The Sense-Making Machine – Material and Perceptual Foundations of Technology

Technological progress promised to free us from daily work and ecological unpredictability. Exactly the opposite seems to have happened. What went wrong? And: can we regain control?

The crises of the Anthropocene are oftentimes believed to be controllable with sufficient innovative technology. Such belief in the powers of technology exemplifies a fetishism in which technology seems to be largely independent of the societal (labor) and natural foundation (land, resources, energy). Additionally, such technology fetishism is indicative of the ontological separation between nature and society. Technology in its artifactual form thus appears to be the decisive mediator between subject and reality – a “sense-making machine.” By being the motor of society, technology is the instance in which vastly different elements from both nature and society are combined to model our common material reality.

In my Ph.D. project, I thus want to investigate how technology mediates our perception of reality and how this perception can be transformed to tackle the current ecological crises. To do so, I want to develop an interdisciplinary perspective on those technological artifacts that are dependent on global flows of resources. This perspective draws from science and technology studies, environmental philosophy, environmental humanities, as well as political ecology, history, ecological economics, and anthropology. With this Ph.D. project, I aim to fill a gap between social and natural science approaches towards structural ecological phenomena and our perception thereof.

Maximilian Pieper is a Ph.D. student at the Wissenschaftszentrum Umwelt, Augsburg University. Contact: