Wednesday 4 September 2019

Walking, otherwise

Critical posthumanist thinking is on the rise as a new way of theorising the world - much-needed in these complex and concerning times. Yet the term itself is contested and often conflated with other approaches such as transhumanism, anti-humanism, metahumanism and many other schools of thought. At a time when we are crying out for guidance and instruction, rejecting binary positions and embracing challenging philosophical theories feels counter-cultural, and downright scary. Yet, 'think we must' as Virginia Woolf reminded us during the 1938 rise of fascism (1938, p.60). Difficult times call for hard work, not anti-intellectual stances.

This week, our band of nomadic thinkers* are running a series of 'posthuman walks' for The Sociological Review's exciting event, Thinking on the Move.  It therefore feels timely to set out our own interpretation of posthumanism in order to set the scene. What might it mean to think in posthuman ways? or to walk in them?

Tight-rope walker, Utrecht
For us, Posthumanism is not a recipe card, a tick-box of activities or one philosophy, but a navigational tool or lens through which to read this rapidly changing world. As Braidotti and Hlavajova (2018, p.5) state‘…[it is] a field of enquiry and experimentation that is triggered by the convergence of post-humanism on one hand and post-anthropocentricism on the other.’  

Posthumanism here first critiques the humanist ideal of ‘Man’ as the universal representation of the human. We are all familiar with Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man; the finely-honed figure of the 'perfect' human body (male, white, European, physically able, buff, symmetrical, unattainable). In this world we (generally) reject this limited and biased idea of what it means to be human, but many of our systems continue to be built around it, discriminating and excluding on this basis.  Posthumanism is therefore a ' call to ‘mark the end of the self-reverential arrogance of a dominant Eurocentric notion of the human, and to open up new perspectives.’ (ibid p.3). These perspectives may be post-colonial, feminist, queer, critical-disability, and many other things besides.

Using posthuman approaches as a navigational tool requires teachers and researchers to elevate the voices of those deemed ‘non-human’ throughout history, accept and work with technological mediation, consider the role in our practice of non-human actors such as animals, artificial intelligences, and take account of the agency of material ‘things’. 

The second, post-anthropocentric element takes into account the damage done by humans to the earth and seeks to re-imagine ways to live symbiotically, re-thinking human/nonhuman relationships and challenging species hierarchy.  Both elements bring the body back in, rejecting Cartesian dualisms and building towards new relationalities that challenge individualistic paradigms and practices.

Our posthuman walks will aim to bring these ideas to life, asking questions such as:
- what happens if we pay attention to the embodied nature of ourselves as walkers in the city?
- what happens if we reject the idea of thinking as an individual act and develop active walking practices in which we think as a multiplicity? 
- who are our non-human walking companions and how do we become more aware of their presence?
- which kind of walkers is the city designed for and which 'walkers' are excluded?
- how can understanding the algorithmic design of the digital world help us make sense of the physical one?

We look forward to walking with you!

*Lou Mycroft, Peter Shukie, Kay Sidebottom.

Braidotti, R. and Hlavajova, M. (2018). The Posthuman Glossary. Bloomsbury Academic.
Woolf, V. (1938). Three Guineas. London: Blackwell.

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