McGehee Post 9: Practical Posthumanism

“Power is not a steady location operated by a single masterful owner” (188).

The Posthuman is one of my favorite readings in the course to date. I already knew much of the historical background Braidotti presents via feminist theories, and I felt very drawn to her honest statements and attention to Eurocentric policing in the humanities that continues today.

In a previous feminist theories course I took about a year ago, we discussed secularism adamantly and the lack of questioning by Western academics as to its position in relation to the rest of the world, industrialized or not. Braidotti reminds us that the roots of Western feminism question, yet participate in Eurocentric notions and binaries of humanity. Black feminism and post-colonial theory fall outside of Western feminism or thwart secularity. But what is left by the wayside in wake of a dominant Western feminism that works from an assumed unity? Women, still, but mainly people of color, the disabled, LGBTIQ, animals and anything resting outside of the majority. So then white women perhaps enact the same structure used to subjugate them.

“This is the paradoxical and violent global context where the posture of Western ‘exceptionalism’ has taken the form of self-aggrandizing praise of the Enlightenment Humanist legacy” (36).

Braidotti’s discussion of science as a product of the secular, I thought to be particularly relevant to the course and previous class discussions. “Systems of meaning” place science as the voice of reason and a resistance to what we think of as religious indoctrination, but she says that this is also a type of religious practice that reinforces the negative effects of secularism. My overall cultural perception of secularism is that, widely, it is not seen as something negative, when in reality it is used as an emotive, colonial, policing device. It positions itself in a place of inarguable reason and logic (universalism) while forcing academics to view the world through a particular lens and ostracising others.

“According to the tenants of classical Humanism, the humanities were defined by their capacity to humanize our social behavior, values and civic interaction. This implies an implicit moral mission and concern for the well-being of academics, students and citizens alike” (147).

Classical humanism has been used as justification for a “violent and belligerent relationship to the sexualized, racialized and naturalized ‘others’ that occupied the slot of devalued difference” (144). Whereas, Braidotti prescribes, “Posthuman subjectivity reshapes the identity of humanistic practices, by stressing heteronomy and multi-faceted relationality, instead of autonomy and self-referential disciplinary purity” (145). She encourages us to look beyond the self as a paradigm or binary of the human and to look at the relationships between human communities and the relationship between humanity and the earth or the technological as the most constructive method for dismantling systems of oppression.

“Life, simply by being life, expresses itself by actualizing flows of energies, through codes of vial information across complex somatic, cultural and technologically networked systems…the expressive intensity of a Life we share with multiple others, here and now” (190).

The Posthuman, in Braidotti’s view, becomes an opportunity—a canvas where we are free to decide the constructs of our own humanity. While I’m unsure of the realistic possibilities of her realization, I feel that The Posthuman leaves us with a positive plan and future potential of the human through the release of a Eurocentric humanist foundation. The construct of humanity has appeared as a solid object since its conception, grounded and rooted in hundreds of years of history.

Tanya Clement’s “An Information Science Question in DH Feminism” working within situated locations as Braidotti does, posits, “…both standpoint theory and postmodern theory hold that all knowledge is historically and geographically created by embodied participants. As such, they offer this insistent embodiment as “a rich tradition of critiquing hegemony without disempowering positivisms and relativisms and a way to get nuanced theories of mediation”  [Haraway 1988, 578]. Ultimately, standpoint theory suggests that understanding the influence of multiple, embodied perspectives rather than attempting a “metadisciplinary” roving eye is necessary to enhancing knowledge.”

Clement likewise uses feminist theory and scholarship to deconstruct inherent subject positioning in scientific research for a “located accountability.” She lists five attributes in which DH appears to excel, or five areas that are being addressed in the wake of cultural theories exclusion from the field:

  1. Recognizing the various forms of visible and invisible work that make up the production/use of technical systems, locating ourselves within that extended web of connections, and taking responsibility for our participation.
  2. Understanding technology use as the recontextualization of technologies designed at greater or lesser distances in some local site of practice.
  3. Acknowledging and accepting the limited power of any actors or artifacts to control technology production/use.
  4. Establishing new bases for technology integration, not in universal languages, but in partial translations.
  5. Valuing heterogeneity in technical systems, achieved through practices of artful integration, over homogeneity and domination.

Clement, especially in point five, engages and encourages the fostering of Braidotti’s Posthuman call to action and offers a material checklist to follow in DH, perhaps offering a positive Posthuman route when engaging the sciences in humanist research. I think this type of work and strategy is at the heart of The Posthuman and gives a practical, ethical set of rules to follow when conducting research.


Bibliography:

Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013. Print.

Clement, Tanya. “An Information Science Question in DH Feminism.” School of Information, University of Texas at Austin. 2015. Web.

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