This panel will look at popular relational and networked re-conceptions of human beings and human societies (assemblage, affect, multi-species, cyborg, dividual, post-human, etc.) and discuss both their life-affirming and dehumanising potentials.
Today we are witnessing an increasing trend for networked and relational conceptions of the human being and human societies. These, largely self-proclaimed, post-modern theories generally seek to transcend the modernist notion of the atomized human subject and reconceive the human being as a networked and decentered being. Freed from the rigid divisions of modernism, such as the nature-culture or human-machine oppositions, this newly connected being is able to comingle and converge with various non-human phenomena and produce new formations that cannot be reduced to the singular human form. Here, the social world is opened up and sociality is extended out to non-humans, those who within modernity were pushed into the periphery and reduced to passive non-subjects. With participation and determining agency extended out to these non-humans, sociality becomes reconceived as a product of these human and non-human relations.
At the same time, outside of the academy our social worlds are being radically transformed along networked and dividualistic lines. Here, the human being is increasingly finding herself/himself distributed through various post-human techno-assemblages that exist as integrated systems, largely outside of human agency. Though these hybrid situations and rhizomic reimaginings are celebrated for their emancipatory potentials, we are, at the same time, seeing new forms of social control emerging that utilise these distributive and non-hierarchical visions of human being. Importantly, none of these situations - the dehumanising or life-affirming potentials of these reimaginings - are predetermined. We see this ambivalence as lying at the heart of our current era.
This panel will tackle this ambivalence head on.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Postmodern fantasies of government
The paper will examine the discourse of digital government, its unintended and unannounced consequences, and how it deflects our attention from the complexities of the mediating interests and structures through its own expression of the post-modern imaginary.
The discourse described in the abstract for this panel attempts an explanation of our current situation but is also a call to arms to bring it on. Not only does it attempt to make sense of current trends, but strives to be the dominant narrative that serves as a motivating myth for those who might take advantage of our changing circumstances. Whilst promising a weightless, frictionless and seamless existence, they obscure the mediations on which they depend, as well as the mediations of the world they dream of leaving. Both sets of mediations are at least as centripetal as they are centrifugal—more likely to pull us into a modernist rationalising totality, rather than flinging us out into a post-modernist firmament.
The drive to digital government is one location where these games play out. The promise is a new type of government in which "the relationship between citizens, government and business has been transformed", in part through a "seamless interface between agencies and between government and its constituents". But behind such visions is a struggle of mediating forces: the stranglehold of legacy systems, the drive of the IT and consulting industries to penetrate government, the neoliberal insistence on reducing the cost and size of government, the opportunities for surveillance offered by multiple layers of IT, the dream of AI-based bureaucracy and the need of public officials to extend their oversight and control over their programs and "customers."
Instability in the Matrix: Posthuman Disruptions in Meatspace
The Post-Internet condition of constant connectivity characterised by 'Society 2.0' has become intrinsic to contemporary music practice. Self-representation and creative expression increasingly reflect Cyborgian characteristics of mutability, hybridity and networked identity.
Matrix program of Destruction/Distraction/Extraction/Reconstruction on track for 3.1% growth for the year. Last system upgrade, OS NeoLib, showing signs of strain. Version 2017.12 featured same-sex marriage fix to restore normative structural models. Cybernetic feedback reports continued disruptions in meatspace sectors. Anthropologist studying music tech uptake sent to investigate. Music, as a site for self-expression and collective belonging, is shown to be entangled in emerging hybridities of post-internet identity. Armed with the latest intel, anthropologist agent investigates Waugh's (2017) notion of 'digital queering' that fuses posthuman ideas of adaptive hybridisation with technology with the gender deconstructions of queer theory. Agent confirms the options and comparative anonymity of the virtual are making it a space where multiple and mutable selves can flourish, the product of a situation where society, media, technology and bodies exist in a co-determining mesh of radical intimacy and fractured identity. Human units are being extended online across different ways of being, able to take and perform multiple personas, and with access to knowledge and experiences once confined to geography, class, ethnicity and gender. Music practice is stretching over multiple platforms of self-representation, locked to a live feed of social media and manifested in music that is both local and from everywhere simultaneously. Virtual experiences shown to be deeply integrated with meatspace subjectivities and collective formations. Agent to report at upcoming Anthropology conference. Situation being monitored closely.
Anthropology's meta-problematic: approaching post-human assemblages with Gabriel Marcel
The concepts under discussion in this panel are challenged by Gabriel Marcel's notion of meta-problematic. This paper will use Marcel's work, as well as Kant's critical philosophy, to demonstrate their potentially dehumanising effects and defend the preservation of ontological 'mysteries'.
A more consistent and life-affirming reaction to the incommensurability that has led to innovative re-conceptions of human beings, is a respect and even reverence for what Gabriel Marcel called meta-problematic. Some anthropologists attempt to apply the concepts associated with the ontological turn to more immediate networked and ontological re-imaginings of the self that are connected with recent developments in technology. It is ironic that what started as an attempt to validate and somehow make room for the human potential for radically different ontologies within anthropology, thus affirming (sometimes glorifying)the breadth of ontological pluralism, ultimately undermines the ethical premise that motivated the adoption of these concepts in the first place. This is thrown into relief when a plurality of ontologies is used to explore post-human assemblages connected to new technologies. This paper explores how the self and notions of being are, to borrow from Marcel, not so much 'problems' but 'mysteries'. They are 'meta-problematic' and we do not have the faculties to resolve them directly. This notion will be supported by a brief defence of anthropology's Kantian origins and the importance of critical philosophy for the discipline. The meta-problematic has powerful implications for how we approach the concepts listed in this panel (assemblage, multi-species, cyborg, dividual, post-human, etc.) and when they are applied, in an analytic sense, to the mystery of being, they have a dehumanising effect. They reduce the human being to something that can be understood directly.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.