Programme

(T110)
What does it mean to be Human in the 21st Century?
Location M214
Date and Start Time 01 September, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Paul Martin (University of Sheffield) email
  • Ilke Turkmendag (Newcastle University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This track brings together papers that consider understandings of what it means to be human in the 21st Century, how established notions are being remade in the light of new scientific and technological knowledge, and the formation of new politics, norms and imaginaries around future humans.

Long Abstract

New scientific knowledge of behaviour, cognition and sociality is challenging established ideas about the key characteristics that define us as human. In contrast to evolutionary discourses in the 1970s and 80's of people being selfish, rational actors, contemporary biology is increasingly constructing humans as altruistic, emotional and pro-social by nature. At the same time, new digital and biomedical technologies are reshaping the human body and enhancing physical capabilities and cognitive capacities. This has inspired novel imaginaries of technology enabled future humans and new utopian social movements, such as transhumanism. However, this focus on the perfectability of the body raises important questions about what is a 'normal' human. Conceptually, such tensions are reflected in the debate between post-humanist narratives that decentre the human and blur the boundaries between humans, animals and machines, and transhumanist ideas that stress human uniqueness and superiority. Such disputes have important political and normative implications. This track seeks to bring together a range of empirical and conceptual papers that consider contemporary understanding of what it means to be human in the 21st Century, how established notions are being remade in the light of new scientific and technological knowledge, and the formation of new politics, norms and imaginaries around future humans. This might include work on: new knowledge production regarding the biology of altruism, (economic) decision making and sociality; human enhancement/ modification technologies; imagined human futures; disability and ablism; theories of post- and transhumanism; and new biologies (e.g. epigenetics and neuroplasticity).

SESSIONS: 4/4/4

This track is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Epigenetic human: Maternal responsibility in making 'good' humans

Author: Ilke Turkmendag (Newcastle University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how the new developments in the the landscape of epigenetics studies of maternal effects changes the notions of being a human.

Long Abstract

Epigenetics is a newly emerging field, which explains the ways in which medical, nutritional and behavioural experiences influence the expression of our genes, and how these changes are transmitted to subsequent generations. The impact of maternal behaviour on their offspring's early development and later health has become a major research area in epigenetics over the last two decades, and the findings of this work are already entering the wider culture and shaping public debate. New research in the emerging field of epigenetics is suggesting a link between maternal behaviour during pregnancy and after birth, and the subsequent well-being of their children in both early and adult life. Although these molecular mechanisms are poorly understood, preventive prescriptions about reproductive health, pregnancy, early development and parenting have started proliferating in media, dedicated websites, and public health policy briefing reports. There is a serious risk that exaggerated and oversimplified messages about maternal behaviour may increase surveillance and regulation of pregnancy, and stigmatising mothers. This paper examines how epigenetics studies of maternal effects are represented in the public sphere and how responsibilities of mothers for the health of their children and future generations are understood and portrayed. It will analyse these emerging discourses in scientific reports, news and social media. The field of epigenetics is part of this comprehensive transformation that increasingly individualizes and privatizes the responsibility for social risks (Beck, 1992), and an example of a wider discourse of geneticisation, molecularisation and biologisation of being a human.

Implantable Brain Technologies and The Creation of Cyborgs

Author: Beth Strickland (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)  email

Short Abstract

The use of implantable technologies raises ethical concerns about penetrating bodily boundaries of what defines a person as human versus cyborg. This paper examines the ethical use of implantable brain devices and what it suggests for the creation of cyborgs.

Long Abstract

The use of implantable technologies within humans sparks debates about the ethical use of such technologies since they penetrate the traditional skin-and-skull boundaries of what constitutes "the body". These boundaries work to designate a person as human versus cyborg when using technology, but what happens to our conceptualization of "human" when technologies are implanted inside the body? The ethical debate about the use of these technologies posits on one end of the spectrum the acceptance of certain implantable devices, those used for therapeutic purposes, and at the other end the unacceptable use of devices to enhance normal physical capabilities. Individuals who use implantable devices for therapeutic purposes are viewed as still human even though their physical bodies have been merged with technological devices. However, those who use technology as a way to upgrade their body get labeled as cyborgs. Why does this distinction exist and why does it matter? In this paper I will first define the traditional physical boundaries of what defines a human. Next I will examine how these boundaries get crossed by the medical use of two implantable brain technologies: deep brain stimulation and brain computer interfaces. These technologies are then examined using the therapy versus enhancement framework to consider how these technologies represent the full physiological fusion between human and machine; yet, also demonstrate social aversion to labeling people as cyborgs. This paper concludes with a discussion about what this labeling aversion suggests for the discourse of implant ethics and the future of human embodiment.

Public Cancer Patienthood in the Post-Genomics Era

Authors: Tineke Broer (University of Edinburgh)  email
Emily Ross (University of Edinburgh)  email
Choon Key Chekar (University of Leeds)  email
Sarah Cunningham-Burley (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on publicly available data such as blogs and forums where people share their experiences and worries relating to cancer diagnostics, treatments, and research participation, we analyse the way developments in genomics are shaping public discourse and instantiations of cancer patienthood.

Long Abstract

Cancer diagnostics and treatment are dynamic areas both within research and practice, with new sequencing techniques aiming to target genomic alterations in individual tumours, thereby personalising medicine to individual patients. Where this may have tremendous potential for at least some groups of patients, others might not benefit as such from these new developments. Drawing on publicly available data such as blogs, forums and (auto)biographies where people share their experiences and worries relating to cancer diagnostics, treatments, and research participation, in this paper we aim to analyse the way developments in cancer genomics are shaping public discourse and instantiations of cancer- what we term 'public patienthood'.

Our analysis focuses on what public patienthood comes to mean in a post-genomics era, and in particular on the way in which cancer patienthood is constituted through blogs and forums on the internet. It raises questions such as: how are hopes and expectations constructed in this regulatory, ethically and scientifically complex field? How are identities of patients and families as well as identities of cancer shaped through new understandings and techniques in science? And how does this play out in a public place such as the internet, which has already been shown to shape how patienthood is constructed, experienced and expressed? This analysis will link in key ways to what it means to be human in the 21st century, including how genomic presents and futures shape our ideas of (public) humanity in the context of health, disease and patienthood.

Stressed bodies, epigenetics and the biology of social experience

Author: Paul Martin (University of Sheffield)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores: 1) different disciplinary constructions of social and biological stress in understanding inequalities in health; 2) the development of a molecular ontology of stress in the field of epigenetics and its role in the emergence of a new ‘biology of social experience’.

Long Abstract

Epidemiology has firmly established that high levels of deprivation, stress and inequality are strongly correlated with poor health. However, the precise mechanisms that mediate this relationship are poorly understood. The emerging field of epigenetics is increasingly highlighting how adverse environments and experiences are embodied through 'marks' on the genome that change patterns of gene expression across the life course and, possibly, between generations. Central to this emerging paradigm is the construction of different forms of social and environmental stress that are located in particular places and spaces , and which shape the bodies of both individuals and populations. This paper will present initial qualitative findings from a Leverhulme Trust funded project that explores this new field of research and how it is informing social policy. In particular, the analysis will focus on different disciplinary understandings of the concept of stress, how measures of social stress are being translated into biological metrics, and the emergence of a molecular ontology of stress. Central to this project is the creation of new disciplinary alignments between the biological and social sciences, emerging transdisciplinary research networks, and novel conceptual frameworks that emphasise bodily plasticity, the blurring of boundaries between internal and external milieu, and the local nature of biologies. In conclusion, it will be argued that epigenetics constitutes an important element of a new biology of social experience that reworks established notions of disease aetiology, personal and collective responsibility for health, and more fundamentally, what it means to be human in the contemporary age.

21st century green-collar workers

Authors: Roger Andre Søraa (Norwegian Uni. of Science and Technology)  email
Håkon Fyhn (Norwegian Uni. of Science and Technology)  email
Jøran Solli (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

What does it mean to be a human worker in the 21st century? This paper investigates how professional carpenters re-invent their work-life to both technological-, and climate change mitigation challenges and possibilities.

Long Abstract

What does it mean to be a human worker in the 21st century? This paper investigates how the old craft profession of carpentry re-invent itself in order to adapt to new technological transformations, and climate change mitigation challenges for their professional work-life. These professionals are balancing their new roles as "green-collar workers", between technological systems and traditional craft.

Many 21st century humans have a strong synchronicity with robots, machines and automation (Haraway, 1987). The authors asks how this is affecting the human workers, who not only must master new machines at work, but who also face being outsourced by the same "creatures". The transition to a more sustainable future as a research field has gained significant focus recently (Shove and Walker, 2007, Loorbach, 2007). However, there is a strong need for empirical research on how this affect the workers who implement the policies in action (Aune and Bye, 2005). Empirically, the study is founded in qualitative interviews with the craftspeople, working as energy-advisors, and in a rapidly automated sector.

The authors question how the new expertise of 21st century workers are balancing between automation and sustainable transition demands, and the traditional skills and lifestyle of their profession. Our findings suggest the rise of a new type of "green-collar worker", and discusses how this can be something more than just a profession, but also an identity and a lifestyle.

Prosthesis, Enhancement and Wounding: The 'Productive Body' in the 21st Century

Authors: Brian Bloomfield (Lancaster University)  email
Karen Dale (Lancaster University)  email

Short Abstract

Bringing together the themes of prosthesis, enhancement/wounding, systems of production and the productive body, this paper explores the question of what it means to be human in the 21st century.

Long Abstract

The notion that humans have always been a product of their technics (Stiegler, 1998), that technological prostheses are supplements that constitute us as human, renders problematic any hard and fast distinction between the 'human' and the 'posthuman' (Braidotti, 2013; Wolfe, 2010). The terms are mutually constitutive, one cannot be extracted from the other without remainder. But if the notion of prosthesis is central to our understanding of the human/posthuman subject it can, as Jain (1999) reminds us, be associated just as much with 'wounding' as with enhancement; whether this be the body constituted as deficient or lacking in the light of technological enhancement; or more literally if one considers the negative consequences of the systems of production into which working bodies become integrated. Indeed, there is always a socio-political context to the technological remaking of the human, the scientific imaginaries of human enhancement are not random but take material form in respect of what is socially valued (Hogle, 2005). For example, abolition of the need for sleep offers the prospect of employees who might be ceaselessly productive. The demands of economic production, revolutionised through new technological systems, have long impacted human embodiment through efforts to harness the capabilities of the 'productive body' (Guéry & Deleule, 2014), with the consequent blurring of the presumed boundary between the biological and the social (Alaimo, 2010). By bringing together the themes of prosthesis, enhancement/wounding, systems of production and the productive body, this paper thereby explores the question of what it means to be human in the 21st century.

Who Controls The Cyborg?

Author: Gerard Briscoe (Glasgow School of Art)  email

Short Abstract

The fourth discontinuity to be overcome is the distinction between humans and machines. We integrate technology when it is enabling, but unintended consequences results in disabling effects. Including, when the balance of control becomes lost and integration becomes degenerative.

Long Abstract

It has been suggested that the fourth discontinuity to be overcome is the distinction between humans and machines. We consider posthumanism to include the range of debates that examine the potential changes in the human body and its relationship with technology. So, debating what is human, especially with regards to our relationships with technology, in which humans can be seen as mixtures of machine and organism. Cybernetics can be seen as the foundational step in this fourth discontinuity, which governs the study of regulatory systems and self-governing mechanisms. This is because it was the point when machines and humans were imagined as self-regulating patterned information processing systems. These cyborg constructions are the conversion of the material into the informational in two ways; as the flesh into data (extropanism) and the conversion of data into flesh (technology embodiment). Therefore, the realisation of the posthuman will be defined by the nature of the relationship between the human and technology in cyborg constructions. We integrate technology when it is enabling rather than disabling, but unintended consequences can result in disabling effects. Including, when the balance of control becomes lost and the integration becomes degenerative. For example, e-mail has become ubiquitous in modern life, as access has become available via smartphones and tablets. However, this ubiquity has created the phenomenon of being unable to 'unplug' from work email. We conclude by considering that risks emerge, similarly to open data sets, from the combination of elements rather than the individual elements themselves.

Is Embryology Posthumanist?

Author: Isabel Gabel (University of Chicago)  email

Short Abstract

The exclusive focus on genetics has obscured an alternate path to thinking the human and the posthuman, namely that offered by embryology. In the 20th century, embryology was an immensely compelling field for both theorists and experimental scientists attempting to rework the boundaries of the human.

Long Abstract

When it comes to defining the human in the 21st century, genetics is usually taken to be the key to understanding the material basis of our species, as headlines about Neanderthal DNA in Europeans and Asians attest. In this paper, I argue that the exclusive focus on genetics has obscured an alternate path to thinking the human and the posthuman, namely that offered by embryology. In the 20th century, embryology was an immensely compelling field for both theorists and experimental scientists attempting to rework the boundaries of the human. I offer two examples. The first is Raymond Ruyer, a philosopher who gained detailed knowledge of embryogenesis and teratology during the Second World War and used this knowledge to develop a non-humanist metaphysics. The second is the contemporary biophysicist Henri Atlan, who writes embryology into the history of complexity, ultimately arguing that it is not the concept of "human" but the concept of life itself that has become irrelevant in the 21st century.

Renaming, redefining and remaking: Emergence of genopolitics and homo politicus

Author: Kaya Akyuz (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

The emergence of the research field genopolitics coincides with the developments in biotechnologies and data practices after the Human Genome Project. This paper provides an analysis of the genopolitics literature to reproduce the conflicting static and dynamic imaginaries of the new homo politicus.

Long Abstract

Recently, "genopolitics" emerged as a new name for an interdisciplinary research field that unites genetics with political science. Under the banner of empirical biopolitics, similar research has been conducted even before the beginning of Human Genome Project (HGP) using twin-studies approach. However, in the post-HGP era, with the decreasing costs of genotyping, increasing availability of survey-based genetics data and improving bioinformatics tools, research on the genetic basis of political behavior gained a momentum. With this paper, I aim to shed light on the efforts of making 'genopolitics' by following the post-HGP empirical research that can be classified under this domain. In so doing, the imaginaries of an evolved political species, homo politicus, will be reproduced through the accounts of genopoliticians in peer-reviewed research articles. Rather than considering a future human, genopolitics traces the political human of today in the evolutionary dynamics of the past. In this regard, the relatively static genes as unimportant factors in social science analyses are starting to attract more attention from the social scientists with the onset of epigenetics as a potential tool to explain the dynamics of social processes in more convenient terms by linking genes to the environment. In this paper, 'the genopolitics project' is analyzed through considering the effects of survey-based genotyping and epigenetics on the explanations of political behavior at the genetic level in order to shed light on the conflicting imaginaries of static and dynamic homo politicuses.

Temporality and the Specious Present: time, self, and perception

Author: Lisa Nelson (University of Pittsburgh)  email

Short Abstract

While the splintering of our on line and off line selves has been acknowledged, not yet considered is how and why the Internet as a medium might be a contributing cause of it, transforming our lived experience and perception in ways which affects our judgment of consequences and of others.

Long Abstract

Temporality and lived experience has been at the heart of a long standing philosophical debate centered on the questions regarding perception, the nature of time and the phenomenology of the past, present and future. The idea of networked time marks a transition in this debate, not only in terms how the Internet may transform notions of temporality and lived experience, but in particular how networked time affects our perceptions and interactions on line. Should we assume that as we transform space into virtual space, time shrinks accordingly and because the spatial constraints have been lifted, we become closer? Are these new temporal worlds constructed by information technologies a "new engagement" or a lesser engagement with reality and those who we encounter in it? Yet, to better understand how and why our interactions via the Internet may be affected by the medium itself, the question has to be framed in the on-going discussion about lived experience, phenomenology and the perception of past, present and future. Phenomenological epistemology assumes consciousness plays an active role in constituting the phenomenon it observes. In this sense, the Internet as a medium may alter the noetic stance (the directional aspect of consciousness) and may bracket our perception of the noematic aspects of phenomenon. The paper represents a chapter in a forthcoming book with Cambridge University Press.

The construction of dual-process models from lab to policy

Author: Chad Valasek (UC San Diego)  email

Short Abstract

Through historical research, I trace the racialized and able-bodied biases of behavioral economics and their resulting effect on global health policies. Resistance to these policies, indicates the significance of non-conforming bodies and the possibility of alternative practices and technologies.

Long Abstract

Behavioral economics and related policies tend to draw heavily upon a particular theory of human nature: that all human subjects are of two minds. This 'two minds' concept is better known as dual-process theory, which suggests that our brain is made up of two contrasting and sometimes collaborative systems of information processing and decision-making. The first system is argued to be most connected to our evolutionary past and most associated with affect and automatic processing; System 2 is considered the more recently evolved system, and is seen as a more deliberative, rule-governed, rational utility maximizer system. Over the last ten years, dual-process theory has increasingly come to be used (by psychologists and policy-makers) as a conglomerate conceptual framework for, not only understanding human behavior, but for assessing and intervening in a variety of social and health problems at the national and global scales, with the effect of perpetuating hegemonic labels and governance of "deficient" individuals (disabled, fat, children, etc.). This paper attempts to understand (1) the emergence of self-regulation failure as a psychologized and medicalized concept, requiring public health policy interventions on an international and transnational scale, and (2) the national-level consequences that BE has entailed in three case countries: the United Kingdom, the United States of America and South Africa (3) the role of non-conforming bodies (and minds) as sites of both governance and possible resistance.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.