Category: Series

Multiple Modes of Being Human

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) In the last couple of years, I have been toying around with the ideas of “modes of humanism,” “inventing new modes of being human,” and modes of existence, such as data swarms and the pre-, post-, and transhuman. However, I was never really able to wrap my head around the question, what it really means when Bergson, Simondon, and others speak about the possibilities of “new modes of being human.” Modes of being human signify a multiplicity of possible forms of being human. These forms differ historically and culturally. (read more...)

Angelology and Technoscience

(Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of the Thematic Series Data Swarms Revisited) The study of angels, angelology, is seldomly taken seriously. Instead, it is seen as the topic of ridicule, exemplifying the irrelevancy and unworldliness of some academic questions: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Why would angels have knees? Do angels have sexes? Further, angels often reference disembodiment and neutrality, ideas any decent posthuman scholar seems to abhor. Nevertheless, I would argue that angels are a fruitful way to critically assess our posthuman condition. Angels embody a number of valued characteristics of our posthuman selves, but also a number of transformations in how science is currently practiced– what I would like to call technoscience. Technoscience refers then to a range of new disciplines, such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology, robotics, or data science. These are new disciplines where classic distinctions between science and technology, nature and artifact, are disappearing. Posthuman thought and technoscience have remarkable similarities, but, in contrast to posthumanism, our attitude towards technoscience is ambivalent. Do we really want that kind of science for our future? Or, differently put, do we really want to become angels? (read more...)

Data Activism and Petro-Public Knowledge “Across Borders”: The Formosa Plastics Global Archive

When our research group entered the Formosa Plastics museum in Taiwan, the first thing we noticed was a massive piece of kauri wood, sitting protected under a dome of glass. Wang Yung Ching, chairman of the company and formerly Taiwan’s richest person, had acquired the burl in 2002, after seeing it in an art gallery in the southern port city of Kaohsiung. As our tour guide explained with excitement, Wang was captivated by the wood’s radiant strength, representing the “immeasurable capabilities and longevity of the Formosa Plastics Group”, making it an ideal “centerpiece” for the company’s six-floor museum[1] . Exhibits celebrate the founder and spirit of the Formosa Plastics Group (complete with dioramas and wax figures) and a miniature replica of Formosa’s 6th Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant in Central Taiwan. The fourth floor has an Earth Conservation Theatre. The sixth floor conveys how Formosa has given back to society through investment in education, hospitals, and cultural heritage projects[2] . (read more...)

The Shifting Borders of Value: Water and Wellbeing along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Is access to water a right? Should water be free? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that? This is exactly what surrounds the discourse of water use along the US-Mexico border and the way these questions are being addressed may surprise you. Water use in the U.S-Mexico border region has long been a tense topic, driven by stress placed on water supplies in an arid environment by agriculture and industry. The movement of water through the borderlands, as an economic resource and as an essential human good, has impacted many aspects of border life. The way water is handled in free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has caused tensions to rise. In Mexico, the privatization of water pushed by these trade agreements has created friction with the concept of water as a human right and water as a commodity. Water acts as a medium to observe the movement of resources through borders; such movement over border lines then transforms this natural fixture into a tradeable resource. The encounters with the rivers of the border region bring attention to how these movements are not as free as an idealized vision might have it, especially the visions of those who argue for a globalized world. Like human beings, water is traced from its source to the multitude of spaces it is destined to go and flagged for adequate use. With climate change looming, water issues and broader environmental impacts on transborder activity will become stark; some may argue they already have. (read more...)

A Sandbox for a Specific Type of Narcissist – Clubhouse, the Allure of Live Audio and Dangerous Rabbit Holes

A nasal voice is rambling on in a long monologue about how to best pitch a startup on Clubhouse when I log on sometime in March. It is early morning UK time, late at night in California and this room is mostly populated by technology entrepreneurs, people that work at the big tech companies, and venture capital investors from the West Coast of the US. Eventually, another Californian accent interrupts the first one: (read more...)

Entrepreneurship and Technologies

Everyone is an entrepreneur – a new ethos is sweeping through our economic world. While the promises of ‘being your own boss’ and ‘deciding about your working hours’ are surely appealing to many, what is at times forgotten are the effects such an ethos has on the structures of work and labour, on relationships both economic and more widely. The flipside of this updated version of the American dream and the (false) promise of meritocracy have always been self-responsibilisation and dangers of reproducing structural inequality. (read more...)

(Re)Assembling Asias through Science

Over the past two decades, a proliferation of critiques have emerged from a body of critical inter-asian scholarship to challenge, revise, and situate the conventional theoretical categories, frames, and founding assumptions of many humanities and social science fields, with notable interventions into trans studies (Chiang, Henry, & Leung 2018), queer theory (Chiang & Wong 2017; Yue 2017; Yue & Leung 2016; Wilson 2006), and the anthropology of science and technology (Ong 2016; Ong & Chen 2010). These projects are as theoretical as they are political, ethical, and methodological, posing fundamental questions about the politics of knowledge production, encouraging a critical awareness of the geopolitical positions and historical locations from which our analytic concepts emerge, as well as a heightened sense of the audiences they are intended for, how they may travel, and an epistemic humility that embraces and acknowledges contingency and limitation. With the expansion of academic presses, journals, and academic professional organizations in Asia[1], a growing number of graduate students and professional researchers now find themselves straddling and translating across an interface that spans continents, from academic centers in Europe and the United States to intra-asian networks and spaces of knowledge production. (read more...)

Data Swarms Revisited – New Modes of Being

Editor’s Note: The new Platypus Thematic Series entitled “Data Swarms Revisited” will feature posts form computer science, philosophy and anthropology and connect to the Thematic Series Anthropos Tomorrow: Transhumanism and Anthropology inaugurated by Jon Bialecki and Ian Lowrie on Platypus in 2017. The posts will deal with overarching questions of the so-called “human condition” in times of accelerated computation, digitalization and technological infrastructures. Herein, the figuration of the Data Swarm serves as a playful and slightly ironic approximation to the threats and promises embedded in these on-going controversies. At the end of September 2019, it was already the fourth time that both the Research Lab of the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne and the Collaborative Research Center 806 “Our Way to Europe” had invited an interdisciplinary group of international graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to meet at the Cologne Summer School of Interdisciplinary Anthropology (CSIA). For an entire week, the participants delved into the many controversies about the so-called “human condition” and what it actually means to “be human” in the 21st century.[2] After three years of discussing the latest material and practice turns along the Phenomenality of Material Things, in 2019, the CSIA relaunched its inquiries in new modes of being and humanism(s) under the theme of Beyond Humanism: Cyborgs – Animals – Data Swarms. With an apparent elective affinity to Donna Haraway (Haraway 2016b), we picked up where the last CSIA left by taking a closer look at what trans– and posthumanist agendas actually imply and how they relate to classic understandings of the human condition. Our goal was not simply dismissing these new modes of humanism(s) as mere social phenomena in an age of accelerated technological and cultural transformations but to take them seriously in order to better understand the shifts in contemporary concepts and controversies about being human. Through historically tracing back modes of humanism and their counterparts, as well as excavating their ontological and epistemological conditions, we identified three relational contestations of what it no longer means and three figurations of what it nowadays means to be human. The contestations are: (1) the distribution of human subjectivity and cognition, (2) the disintegration of human individuality, and (3) the dissolution of humanity as a unique ontological category. (read more...)