Seminar 3

Wikis > Seminar 3

Radical Methodologies for the Posthumanities

Eventbrite - Disrupting the Humanities

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This seminar will focus on some of the radical methodologies that are questioning the established disciplinary forms, methods and practices of the humanities. It will explore how these emergent methodologies are finding ways of moving beyond the humanist emphasis in the humanities on the individualized creative human author, originality, intellectual property, the fixed and finished object, writing and the book.

In doing so this seminar will provide a space for thinking further about the distributed, heterogeneous, humans, nonhumans, objects and non-anthropomorphic elements that are collectively involved in the creation, circulation and performance of ‘humanities’ research and scholarship. To provide just one example, in the case of an ink on paper and card book, this would take in most obviously its publishers, editors, peer-reviewers, designers, copyeditors, proofreaders, printers, publicists, marketers, distributors, retailers, purchasers and readers. But it would also embrace all the other ‘multiple connections and lines of interaction that necessarily connect the text to its many “outsides”’ (Rosi Braidotti): those concerning the labour involved (e.g. that of the agency workers, packers and so-called ‘ambassadors’ in Amazon’s warehouses), the financial investments made, the shipping and container costs, the environmental impact, the resources used, the plants, dyes, oils, petroleum distillates, salts, compounds, pigments and so on.

In the dynamic ‘meshwork’ (Tim Ingold) of ‘intra-actions’ (Karen Barad) between the human, the animal, the environment and technology that constitutes the University in the 21st century (including all the associated software, code, data and algorithms, their physical supports and material substrates: wires, chips, circuits, disks, drives, networks, airwaves, electrical charges etc.), who or what is it exactly that produces knowledge and that can know? What does the use of networked digital media, devices and platforms mean for our methods and the way we carry out research? How do they constitute and mediate its means of production and communication? And if knowledge and research are the result of complex processes involving both human and non-human objects and actants, what does this mean for politics and ethics? In short, how can we perform knowledge-making practices differently, to the point where we actually begin to take on (rather than take for granted, repress or ignore) the implications of the posthuman for how we live, work and act as academics and researchers? What can the humanities become in all these entangled constellations?


17:00 Introduction (Janneke Adema- Coventry University)

17:05 Monika Bakke (Adam Mickiewicz University)

Deep time environments: Art and the materiality of life beyond the human

Human experience is not limited to living on Earth; being Earth or becoming-earth actually seems more accurate. A planetary perspective on human life vis-à-vis nonhuman forms brings to our attention not only vast spatial dimensions but also immense temporal dimensions. The latter indicate the co-evolution of organic and nonorganic forms in complexities and scales revealing the strong geological forces at work in all life. In my talk, I will analyze art works by Katie Paterson, Oliver Kellhammer and Adam Brown which investigate the materiality of life in temporal dimensions beyond those of the human. These art works stand on the crossroads of art and science, and with their own specific methods of inquiry (which is, above all, performative rather than representational), resonate with posthumanist planetary perspectives. They offer viewers (and among them posthumanist theorists, in particular) another means of engagement, through re-enactment and intervention, with tentative materialities of immense temporal dimensions.

!7:25 Lesley Gourlay (Institute of Education – UCL)

Posthuman texts: nonhuman actors, mediators and technologies of inscription.

In the study of textual practices in higher education, there is a recognition of the processes by which social actors are enrolled in reflexive processes of meaning- making and constitution of subjectivities, via a range of semiotic resources. However, the agentive role of nonhuman objects has received less attention in this literature. Drawing on posthuman and actor-network perspectives, this paper will report on a research project investigating the day-to-day embodied textual practices of 12 adult postgraduate students over a one-year period. The analysis will focus how mobile devices, screens and print literacy artefacts were enrolled in a complex set of posthuman semiotic practices, drawing on Hayles’s (1999) notion of the embodied virtuality and Latour’s (2005) concept of nonhuman actor as mediator. I will explore the transcontextual boundary of digital / print and how objects act not only to create new assemblages, but also to enable transitions across contextual boundaries, leading to disruption of ‘commonsense’ binaries around text and author, absence and presence, digital and print, human and device. The implications of a radical challenge to the notion of singular, stable, human authorship will be explored, concluding that a posthuman reconceptualization of authorship serves to destabilise the humanist ideologies underpinning how ‘the university’ itself is conventionally understood.

17:45 Discussion

18:10 Break

18:25 Niamh Moore (University of Edinburgh)

‘Humanist’ Methods in a ‘More-than-Human’ World?

This paper takes recent methodological innovations and related conceptual developments as an opportunity to reflect on the possibilities of recuperating what may be considered a ‘humanist’ method – oral history – for ‘more-than-human’ research. Oral history, often deployed in the context of subjects of social movements asserting agency and making history, may seem the paradigmatic ‘humanist method’. Many recent methodological innovations emerge out of what have variously been termed the affective turn, the emergence of posthumanism, animal studies, and the turn to nature and materiality. The paper takes as its departure point Sarah Whatmore’s careful articulation of ‘the urgent need to supplement humanist methods that rely on generating talk and text, with experimental practices that amplify other sensory, bodily and affective registers and extend the company and modality of what constitutes a research subject’ (Whatmore 2006: 606-607). Though Whatmore is not entirely dismissive of humanist methods, I ask whether it makes sense to think of methods as humanist, drawing analogies with feminist reflections on whether there is a ‘feminist method’. I suggest we reconsider oral history as a practice, and not merely a technique which generates talk and text, and reconceptualise our notions of ‘human/ist’ research subjects. I explore the possibilities of rethinking methods, such as oral history, for more-than-human research, through drawing on my own ethnographic oral history research on women’s environmental activism.

18:45 Iris van der Tuin (Utrecht University)

Reading diffractive reading: were and when does diffraction happen?

My contribution discusses diffractive reading and asks questions about the spatiotemporality of diffractive reading: where and when does diffraction happen in reading processes? Furthering Donna Haraway’s 1992/1997 formulations, Karen Barad practices the reading through one another of texts and/or oeuvres in her 2003 article ‘Posthumanist Performativity’. Furthermore, Barad is very clear about the distinction between classical and quantum ways of conceptualizing diffraction in Meeting the Universe Halfway (2007). In my contribution I will unravel these two ways of reading diffractive reading by discussing my own diffractive readings, published from 2011 onwards. I will attempt to come up with a very precise answer to spatiotemporality of diffractive reading, the proof of the pudding of which is work I have done on Susanne K. Langer’s 1953 Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art Developed from Philosophy in a New Key. I will discuss how this work is in and of itself diffractive.

19:05 Discussion

19:30 End


Lesley Gourlay (Institute of Education – UCL)

Lesley Gourlay is a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literacies in the department of Culture, Communication and Media, UCL Institute of Education. Her background is in Applied Linguistics, and her current research interests include academic textual practices, posthuman and sociomaterial perspectives on higher education, and the implications of digital mediation for the contemporary university.

Iris van der Tuin (Utrecht University)

Iris van der Tuin is associate professor of liberal arts and sciences at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Recent publications are Generational Feminism: New Materialist Introduction to a Generative Approach (Lexington Books, 2015), The Subject of Rosi Braidotti: Politics and Concepts edited with B. Blaagaard (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014) and New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies with R. Dolphijn (Open Humanities Press, 2012).

Monika Bakke (Adam Mickiewicz University)

Monika Bakke is associate professor of philosophy at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland. She writes on contemporary art and aesthetics, with a particular focus on posthumanist, gender and cross-cultural perspectives. The author of two books: Bio-transfigurations: Art and Aesthetics of Posthumanism (2010, in Polish) and Open Body (2000, in Polish), co-author of Pleroma: Art in Search of Fullness (1998), and editor of Australian Aboriginal Aesthetics (2004, in Polish), Going Aerial: Air, Art, Architecture (2006) and The Life od Air: Dwelling, Communicating, Manipulating (2011). Since 2001 she has been an editor of the Polish cultural journal Czas Kultury (Time of Culture).

Niamh Moore (University of Edinburgh)

Niamh Moore is a Chancellor’s Fellow in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, where her work is centrally concerned with re-visioning an ecofeminist politics of sustainability. Her background is in interdisciplinary feminist studies and she works across many fields – the social sciences and the humanities, as well as involving peace camps, allotments and an LGBT youth group. She has a forthcoming book: The Changing Nature of Eco/feminist Politics: Telling Stories from Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver: UBC Press, April 2015.

Venue and Date

Monday March 9th
Coventry University
Jordan Well
Ellen Terry Building, Room 130 (ET130)
CV1 5RW Coventry
United Kingdom