Thermodynamic substratum

In social thermodynamics, thermodynamic substratum is the material that underlies a human society. [1] Thermodynamic substratum, modelled on the chemical term substrate, is defined in such a manner that people pump energy into this substratum when they produce values (or "use-values"); whereas they withdraw energy from it when they consume those values.

The term “thermodynamic substratum” was coined in 1976 by American anthropologist Eugene Ruyle in the development of his social thermodynamics theories. Ruyle defines thermodynamic substratum as such: [1]

“In the labor process, the labor that is expended in transforming nature into socially acceptable use-value becomes embodied, in a sense, in those use-values. When the use-values are consumed, a definite amount of labor energy is also being consumed. Thus, if I spend two hours digging up yams and another two hours cleaning and cooking them, there are four hours of my labor time embodied in the resulting yam pie. When I eat the pie, I am consuming not only 2000 calories of food energy, I am also consuming four hours of labor energy. If I split the pie with someone else, I am consuming two hours of my labor time, and the other person is also consuming two hours of my labor time. In this way, we may speak of two hours of my labor time flowing to the other person. All human beings are dependent upon these sorts of energy flows [thermodynamic flows] as they consume use-values produced by other members of the population and in turn produce use-values which are consumed by others. There is thus a thermodynamic substratum in human societies upon which all human beings depend.”


See also
‚óŹ Surface thermodynamics

1. Toward an Anthropological Marxism (chapter 3) by Eugene Ruyle.

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