Here at Bath we decided to collate some of the stuff we have been reading into monthly(ish) short reviews. In part this is to stimulate discussion- and at other times to demonstrate that reading some of these books and articles really does count as work. Generally speaking, our current interests revolve around emergent technology and security- especially technology futures, responsible innovation and disarmament. Much of the stuff we end up reading also stems from suggestions we get from other people we bump into in the department as well as from other faculty who recommend all sorts of weird and wonderful things- oh yes, and inevitably from Twitter. Welcome also to @AnnaRoessing who is soon to join us here at Bath.
The Cyborg Manifesto (1985)- Donna Haraway
My recommendation this month is, again, an established classic. Nonetheless, it’s a text that I think should get far more attention from scholars working at the intersection of STS-security-politics. Like many of the most perennially “useful” works, Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto offers not just sharp and insightful analysis – of what human bodies and minds in technological modernity mean/are/can be/ought to be – but also provides us with tools to think with.
Much like Foucault (whose own biopolitics receives short shrift from Haraway in comparison to her Cyborg politics), Haraway provides us with idioms or tropes to think with, but also with suggests new ways of thinking and relating different forms of knowledge, materiality, politics and life.
By way of illustration, I offer the following short abstract from the work – suggesting that such thought could be fruitfully brought into analyses of the power and politics of technologies and (more than/less than) humans in modernity – and particularly in relation to contemporary developments in cyber, bioconvergent and other technologies of war/security/state violence.
Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum, and these machines are eminently portable, mobile—a matter of immense human pain in Detroit and Singapore.
People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque. Cyborgs are ether, quintessence. The ubiquity and invisibility of cyborgs is precisely why these sunshine belt machines are so deadly. They are as hard to see politically as materially.
Rosi Braidotti and Maria Hlavajova (ed.) (2018) Posthuman Glossary.
The Posthuman Glossary is a collection of responses to the critique of humanism and anthropocentrism that explores the multiple and incoherent identities of the (post)human. It maps and helps navigating through the multiple discourses circulating about the notion of the Anthropocene, the human, and the post/a/trans/inhuman.
It’s guiding questions address how power relations feature in the post-human universe, it explores methodologies to analyse violence and resistance but also asks what role art and scholarship can play in movements of resistance.
Many contributions, therefore, address the prevailing power differences based on race, gender, class, sexuality, able-bodiedness in-between humans and in their interaction with the ecological and technological environments. Underlying is the critique of humanist ideals as well as the species hierarchies of anthropocentrism, including the power dimensions and privileges of Eurocentric traditions of critical thought.
The incorporation of individual perspectives and experiences allows a thoughtful exploration of the analytical and normative boundaries between the ‘inhuman’ and the ‘non-human’. Particularly refreshing is the critical engagement how prevailing perceptions of a ‘we’ becomes a way of perpetuating a form of anthropocentrism and to manifest entitlements associated with a particular notion of ‘the human’. In that context, much thought is given on the role of culture in shaping the contemporary (techno)-social imaginary. For its exploration, it draws from across different scholarship and traditions including artistic practices also with the aim to link different generations of thinkers, practitioners, and users of technologies. This also serves the translation of critical thought to every day and real-life issues.
In order to explore epistemic and methodological transformations that are necessary to avoid the reproduction of ‘inhuman’ structures, the project draws on neomaterialist approaches and monoistic process ontologies with reference to the work of (among others) Haraway, Latour, Deleuze, and Guattari. The critical conceptual part yet is embedded in the ethical concern for the relationship between concepts and real-life conditions with a focus on the role of affection, accountability, and diversity in the aim to find creative responses to current challenges.
Evelyn Fox Keller, “What Does Synthetic Biology Have to Do with Biology?,” BioSocieties 4, no. 2 (September 1, 2009)
I was at a conference recently* in which there was discussion of the emergence and character of the academic field of Aritificial Intelligence as a new ‘techno-science’ associated with emergent security apprehensions. It occured to me, that a key challenge facing non-scientists thinking about emergent fields is to define such fields as subjects of study. Inevitably, such defintions tend to hilight contingent (but important) dimensions which give a field a bounded form which make it a sensible field of study ( and not just a buzz word). There are several strategies that can be adopted to bounding such fields- distinguishing key groups of movers and shakers, who constitute the field vanguard, focusing on key institutions, or else focusing on some material, informational or technological distinction which defines the field. The final approach is more paradigmatic, in that it centers on the espoused ( or more embodied) intellectual aims of the field — focussing in particular on the emergence of new goals, languages and approaches to innovation which develop out of new working relationships between different groups of innovators on a new project. It is not clear to me if such epistemic aims should be of the most interest in tracing or critiquing the underlying politics of an emergent field ( although there is much great work on this). It is however something which certainly be-devilled me when if was first trying to get to grips with defining the field of synthetic biology. It is then something which needs to be perhaps be understood to ‘ get past’ and ‘place in context’ in order to show how interests, instiutionalised norms and power relations feed into shaping the organizing metaphores and languages which emerge with new fields.
There is a lots of great work on methaphores in science, and in the communication of science. But perhaps the piece which most sensitised me was this article- and is a great place to start- the book it relates to , which I will review at a later date is also wonderful.
This article examines the historical roots of synthetic biology, highlighting the multiple meanings and understandings of the term. Synthetic biology as it is used today refers to an especially wide range of endeavors, embodying an equally wide range of aims, and having correspondingly various relations to the activities generally included in the discipline of biology. To address the question of what synthetic biology has to do with biology, this article illustrates some of the ways in which the entanglement of synthetic biology as the epitome of technoscience and synthetic biology as an alternative, artificial biology plays out in three different examples of synthetic biology—one current and two historical.