This book proposes a new view of the relations between society and nature. It focuses on the way human societies work on nature to produce the things they need. In particular, it is concerned with the technical division of labour in the workplace and the broader division of labour within society at large. Such divisions have obviously brought great benefits and must be a central element of any future modern society. On the other hand, they have fragmented our understanding of how societies relate to nature. They have been used to marginalise lay knowledge of nature. Furthermore, they have been used to neglect certain people’s tacit understandings. This latter refers to the skills and judgements which people create for themselves in all kinds of work. Information and instructions associated with explicit knowledge can be quite easily formulated, copied, stored and communicated. But this is not the case with tacit knowledge, where the skills cannot be encoded, formulated, contained and stored in the form of words and symbols. The neglect, marginalisation and decay of these lay and tacit forms of knowledge results not only in a misunderstanding and misuse of the environment but in people’s misunderstanding of their own organic nature.
Divisions of labour, divisions of knowledge and the consequent mistreatment of nature are therefore the key themes. But how can the necessarily complex knowledges and divisions of labour in a future society be made compatible with an improved understanding? How can such an understanding lead not only to human emancipation but to a recognition of natural limits and the needs of other species? By considerably extending and developing Marx’s theory of alienation, this book tries to open up these difficult questions for debate and further research.
In 1989 the historian and television producer Alan Ereira visited the Kogi, an archaic civilisation in Colombia that has deliberately kept itself in isolation from the rest of the modern world. Still ruled by a priesthood and still living a culture and philosophy which has remained largely untouched by the advances