Accepted Paper:

Where Does a Body End? On access, accessories, and living media  


Christopher Miles (Indiana University)

Paper short abstract:

“Access” is conventionally framed as individual and unidirectional. This paper argues that access is never really either of these, exploring the political and ontological entailments of alternative concepts of access through living drones, new materialisms, and feminist STS.

Paper long abstract:

Conventionally, "access" is framed in terms of agential, subjective access-to-something, whether a physical space, a digital network, a form of knowing, or a type of experience. I will argue that access is rarely if ever unidirectional: the act of access is better understood as a multidirectional activation of manifold assemblages. Consequently an accessor is also, to some degree, always being-accessed; access implies accessories.

As digital technologies are poised to shrink and spread into the flesh and firmament, wood and stone of the world, the importance of bearing in mind that access to something also necessarily entails a being-accessed-by for the object of that access only sharpens. DARPA-funded initiatives to digitally mediate and remotely control the neuro-musculature of other living things, for instance, highlights the potential for ubiquitous computing to render the digitally accessed as instrument in profound and troubling ways.

At the same time, these efforts emphasize one of many ways in which "the body is not one with itself," that it is in fact "the most basic of all media" (Peters, 2015). So as a rejoinder to more instrumentalist discourses of technology, this paper seeks to link work on access and dis/ability with alternative frameworks for the body emerging from postcolonial, queer, and feminist STS scholarship. By redefining the conceptual entailments of access in this way, this paper points toward a politics whose ontological weave disowns informatic reductivity and human exceptionalism in view of something closer to what Donna Haraway has called the act of "making kin."

Panel T109
Emerging forms of "life" in STS