' jusi like Asdiwal. The same is true of magic. has brilliantlyanalysedthe indigenous conception of the salt-makingprocess. which comes from darkplaces inside the earth (caves). and it only fulfils its technical role in the context of a magical system in which each and every gardeningprocedure is accompanied by a similar spell. which. so far de- ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY Vol 4. whereas innovationin technology is a slower and more difficult process. and to provide 'corrective adjustments'if the process seems to be going wrong in any way. shaped it in the course of its development. Magic consists of a symbolic 'commentary'on technical strategies in production.I suggest that magic derives from play. it does so continuously.approximately the sequence:food (wood) =*faeces (ash) =* urine (brine) =* milk = semen (evaporatedbrine) =X bonelshell valuables (salt) It would take much too long to indicate. which sets an ideal standard. much magic is employed.even in barest outline. imposing on it a framework of organization which regulateseach successive stage in a complex process. 'Now I am planting this garden.but made out of panda. and whose forthcoming study of Angan saltmaking is eagerly awaited as an Australian National University thesis.In the So lomon Islands. be attributed. Technology develops through a process of innovation. One does not have to be a structuralist aficionado in orderto concede that here a magical. and some adjoining parts of the Pacific there used to be employed a technique of fishing usinj kites. to which was fast ened a kite..There are three elements: firstly. and also provides a means of internalizingit and recalling it.going beyond the frontiersof the merely real.and psychological manipulation. story can be realized as a 'practical'techniquefor catching fish. it would be perfectly susceptible to L6viStraussianmyth-analysis. the spider's web.made of gourds. and finally. and with changes in technology. towardswhich practical technical actioncan nonethelessbe oriented. using previously accumulatedmaterials in new configurations. This commentaryframes their actions. however. which dangledjust on th( surface of the water. and so on. who providedme with these details.not to material necessity.reproduction.and in the light of which it is intelligible andmeaningful. while never actually confused with reality. nus leaves. since there is no reason for members of any societies to feel 'needs' in addition to the ones they alreadyknow how to fulfil. as something which can be evoked.Not only does the basic format of children's play-commentary(now I am doing this. And there are innumerable other examples which could be cited of technical strategieswhich. This leads me to one furtherobservationon the relation hetween manic and terhnolowv. the kite. When a child asserts that he is an aeroplane (with arms extended. without a doubt.not to be approachedin reality. divides it up into segments. and difficult to concentratethe brine and evaporate it with minimum wastage. JadranMimica.malizes and codifies the structuralfeatures of technical activity. but in the course of attempts to realize technical feats heretofore considered'magical'. they provide a continuous stream of commentary on their own behaviour. Indeed if one encountered'kite-fishing' as a myth. so that the whole sequence of spells constitutes a complete cognitive plan of 'gardening'. If one examines a magical formula. does change. April 1988 . It seems that formatboth guides imthis superimposedorganizational aginative play as it proceeds. ethnographers record technical proce8 dures which seem magical in themselves. and has correspondingly high exchange value in local tradenetworks. iLn eastern the highlands of New Guinea. since the play-commentary invariably idealizes the situation. new needs come into existence. I have. mythopoeic. But it also suggests very strongly the element oi fantasy which brings technical ideas to fruition. Th( fisherman would go out in a canoe. usually one which involves the re-combination and re-deploymentof a set of existing elements or procedures towards the attainmentof new objectives. fashionedlike a bird. Let it be so productive that I will not be able to harvest all of it. secondly. but not realized. there descended a furtherstring to which was at tached a ball of spider's webs. which can be evaporatedto produce slabs of native salt. which is a bird whichflies in the sky. with special formulaeto cover each stage of the multi-stageprocess. but to the cognitive role of 'magical' ideas in providing the orientingframeworkwithin which technical activity takes place. The source of this mutability.and now this will happen. Technically.)irresistiblyrecall the formatof spells. salt is made by burning rushes and filtering the ashes throughlittle retorts. but the relationbetween reality and commentaryin play and in magic-makingremainessentially akin. Needless to say. Amen'. There is another feature which play and technology share. Fish in the lagoon would see th( sparklingspider's web ball and mistake it for an insect But when they bit into it the sticky spider's web woulc cause their jaws to adhere to one another. No 2. in effect. recapitulatescosmogony in terms of transformations of in bodily substances. ratherthar as a practice. not as the result of attempts to supply wants. Sometimes. which results in briny water. This fishing technique exemplifies perfectly the con cept of roundaboutnesswhich I have emphasized already.since it is difficult to burnthe rushesat the right temperature producethe to best ash. But the unrealizabletransformation child of into aeroplane. defines momentarygoals. This kind of fishing was done in lagoons. When children play. so that the) could not let go. does nonetheless sel the ultimate goal towards which play can be oriented. as well as raw materials for subsequentexercises in innovation and recombination.I will cite only one.

that the idealized version of technology which is embodied in magical discourseis imaginativelycompelling. from the RAI Distribution Centre (same address as A. which recommends that all institutions where anthropology is taught should subscribe to ANTHROPOLOGICAL INDEX. arenasin which a magical scenario was played out. by inserting commodities in a mythologized universe. Within the divisions (General. it guides the whole process of design and manufacturefrom start to finish. for us. but has become more diverse and difficult to identify. though the ever-presence of these images of an ideal garden must be a major factor in focusing gardeners' minds on taking all practical steps to ensure that their gardens are better than they might otherwise be.however efficient. For instance. it is because technology and magic. The subscription for 1988 is ?48 (US$77). they perforce succumb in the process of orientingthemselves towardstheir social milieu and giving meaning to their activities. commit mass suicide in the sea. even as magic inspiresfresh technical efforts. Advertising does not only serve to entice consumersto buy particular items.The flattering images of commodities purveyed in advertising coincide exactly with the equally flattering images with which magic invests its objects. consciously or unconsciously. entered its 26th year of publication in 1988. In other words. But just as magical thinkingprovides the spurto technological development. and if they do not lay claim to supernatural powers. ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY Vol 4.T. also broken down by sub-division. not a gardensituatedin some never-neverland. Yam-gardenswere laid out with geometrical regularity. with detailed exegesis. towards which practising scientists and technologists have frequently ambivalent feelings. and the foliage above will dance and weave like dolphins playing in the surf. The imaginationof technological culture gives rise to genres such as science fiction and idealized popular science. in effect. Archaeology. production. in the guise of productiveactivity. if one considersthe litanies of the gardenmagician a little more closely. Cultural Anthropology and Ethnography. An annual author index also contains brief subject entries for obituaries and anonymous to be attained technically. the garden to end all gardens.Besides advertisingitself. in which everything occurs absolutely as it should in the best of all possible worlds. in which all kinds of possibilities are open. no less than exceptionally well. one realizes that the garden being celebratedwith so much fine language is. which no longer acknowledge magic specifically. And this observationcan lead to a conclusion concerningthe fate of magic in modern societies. detail. But what would be the of characteristics an 'ideal' technology? An 'ideal' technical procedureis one which can be practicedwith zero opportunitycosts. Practical technical procedures. and all their differentkinds of shoots and leaves. clearedinitially of the least blade of grass. it is technology which sustainsmagic. It is because nonmagical technology is effective. they consist of a prolonged series of descriptionsof an ideal garden. One form it takes. so also advertising. of their own accord. Photocopies of articles may be ordered from the Museum of Mankind.etc. Trobriand Angan salt-makingsites. Production 'by magic' is production minus the disadvantageousside-effects. each of the twenty-odd kinds of post or stick which is used to trainyam creepers is listed. It is apparentthat the real garden and its real productivity are what motivates the imaginary constructionof the magical garden. up to a point. and unlikely ever to be superseded in this respect-brings out this feature of magical thinking gardenswere. What has happenedto magic? It has not disappeared. It is an official organ of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. The propagandists. it is only because technology itself has become so powerful thatthey have no need to do so. Hence.hazards and investments which actual technical activity inevitably requires. the pursuit of technical efficiency through intelligent effort coincides with the pursuitof the ideal of 'costless' production adumbratedin magical discourse.scribed magic as an 'ideal' technology which orients practicaltechnology and codifies technicalproceduresat the cognitive-symbolic level.but. have been recordedin theirentiretyby Malinowski. but the garden which is actually present. which incorporates the former RAI Library. and so on. is advertising. The pests which inhabit the soil will rise up. in effect. or alternativemethods of achieving the same goal.). And if we no longer recognize magic explicitly. It covers nearly all the article in the periodical literature received by the Museum of Mankind Library in London.not necessarily on money terms but in terms of missed opportunities to devote time. No 2. Yam roots will strike down into the soil with the swiftness of a green parrotin flight. At the beginning is a General section. which is mentioned and itemized in very minute. INDEX ANTHROPOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INDEX. The magical apotheosis of ideal. effort and resources to altemative goals. concrete. or from the usual subscription agencies. delivered at the site of the magical prisms. provides the inspiration for the invention of new consumer items. but to which. always do 'cost' something. such as struggle. effort. and were provided with complicated constructions described as 'magical prisms' at one corner. the easiest method of access for the area specialist. in effect. and. They are full of metaphoricaldevices of sometimes considerableobscurity. Physical Anthropology. the Royal Anthropological Institute's bibliographical quarterly. image-makers and ideologues of technological culture are its magicians. Periodicals from all countries and in all major institutions are indexed. real gardens are not quite so spectacular. Malinowski's Coral Gardens and their Magic-still the best account of any primitive technological-cummagical system. which attractedyamgrowing power into the soil. costless. The litanies of the garden magician. Linguistics) entry is alphabetical by author. because magical productionis only a very flatteringimage of the productionwhich is actually achievable by technical means. since it provides the idealized image to which the finished product must conform. However. there is a wide range of imagery which provides a symbolic commentaryon the processes and activities which are carriedon in the technological domain. yet are dominatedby technology as never before. April 1988 9 . as are all the different cultigens. The INDEX is arranged geographically with sub-divisions by broad subject. Most back volumes are available. as Malinowski himself suggested. Of course. The defining featureof 'magic' as an ideal technology is that it is 'costless' in terms of the kind of drudgery. in practice. are one and the same.

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