I remember sitting in my Introduction to Politics undergraduate course having postmodernism explained to me. It was the mid 1990s.
“So in postmodernism, a chair is only a chair because we say it’s a chair.”
Oooookaaayyyy. My friend looked at me, rolled his eyes and said “F- this shit” and walked out of the lecture. I stayed because I loved the lecturer and felt the pull of knowledge and good grades more than the threat of social ostracism. I now play with poststructural feminism so something must have sunk in.
At the beginning of 2015 I sat in a sociology reading group and am told that the chair is equal to me. Thus began a year of various readings where I tried to get my head around posthumanism.
My desk had quite a role in this learning curve.
If it wasn’t for how much I like my reading group, I would have given up very quickly. If it wasn’t for the fact I had to remain a member of that group to get paid and become an adjunct to keep the toll access journals available, I would have given up. If I no longer felt the pull of knowledge and the approval that comes with doing your homework, I would have given up.
I couldn’t work out what made posthumanism so special. Why was it worth caring about?
Yesterday something clicked
I don’t claim in any shape or form to “get” posthumanism, but I think the clicks are worth celebrating. A colleague is actually looking at public clicks to try and understand a bit more about how we learn. As a methodologist, metacognition, or recognising that how we learn is just as important as what we learn, is really interesting to me. I also think that this is a realm of the autoethnography of learning.
So this is what clicked for me and how I believe it clicked. You may have to go on a weird ride with me and my psyche but that’s the point! I’ll set it out in a timeline of events that I attribute the click to:
- Frustrated emails, arguments and Tweets with people “in the know” and “outside the know” trying to understand posthumanism.
- Google searches of philosophers that straddle poststructuralism and posthumanism to try and find a link I could grasp (apparently Foucault).
- Relief that the last reading group for the year was over and I didn’t have to read any more posthumanism to be considered a part of the “cool group” for a while.
- Meeting with a colleague from my reading group who is also situated in poststructural feminism about a possible paper on activist writing. Getting sucked into a discussion about whether we could use a posthumanist lens over our knowledge work. Getting frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be a space for activism in a framework that says everything is equal.
- Tweeting my frustration at posthumanism and having a very postmodern discussion about a possible performance art conference presentation using satire as a theoretical frame.
- Laughing at how ridiculous we were but how much fun it would actually be.
- Orgainsing a holiday reading list completely free of posthumanists.
- Listening to a brief lecture by Anthony Giddens where he said that humanism that came out of the Enlightenment aimed to control the future through science and philosophy but that the future we live in is vastly different from the future the Enlightenment scholars imagined.
- Tweeting it.
- Tweeting another line from Giddens about how fundamentalism and commercialism are dialectically related and discussing that a bit in relation to ISIS.
- Going to bed.
- Waking up in the morning with a click.
This is what I worked out (and you who read this are welcomed into a scholarly conversation that both tells me I still don’t get it or raises new questions):
Posthumanism is the realisation that humans can no longer aim to control their future.
For example, a human might upload a video of a key archaeological/ historical site being bombed or a photograph of a child lying dead on the beach, but it is not just the humans that are in control of why it goes viral. No longer can we say that the words, who said them and what they mean are all we need to work out what is going on. The devices used have agency. There is a beyond human reason that those images are in millions of smart devices waiting for the right search term or Twitter feed. When thinking about why things happen in the world, we have to give equal attention to the things involved, not just the humans.
In relation to activism (particularly feminism in my world view) and this is where it gets a little fuzzy again…
Power structures are just as subject to this way of thinking. I’m not sure it is about bringing objects up to the level of humans, rather bringing humans who think they are pretty good, down to the level of objects. A human might think that humans are destroying the earth but that refuses to acknowledge that the earth is probably fully capable of destroying humanity.
Or making anything horizontal for that manner: iPads are just fancy pencils.
It’s not that the power structures don’t exist it’s just that they lose power when you think about them differently. It’s a mindset.
Am I on the right track? You know I don’t really care if I have it wrong because this makes sense to me at this moment in time. Whether it is posthumanist or not is another story.
Why I think this clicked
- Because I think I already half functioned in the realm as a historian (the weapons used in war have always been as much of a part of the conversation as the people in the war) and a poststructuralist (deconstructing the structures and simply casting a wider net to other people, objects, planets involved in why a thing happens).
- Because Giddens is a theorist I can relate to because his philosophical work is contextualised historically. Reading the scientists like Karen Barad was getting me nowhere.
- Arguing, asking stupid questions and making erroneous statements but having a reading group that still liked me despite my silly/stupid questions and out of whack ideas.
- Giving up and going to sleep (ex-Australian PM Bob Hawke allegedly said all his good ideas came when he was sitting on the toilet).
Have you ever had a go at metacognition/autoethnography of learning? Highly recommended having the thoughts sitting there in front of you. You begin to understand why you think in certain ways and make judgements about your thoughts and whether they are interesting, valid or just are.
These skills can be transferred into classrooms. At the end of a lesson, take five minutes for students to jot down what they know and how they know it.
Maybe you would like to have a go at it publically like me? Invite an audience in to help you move to the next level. Would love to hear about what you come up with.