Tag: posthumanism

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 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...)

Pain-Free Mouse, being ‘human,’ and more-than-human ethics

In the opening scene of Blade Runner, a fictional diagnostic called the Voigt-Kampff test distinguishes human from android. The test, as imagined in Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel and later adapted into the film adaptation, exploits a primary autonomic response: the so-called ‘shame’ or ‘blushing’ reaction to a “morally shocking stimulus.” In the novel, the ‘moral shock’ stimulus invariably involves nonhuman animals: (read more...)

Zombie Knowledge: Toward a Deeper Conversation between Black Studies and Multispecies Anthropology

Monsters, the nightmarish figures we conjure in the dark, reflect our own culturally and politically specific anxieties. They are a dark mirror: a terrifying rendering of a social fact exaggerated, turned inside out, or perhaps a manifestation of some truth we find unthinkable except in fantasy. (read more...)

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...)