Tag: posthumanism

Anthropos Tomorrow: Transhumanism and Anthropology

Editor’s note: This week, we’re bringing you the first look at something slightly different. In addition to our regularly scheduled programming, Platypus has decided to experiment with guest-edited thematic series, which will bring together a range of anthropologists working on similar issues for a more theoretically-oriented conversation held over several weeks. Here, Jon Bialecki and Ian Lowrie introduce our first series, on Transhumanism and Anthropology. If you are interested in participating, please let them know; if you are interested in organizing a future thematic series, please do get in touch with the Editor.   Anthropologists, long relatively comfortable bearing the mantle of studying humanity, today find themselves working in increasingly posthuman theoretical spaces. Anthropos, as a unitary figure, had already began to crumble under the weight of postcolonial, feminist, and deconstructive critique during the eighties; lately, however, our empirical work is pushing us still further beyond the human. This is particularly, but not uniquely, true for those of us working on the anthropology of science and technology: we often find ourselves, whatever our theoretical commitments to the posthuman, grasping for an appropriate language as we try to figure the multispecies assemblages, vibrant matter, and sociotechnical infrastructures we encounter alongside the humans we interact with in our fieldwork. (read more...)

Social Science, Socialist Scientists, and the Future of Utopias

As space colonization becomes a more serious project and an influential utopian imaginary, I am reminded of British scientist and communist JD Bernal’s 1929 warning about “human dimorphism”: Bernal wondered about a future in which “mechanizers” would live an enhanced, technoscientifically-evolved form of life, separated from the “humanizers,” the masses whose physical needs would be equally gratified thanks to scientific advancements—but who would prefer to exist in an atavistic human way, enjoying mundanities such as friendliness, poetry, dancing, drinking, singing, and art. His figure for that version of the good life seems to have been filched from whatever exposure he had to colonial anthropology—he calls it the “idyllic, Melanesian existence.” The mechanizers, on the other hand, would transform themselves biologically and psychologically, moving down a different evolutionary path towards a different destiny—a vision dear to present-day transhumanists, who from early on were among the strongest advocates of space colonization, and have been involved in various aspects of it, through NASA and DARPA as well as a number of smaller, more esoteric organizations. The word transhumanist was, in fact, coined by Bernal’s more famous acquaintance, Julian Huxley—Julian was Aldous’ socialist brother, who had his own visions of a quasi-eugenicist utopia. There are alternative and instructive histories, as well as an important present, buried in these entanglements with utopia, science, and the left. It seems worthwhile to reconsider some of the visions and insights embedded in that history and, possibly, to find a lens that might point a way out of the directionless quagmire we find ourselves in as we try to think beyond the black box of market capitalism. I wonder whether, in our over-determined rejection of utopianism, we have not also thrown out something valuable, or maybe simply useful. In putting forward a “recombinant tale of social and scientific consciousness” (a phrase I steal from Debbora Battaglia), I am especially interested in utopianism and forms of teleology [rationalization based on end-goals], because telos seems to matter, somehow, and I am interested in finding out not so much why it matters, but how it matters in thinking politically and morally. (read more...)

Dominic Boyer on the Anthropology of Infrastructure

Lately, anthropologists have been doing a lot of thinking about infrastructure. Although there have been anthropologists working on the large technical systems subtending modern sociality since at least the early 1970s, infrastructure today appears to be coming of age not only as a robust area of ethnographic engagement, but as a sturdy analytic in its own right, part of widespread resurgence of materialist thought across the humanities. As Brian Larkin puts it in his recent piece for the Annual Review of Anthropology, contemporary work in the anthropology of infrastructure attempts to understand how underlying material structures function to “generate the ambient environment of everyday life.” In so doing, the conceptual ambit of the term has been expanded beyond sewers, roads, and telecommunication systems to include everything from modes of sociality to economic instruments. Recently, I spoke at some length with Dominic Boyer about the emergence and expansion of anthropological interest in infrastructure. Dominic has devoted considerable organizational and intellectual attention to thinking through the human aspects of energy infrastructures, both in his role as the director of Rice University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences and in his own fieldwork, with Cymene Howe, on energopower and the renewables transition in Mexico.  The first half of this conversation appears below, with the second to follow later this week. Ian: Your current work with Cymene Howe, on the development of wind energy in Oaxaca, focuses quite explicitly on infrastructure in the most literal sense. I’m curious, however, whether there were precursors of this focus in your earlier work? Dominic: Our project does focus on infrastructure in the sense that, early on, we realized that the electric grid and the utility that manages it in Mexico were going to be central actors in telling the story of the politics of renewable energy transition. But, really, infrastructure as analytic wasn’t really present to us as we were conceptualizing the research design. What’s interesting about the conversation around infrastructure to me is that it’s been a storm hovering on the horizon for a long while, and now the downpour has come and we’re all awash in infrastructure talk. (read more...)