ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P12)

Being, being human, and becoming beyond human

Location Quincentenary Building, Wolfson Hall B
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Aaron Parkhurst (University College London) email
Timothy Carroll (UCL) email
Mail All Convenors

Summary

This panel explores quests for redefinition and enlightenment through a diverse look at techniques and technologies that people incorporate to reconstruct identity, the body and the self, questioning and challenging normative notions of human-ness through engagements with the more than human world.

Long Abstract

Contemporary discourses concerning cyborgian and post-human enhancement presuppose an aspect of novelty in emergent relationships to the human and the humanoid other. This panel draws on a breadth of ethnographic case studies which each, in their own way, question the relationship between the body and the material, medical or ecological extension of the self. Through case studies which explore novel and historic intimacies that humans create as they partner themselves with technologies of past and present, this panel approaches new ways to think through the more-than-human-world. It questions dominant public discourse, which creates artificial boundaries between normative body practices, healing, performance and enhancement. The panel asks for alternative approaches to engage with streams of agency that weave through new urbanized landscapes and systems of social relations. Human beings are constantly exploring new ways to be 'beyond' what they perceive themselves to be, and human creativity often searches to incorporate 'things' and 'techniques' outside themselves to reconstruct identity, the body and the self: the destruction of physicality in pursuit of possibility. This panel explores these quests for redefinition and enlightenment through a diverse look at techniques and technologies. Religious materials, cyborg engagements, alternative theatres, and invasive medical procedures all beg thought on reshaping common notions of what it means to be human and to be limited by the human body.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Technologies and human ‘becoming’ in two cancer wards in urban India

Author: Alison Macdonald (UCL)  email

Summary

This paper explores acts of becoming in urban India as patients and clinicians seek to restore health and provide health services in Mumbai Cancer centres. In thinking through the anthropology of ‘human’ becoming, the ethnography demonstrates moments of being alternative to the restraints which often shape individuals’ spheres of living.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the ways in which ‘technologies’- broadly defined in relation to the myriad modalities of cancer treatment- correspond to instances of human becoming in urban India. It examines how those technologies typically deemed as creating pain and crisis, such as the radiotherapy machine, lack of drugs and an overcrowded and under-served hospital in resource poor setting, are in fact constitutive of diverse forms of human aspiration as a mode of ‘becoming’. Examining two contrasting ethnographic moments, the paper ruminates on the lives of two individuals: a patient navigating treatment and a doctor endeavouring to provide ‘good enough’ care in Mumbai. The paper explores how these individuals inhabit particular spheres in two general cancer hospitals and how this translates into modest but hopeful instances of becoming. Anthropological approaches often theorise such endeavours in light of concepts such as social suffering, structural violence and systems of biopower that can over determine the structural and / or technological impositions made on, and through, persons and things. Drawing on the work of Biehl and Locke, I attempt to think through how individuals move beyond the constraints which shape their everyday endeavours in order to imagine brighter futures.

Clothed in grace: ritual technologies and becoming more than human

Author: Timothy Carroll (UCL)  email

Summary

This paper looks at the intersection of religious practice and technological enhancement. It explores a process of becoming more-than-human in an Orthodox Christian ritual setting and asks for a collapse in the analytical approach to religious and scientific modes of human enhancement.

Long Abstract

This paper looks at the intersection of religious practice and technological enhancement. Within the theological and ritual observations of Eastern Orthodox Christianity there is a recurrent motif of 'becoming'. Orthodox informants expressed that they were still 'becoming Orthodox' and people spoke of 'becoming like' the saints and God. As is true of many salvation religions, much of the focus in Orthodox becoming is apocalyptic in focus, however the use of specific ritual objects, in cooperation with the body, also bespeak a process of becoming more than what one 'naturally' is. While an individual is ordained to the office of the priesthood, and certain social privileges and responsibilities come with that office, much of the sacerdotal ministries of the priesthood cannot be fulfilled by the priest in his own person. To perform various liturgical functions and to perform the sacraments, the priest must have certain items of clothing on his body. It is only in the combination of an ordained priest and the appropriate vestments that, for instance, a priest is able to absolve a penitent's sins. The priest, in his own capacity as a human, is not able to perform said ritual actions; through the addition of specific pieces of cloth to his body, however, he gains the (divine) ability to perform these rites. The paper explores this process of becoming more-than-human in a ritual setting and asks for a collapse in the analytical approach to religious and scientific modes of human enhancement.

Reclaiming humanity: a return to nature through the cyborgian body

Author: Aaron Parkhurst (University College London)  email

Summary

Through brief case studies that focus on the lived experience of self-proclaimed 'cyborgs', this paper questions popular discourse on the 'enhanced' person, and examines conflicting perceptions of the future body as both 'post' and 'pre' human.

Long Abstract

Popular discussions on cyborg technologies often focus on the future body, influencing 'trans-' and 'post-' humanism discourse. Through brief case studies that focus on the lived experience of self-proclaimed 'cyborgs', this paper questions popular discourse on the 'enhanced' person, and examines conflicting perceptions of the future body as both 'post' and 'pre' human. Emerging technologies allow some individuals to redefine normative aesthetic and sensory techniques through novel partnerships with cybernetics. As these individuals begin to construct cyborgian identities, many of them develop their own theories of adaptation informed through perceptions of bodies past and future. For some, the future body is seen as transcendent, becoming beyond human, yet for others, the future body is a reclamation of human ability, a return to nature and techniques of the past. This paper attempts to understand these positions in the context of how these individuals feel the world and create emotional perspective through intimacy with new tech.

Decoding the body: health data, genetic testing and hacking biological futures

Author: Lydia Nicholas (UCL)  email

Summary

A computer system must be open to users' understanding to be fixed or adapted. 'Lifeloggers' describe health as an operation of biological code; they open this system through technologies such as data collection and genetic testing, and leverage this knowledge to anticipate & modify health outcomes.

Long Abstract

Digital environments in which users work, socialise and learn are constructed by computer programs executing instructions. In such spaces knowledge is skill is power. Those who understand the system can identify and fix problems or adapt the system to suit their needs. Those who do not must blindly follow its rules, no matter how ill-fit to their circumstance, and are helpless in the face of system failures.

My previous research into the maker movement explored how experience with the affordances of computer programming affected informants' relationships to physical possessions, particularly expectations that objects be open- both to comprehension and physical modification. Adapting or 'hacking' a mass-produced possession demonstrated their understanding, their power and their identity as a responsible, creative owner.

This paper discusses communities who explicitly extend this project from possessions to bodies. It draws from interviews, online surveys, workshops, reading marketing materials and personal accounts, and uses Foucault, Armstrong's Surveillance Medicine, and Benson on body projects. It examines the means by which being healthy is understood and performed amongst people engaging in health data collection often described as 'lifelogging' or 'quantified self'. Amongst informants health outcomes were described as the operation of bodies executing instructions- the nexus of which was understood to be genetic code- and processing inputs such as diet, lifestyle and training. Responsible body-management was a project of opening this system to comprehension through technologies including data collection, trend analysis and genetic testing, then leveraging this knowledge to anticipate and alter the body's future.

Looking to listen: how do deaf people contend with concepts of normality through both everyday and onstage performances?

Author: Kelly Fagan Robinson (UCL)  email

Summary

This paper challenges accepted ideas of ‘aural as normal', presenting instead alternate value that visual-centric people possess and how this is revealed through performances of 'Deafness'.

Long Abstract

Discourse around Deafness in the UK has typically been relegated to three tracts as highlighted by Young and Hunt (2011) - conditional/medical deficiency, cultural difference and societal disability, coloured in large part by 135 years of oralist and interventionist policies. Because visuality has been regularly overlooked by the majority in favour of deafness as a lack of access to sound, Deaf people have often conformed to majority-recognised attributes, capital and values in their everyday lives in order to 'get-on'. This has often placed onus on proving Deafness as a culture through its similarities to Hearingness, rather than using Deaf vocabulary and value-systems. Paddy Ladd's concept of 'Deafhood' has sought to lay bare the approaches that Deaf people take to mediate the boundaries between these majority ideas of what Deafness can mean while also exploring potential, Deaf-centric alternatives, namely visuality and its empowering value.

During observations of one Deaf theatre, aural-centric strictures seemed to be stripped back revealing an additional realm of 'Deafness.' Theatrical praxis offered not only the stage as a site of multiplicity, a heterotopia (Foucault, 1984:6), but also revealed the Deaf body's own multiplicity: its condition, history, society and culture. During the performance process, Deaf bodies became sites of convergence and potential subversion, heterotopias themselves, acknowledging the accepted societal frameworks, but also controverting the expected norms. Deaf bodies were re-constituted in the theatrical space enabling understanding of how Deaf actors mediated or 'converted' (Becther,2009) between these constructs, challenging what both 'deafness' and 'normal' can mean.

The corporate body: biosocial relations in the production of prosthetic technologies

Authors: César Enrique Giraldo Herrera (University of Oxford)  email
Gísli Pálsson (University of Iceland)  email

Summary

Modern orthopedic prosthetics, not only imitate biological organs or their functions, they are designed and manufactured corporately. We explore how prosthetics embody biosocial relations amongst researchers, amputees, materials, body parts, artifacts, and theories.

Long Abstract

By employing apprenticeship methodologies of ethnography as an intern at a multinational biomedical engineering corporation, this article examines instrumentalism and the prosthetic metaphor that views bodies as instruments and analyses society organically, ultimately instrumentalising people. The ethnography is developed with a worldwide leader in the development and manufacture of non-invasive orthopaedics, renown as an innovator for its bionic limbs. The work focuses one of its first and most profitable products: an interface tegument that facilitates the adhesion, support and cushioning of the prosthesis. The ethnography developed affords two interrelated perspectives: First, an approach to biomedical corporate life, the way R&D Biomedical engineers engage and interact with bodies, materials, designs, prototypes, artefacts, colleagues and amputees, developing prosthetic technologies within a corporate setting. Second, it affords an understanding of the organs constituting the lower limbs, of their relations amongst one another and with the rest of the body. Combining and comparing these views, after the biosocial and posthuman turn, we subvert the prosthetic metaphor in order to regard instruments as organic social agents constituting part of a social or "corporate" body.

"Eye from an I": a survey of regenerative medicine in Japan

Author: Jesse Bia (University College London)  email

Summary

This paper will outline the current state of regenerative medicine in Japan, placing its potential benefits and obstructions within a cultural framework, in order to highlight a dynamic debate which holds profound implications for Japanese patients at the point of care.

Long Abstract

Japan is a national frontrunner in the research, development, and escalating usage of regenerative medicine. While relevant within a global context, this status holds profound implications domestically, particularly for Japanese patients suffering organ failure. There are myriad taboos acting as catalysts for a deep discomfort with organ transplantation among a majority Japanese patients who qualify for transplantation. Many of these personal prohibitions revolve around inherited notions of ritual purity and body conception, specifically the pollution and imbalance associated with modern allogeneic transplant: receiving an organ from another individual.

Regenerative medicine - the collection and processing of biomaterials from human bodies and the subsequent transplantation of these biomaterials back into the source patients - is an autologous process: healing the body with one's own cells. Through a variety of novel techniques, the procedural implementation of regenerative medicine could signify a major paradigm shift in subjectively viable treatment options for Japanese patients at the point of care; facilitating treatment by circumventing the taboos associated with allogeneic transplant. Additionally, parallels between the practice and philosophy of biomedical regenerative medicine and traditional kampo healing are forging a relationship between the two which is simultaneously both symbiotic and conflicting. This paper will outline the current state of regenerative medicine in Japan, placing the potential benefits and obstructions within a cultural framework, in order to highlight how even in the face of innovative dynamism, medical development is not necessarily a harbinger of acceptance.

Medical borderlands: engineering the body with plastic surgery and sex hormones in Brazil

Authors: Alexander Edmonds (University of Edinburgh)  email
Emilia Sanabria (Ecole normale supérieure de Lyon)  email

Summary

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Brazil, this paper explores experimental medical and social uses of sex hormones and plastic surgery.

Long Abstract

This paper explores medical borderlands where health and enhancement practices are entangled. It draws on fieldwork in Brazil on plastic surgery and sex hormone therapies. These two therapies have significant clinical overlap. Both are made available in private and public healthcare in ways that reveal class dynamics underlying Brazilian medicine. They also have an important experimental dimension we link to Brazil's regulatory context and societal expectations placed on medicine as a means for managing women's reproductive and sexual health. Off-label and experimental medical use of these technologies is linked to experimental social use: how women adopt them to respond to pressures, anxieties and aspirations arising in work and intimate life. The paper argues that experimental use of sex hormones and plastic surgery is becoming morally authorized as routine management of women's health, integrated into mainstream Ob-Gyn health care, and subtly blurred with practices of cuidar-se (self-care) seen in Brazil as essential for modern femininity.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.