Thursday, 19 September 2019

#BeMorePhilosopher - Taking Back Space as Thinkers

One of the big frustrations of teaching on a Childhood Studies degree is the lack of esteem with which the qualification is held. Despite being an interdisciplinary grounding in philosophy, psychology, and sociology; a multi-modal space for engaging with visual, literary and artistic perspectives; and a programme populated with vocational opportunities for connecting theory to practice, students often talk of the degrading way in which it is viewed by others.

It's our responsibility as lecturers and students not to fall into this trap but to continue taking up and owning space as thinkers and philosophers of practice. Of course, we are not helped by the dominant discourse around what makes a thinker or philosopher; Google these words and you're likely to see a row of white men (often ancient, or - if French - smoking and looking pensive). The images do not speak to our many students or lecturers, be they female, people of colour, 18-year olds, non-binary or intersections across these identities and many more.

Searches for more recent theorists offer revealing trends too. Men are often pictured alongside women who are not named or acknowledged in the photo - but are theorists or thinkers in their own right. A search for photographs of Jean Piaget with Barbel Inhelder, John Dewey with Helen Parkhurst, Jean Paul Sartre with Simone de Beauvoir, and so on reveals interesting displays of power along with a lack of adequate naming and accreditation.

In her blog, Existing While Female, Jana Bacevic reminds us of the way in which women are rarely able to just sit and think; interiority for us is not seen as useful or productive. When women think, they should be in the company or others and/or otherwise occupied (embroidery; walking; or perhaps these days, engaged in well-being or self-care activities). Just sitting and thinking in space as a woman is in itself a counter-cultural act of resistance.

Men doing thinking stuff

Next Tuesday (24th September) myself and students will be instigating a photo hack which aims to take back space for us as under-represented thinkers and philosophers of practice.  Using the hash tag #BeMorePhilosopher we will create our own photographs of ourselves - perhaps emulating the men in the ones here; re-mixing them to photoshop ourselves into their spaces; or subverting the whole notion of what it means to think in public space and creating an entirely new genre.  We'll share them on this Padlet too

Why not join us?

Claire Birkenshaw and Nicole Gridley
'Thinking while female'

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.