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Sociologist and anthropologist look at technology as a new totemism

by Richard Meckien - published Oct 17, 2013 11:05 AM - - last modified Oct 17, 2013 11:09 AM

Debate with Derrick de Kerckhove and Massimo Canevacci will take place on October 17, at 17 pm, in the Auditorium of the USP's Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC).

Derrick de Kerckhove e Massimo Canevacci‘Technology: The New Totemism’ is the subject of the debate between sociologist Derrick de Kerckhove, from the University of Toronto, and anthropologist Massimo Canevacci, visiting professor at the IEA, on October 17, at 5 pm, in the Auditorium of USP’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

According to Canevacci, scientific progress and the discovery of the genome have symbolically reversed the power of nature over culture: ‘The new totemism puts technology as the defining character of humanity’.

To the anthropologist, all definitions of what is to be human require adjustments and updates, and feature limits and boundaries vanishing and thinning. ‘This situation brings new responsibilities that are not fully exposed by transhumanism nor by post-humanism’.

In the case of instant global communication, Canevacci believes that they merge local and global, putting pressure on local situations: ‘The internet works as a social limbic system, organizing itself to confront and occasionally solve emerging problems and solutions. Where the old order dies hard there are abrasive clashes of mentalities’.

In spite of assessing the current transition as difficult, he considers it less traumatic than the ones that occured during Renaissance or the World Wars of the 20th century. In his view, movements such as Indignados, Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street and the global activism initiated by Wikileaks and now pursued by initiatives such as the one by former U.S. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, indicate possible geopolitical directions.


Derrick de Kerckhove is one of the most important theorists on the relationship between digital technologies and society. Disciple of the famous Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), he ran the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology for more than 20 years at the University of Toronto. He holds a doctorate in French Language and Literature from the same university and a doctorate in Sociology of Art from the Université de Tours, France. He teaches primarily in Toronto and at the Università Federico II, Italy. He has also worked as a guest researcher in the U.S., China, Brazil, Japan and Argentina.

Massimo Canevacci is professor of Cultural Anthropology and Digital Art and Culture at the Università degli Studi di Roma La Sapienza, Italy, and visiting professor at the IEA since October 2012. His research focuses on the areas of ethnography, visual communication, digital art and digital culture. His most recent books are ‘Polyphonic Anthropology - Theoretical and Empirical Cross-Cultural Fieldword’ (2012), ‘A Linha de Pó — A Cultura Bororo entre Tradição, Mutação e Autorrepresentação’ (2012), ‘Fake in China. Viagem de Superfície no País que Está Mudando o Mundo’(2011) and ‘Comunicação Visual’(2009).

The event will be broadcast live at