Cousins Post 7: The Other Is Our Own Machine

Though The Mangle of Practice and “Situated Knowledges” are written from very different positions and therefore have very different orientations and angles from which to produce their “situated knowledges”, it seems like they can also very easily be put in conversation with each other, especially with regard to the posthuman.
1. Both are cautious of binaries and seek to find if not a middle ground, at least a more complicated one:
Haraway feels that “it is not enough to show radical historical contingency and modes of construction for everything” (579). Unmasking objectivity as doctrine / historically contingent is not enough, because it leads to a pendulum swing too far in the other direction, wherein everything is relative and speaking about “reality” is impossible (577). While it is beneficial to problematize those “versions of objectivity…in the service of hierarchical and positivist orderings of what can count as knowledge” (580), Haraway would like to replace radical constructivism with feminist critical empiricism, more rooted in position and particular knowledge, a feminist, situated, and embodied objectivity rather than a denial of any objectivity whatsoever. Relativism, in positing everything as fully constructed, becomes the “mirror of totalization” in its smoothing over of the field of production.
Pickering seems similarly suspicious of binaries—while SSK has been successful in moving away from the “representational idiom”, it does so mainly on the basis of human agency at the expense of material agency. Pickering seems, like Haraway, not to want to fall into poles of “pure” objectivity and total relativism, the anti-human and the human-centered: “it is admitted that one can speak naively about nonhuman agency, but if one wants to do that…one has to speak in a possibly even more familiar and anti humanist idiom, that of scientists and engineers” (25). Instead of relying purely on human-centered or non-human centered visions of scientific culture and practice, Pickering wishes to develop a “post humanist space, a space in which the human actors are still there but now inextricably entangled with the nonhuman, no longer at the center of the action and calling the shots. The world makes us in one and the same process as we make the world” (26).
2. Both use agency to decenter the human subject:
Both Haraway and Pickering move toward decentered models through the concept of agency—Pickering pushes for the “decentering of the human subject” through the concept of the emergent “mangle” and a “dance of agency” between human and material agent. He starts from the “idea that the world is filled not, in the first instance, with facts and observations, but with agency” (6).
Haraway, too, pushes against the “analytic tradition” wherein “any status as agent in the productions of knowledge must be denied the object” (592). As Pickering reminds us that the world is a collaboration between human and material agents, Haraway reminds us that “…we are not in charge of the world” (594).
So while Haraway takes a more explicitly feminist standpoint, Pickering a more singularly posthuman one, there is obviously overlap between those two “categories” and their decentering objectives.
This overlap is what I’m interested in, especially considering our discussion last week about the role of women in labs / DH / as machines, and reading these two at the same time led me to the following questions:
  • Is the “posthuman” inherently feminist since humanism is inherently androcentric?
  • Haraway says that our “pictures of the world” should be “of elaborate specificity and difference and the loving care people might take to learn how to see faithfully from another’s point of view, even when the other is our own machine”. What value doe this seeing through the eyes of the machine have in DH practice?
  • Is this what Pickering is talking about with “the mangle”, or is Haraway’s vision more extreme (less collaboration, more decentralization)?
  • What does the reappropriation of vision look like in practice?
  • Are the digital, feminist, and posthuman already being intertwined in labs and centers?
I set out to try to answer at least that last question, and came upon two lab / centers that seem to work at the cross-section of the feminist, digital, and posthuman.

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The Posthumanities Hub https://www.tema.liu.se/tema-g/Posthuman/our-projects?l=en at Linköping University in Sweden “fosters transgressive feminist collaborations that explore the performativity and vulnerability of variously situated ‘nature cultures’…and the entanglement of materiality and meaning in the contemporary timespace of the ‘post humanities’ (https://www.tema.liu.se/tema-g/Posthuman/our-projects?l=en). Just from the initial language (performativity, situated, entanglement, materiality, timespace), this rings to me of both Pickering and Haraway. Their project topics range from Alzheimer’s to feminist environmentalism, to humanoid robots, to pet therapy, to “re-territorializng the internet” (which I REALLY want to read). Not all of their projects are digital…so would it could as a Digital Humanities Hub? But almost all of them are rooted in the cross-section of the posthuman and the feminist – again…are those inherently tied together? Does the former naturally find a home in the latter, or vice versa?
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The second group that seemed to work at this cross section between the posthuman, digital, and feminist was Deep Lab http://www.deeplab.net/aboutus/, a “collaborative group of cyberfeminist researchers, artists, writers, engineers, and cultural producers” ( http://www.deeplab.net/aboutus/). While less explicitly post humanist than The Posthumanities Hub, Deep Lab seems critical of “contemporary digital culture” in ways that do emphasize those material aspects of the digital that we seem to ignore – the world that we perhaps made, but do not necessarily control. Their research emphasizes “themes of privacy, security, surveillance, anonymity, and large-scale data aggregation” (http://studioforcreativeinquiry.org/projects/deep-lab). Deep Lab participants created a public access book (downloadable here: http://www.deeplab.net/thebook/)
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as well as this video:
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and a series of online lectures:
in partnership with the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnagie Mellon University – another “laboratory for atypical, anti-disciplinary, and inter institutional research at the intersections of arts, science, technology and culture” (http://studioforcreativeinquiry.org/projects/deep-lab).
Even after looking at the wealth of information and projects out there with just these two groups…I’m not sure I’ve answered my own question yet about the relationship between feminism, DH, and posthumanism. Are either of the three a condition for the others? Are these separate fields that overlap, or shades of the same category? Can they be useful for one another, and if so, only theoretically, or also in practice? Is posthuman / feminist DH just “doing” with those theories in mind?
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