Workshop: The Posthuman Condition: Who or What is in control?
The Posthuman Condition: Who or What is in control?
A Workshop in Cooperation by Monash University & Justus Liebig University Giessen
June 21-22 2018
GCSC, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Alter Steinbacher Weg 38, 35394 Giessen
The term “posthumanism” was first introduced by Ihab Hassan in “Prometheus as Performer: Towards a Posthumanist Culture” (1977). While Hassan playfully mentioned that the term “may” appear as a “dubious neologism” he simultaneously asserted that “five hundred years of humanism may be coming to an end.” The term has since been applied to a wide facet of contemporary theoretical positions. All approaches have in common the intent to question the most basic assumption of modern Western culture - the narrative of man as an autonomous agent - which relies heavily on universal and anthropocentric orientations co-founded on logic.
To counter the narrative of man as an autonomous agent contemporary scholarship on posthumanism has often aligned itself with Darwinian biology, Marxist economics, Freudian psychology, or poststructuralist theories. Those new epistemological endeavors also represent a reflection of contemporary Western cultures and societies, which has been increasingly confronted with events, movement, or objects at all levels of social interaction, political strands, forms of communication, or of meaning production in general that are “beyond human control”. And it seems that the traditional concepts of what it is to be human, of humanness, or of humanism is now in free fall when facing societies’ challenges today. The idea of human agency alone can’t seem to find the right answers to the ongoing technological, political, and epistemological changes and transformations any more.
One concept that might help in understanding the similarities in various processes being played out in society and in disciplinary scholarship is the question of control. Who or what is in control? Humans, machines, other life forms, objects, matter? And what disciplines in academia are taking notice, and in what ways? Even though limitations of human agency have been approached earlier, for example in Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the political limitations of human rights, the political, social, and technological dynamics today demand more dramatic responses. A variety of contemporary processes within western societies have challenged the universal privilege of a self-assured mankind, as well as the notions of dignity, ethics, and fundamental rights. Global migration and climate change, capital distribution and growing homelessness, terrorism and surveillance, and so many more political changes radically question Western standards. The layers of control arising do not seem to be orchestrated primarily by the political institutions and agents we have learned to rely on.
Technological developments and their social, political, and the epistemological intersections also challenge traditional human agency. When technology is “making things smart”, equipping objects with a sense of agency and cognitive capabilities the question of control adds another dimension, currently radicalized by the new developments of an internet of things, or the mechanization of the public realm by ubiquitous CCTV surveillance in the City, driverless cars, or smart homes. Alongside the political and technological spheres, a third strand should be highlighted: the question of the relationship between the human mind and human agency. A growing crisis in mental health issues in Western societies seems to speak to an increasing loss of controlled agency within the human mind, in particular within the individual “mind” traditionally celebrated as the driver of progress in modernity.
In its’ first step the workshop intends to bring together approaches from the Social Sciences and the traditional Humanities under the umbrella term “Control” to address in case studies possible intersections and future collaborations not only between disciplines and different methodological approaches, but also between languages, and between different academic cultures.