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Posthuman  

Daniele Rugo

The “posthuman” is an umbrella term frequently employed in a number of theoretical and critical discourses. It is difficult to find a definition of the term that is shared by all the different approaches that use it, since “posthuman” seems to denote a very diverse group of phenomena, some ongoing and others only predicted or imagined. The “posthuman” is used to describe modes of being resulting from potential enhancements to human nature generated through applied science and technological developments. However, it is equally adopted to identify the decentering of human exceptionalism and the overcoming of the principles of humanism. Depending on the descriptive strategy adopted, the term can be used to identify very different philosophical and theoretical positions, from technoprogressive stances to outlooks that are very critical of technological determinism. These positions, rather than seeing in posthumanism opportunities for an extension of rational mastery and an overcoming of humanity’s biological limits, see in the posthuman condition a chance to redress the balance between human and nonhuman and promote horizontal ontologies and expanded ethics. What these different conceptual positions share is the blurring of boundaries between human, technology, and nature in favor of more hybrid and fluid configurations. Finally, while the term “posthuman” finds a home in science-fiction, it has come to be applied to literary and filmic works that are less rooted in traditional science-fiction themes and subject matters but rather respond to specific events or phenomena, in particular environmental and ecological ones.

Article

robots and cyborgs in antiquity  

Rocki Wentzel

Centuries before the popularization of robots in the fiction of the mid-20th century, the ancient Greeks were already dreaming up similar technological creatures and forms of artificial life. Ancient and modern views of technological beings offer a lens to consider what it means to be human by questioning the boundaries between natural and artificial, human and non-human, enslaved and free, mortal and immortal. Accounts of real-life automata, such as those of Philo and Heron of Alexandria demonstrate that such creations were noth, merely products of the imagination. Long before science fiction depicted dystopian worlds brought about by technological humanoids, the ancient Greeks and Romans already exhibited anxiety about such creations. In literary accounts, robots range from the useful, such as Hephaestus’ golden maiden assistants, to the destructive, such as Pandora and Talos. Pygmalion’s statue (Galatea), who is closely aligned with Pandora, has also inspired much reception in films such as Ex Machina and Her.

Article

Donna Haraway and Communication Studies  

Kevin Douglas Kuswa and Edward Lubich Kuperman

Donna Haraway is a prophet. Not only is her work indispensable to an understanding of science, technology, feminism, environmental studies, and protest, but she is also outlining a vivid description of where society is headed in a simultaneous array of dystopian and utopian futures. To think about human and nonhuman bodies (as well as their machinic and organic trajectories) requires engaging this provocative scholar and her work spanning over three decades. Like other prophets, Haraway has her critics, including many with understandable objections to her politics or her omissions. From any perspective, however, the way she merges genres and negotiates perspectives is unparalleled, even in critical and cultural studies. The insight she offers into the juxtaposition between humans and the environment shows how the interactions between the natural and social worlds are far more intricate and intertwined than previously conceived. The very survival of the planet depends on a new orientation to humanity’s impact on surrounding ecosystems, generating a personal, political, theoretical, and moral imperative to live in tandem with our surroundings, not in opposition. Reading Haraway thus becomes more than an academic exercise or form of intellectual tourism. In short, she is arguing for a sea-change in perspective that centers on animals and ecosystems as an indispensable part of human life on Earth. Whether thinking through the relationships between humans and primates, ants and acacias, art and politics, compost and toxicity, or gods and pigeons, Haraway always finds ways to blur science and fiction, speculation and empiricism, or sustainability and rupture. As she demonstrates that the Anthropocene is better thought of as the Chthulucene, Haraway provokes her readers to think deeply and in unique and reflective ways. The three main clusters that constitute her work are each monumental: first, the merging of human and machine in the form of the cyborg; second, the concept of “natureculture” and the double-edged sword represented by technology that can either help natureculture contribute to a radical emancipation or experience a catastrophic exploitation; and, third, the available means of politics within both ideological structures and new identities. Between the clusters the various criticisms of Haraway’s work will also emerge, both highlighting and interrogating the clusters themselves. Overall, quilting a shelter to brave the ongoing storm is Haraway’s objective, but she knows that such a goal necessitates staying with the trouble.

Article

Education Research Beyond Cyborg Subjectivities  

Annette Gough and Noel Gough

The term “cyborg,” as a combination of “cybernetics” and “organism,” was coined by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline in 1960 in a paper presented at a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conference on space exploration as a representation of a particular challenge of space travel: physically adapting a human body to survive in a hostile environment rather than modifying the environment. Soon after, NASA commissioned “The Cyborg Study” to investigate the theoretical possibilities of incorporating life support–related technologies into future spacecraft design. From the beginning, cyborgs were seen as the realization of a transhumanist goal—liberating humans from the limitations of the body and its environment by means of mechanization. Outside of space exploration, the term “cyborg” has evolved to encompass an expansive mesh of the mythological, metaphorical, and technical. Initially mainly taken up by science fiction writers to create superhumans, the notion entered cultural studies in the 1980s, particularly through Donna Haraway’s feminist “cyborg manifesto,” which argues that we are all cyborgs. Since then, terminology has shifted, and cyborgs are more likely called “posthumans,” “more-than-humans,” “other-than-humans,” or “companion species.” Discussions of cyborg and posthuman subjectivities in educational research have taken two main directions. The first argues that with equipment like tablets, smartphones, and laptops, students and teachers are already cyborgs—hybrids of human and machine—accessing information, resources, networks, groups, personal relations, libraries, and mass media through the Internet. Other research has investigated how the construction of cyborg and posthuman subjectivities changes the relationships between humans and their surroundings, devising new social, ethical, and discursive ways of thinking and representation.

Article

Hybridity  

David Huddart

Hybridity captures various ways in which identities are characterized by complexity or mixed-ness rather than simplicity or purity. It is a term that functions as a description of how things simply are, but it frequently appears to take on the characteristics of a prescription. It is not only that identities on various scales are hybrid, but also that they ought to be hybrid, or should become more hybrid. This prescriptive sense prompts reflection on the processes that drive mixed identities, shifting attention away from a static hybridity toward a dynamic and unending hybridization. The idea’s use in many different disciplinary formations typically implies that, while all identities are minimally hybrid, specific historical shifts have exaggerated and accelerated hybridity. Those shifts are associated with European colonialism, the Atlantic slave trade, neocolonial echoes, globalization, and the rise of the cyborg. Such associations raise the question of resistance to the prescriptive recommendation of hybridity to the extent that hybrid cultures are so frequently an outcome of violent domination. Formerly colonized cultures strive to re-establish more fundamental identities, casting the hybridizing colonial period as a brief if damaging and disruptive interlude. Resistance is also found in former imperial centers, with multiculturalism perceived as a hybridizing threat to the core integrity of a melancholic post-imperialism. And commentators continue to warn that automation and related AI will make unexpectedly diverse jobs obsolete in the very near future, a hybrid cyborg future that occasionally begins to feel more machine than human. Ultimately, it may seem that hybridity is opposed to various forms of indigeneity, purity, or in the most general case, humanity in general. However, such oppositions would be misleading, principally because hybridity as a cultural fact and as a concept implies nothing of necessity. Each context demands specific attention to the ways it is hybrid, the processes of hybridization, and the stabilities that follow.

Article

Defining and Exploring Asian American Speculative Fiction  

Stephen Hong Sohn

Asian American speculative fiction is an admittedly unwieldy literary category. This body of literature includes such diverse works as Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager, and S.P. Somtow’s Darker Angels. Central to analyzing such works is identifying their key genre conventions, which primarily involve reality-defying elements or tropes employed in fictional worlds. Chu’s Time Salvager, for instance, envisions a future temporality in which individuals can use time travel technologies. Three generic figures common in Asian American speculative fiction—the ghost, the vampire, and the cyborg, respectively—are depicted in Lan Samantha Chang’s Hunger, Julie Kagawa’s The Immortal Rules, and Ken Liu’s “The Regular.” Crucial to understanding Asian American speculative fiction is the need to scrutinize the manner by which the protagonists of these fictions attain incredible power through supernatural abilities. The influence these characters hold also comes with the burden of responsibility, leaving them to wrestle with ambivalence and moral choices to protect or to harm, to recognize or to dismiss. In this sense, Asian American speculative fiction can be fruitfully analyzed through the social justice paradigms that have long dominated critical and scholarly conversations.