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Theme 9: Theorizing Posthumanism

16:00-16:20: Sophie von Redecker (University of Kassel) - Agrarian Posthumanities, or rooting theory into practice.

Paper abstract

My research is an entanglement of my studies of Agriculture, my practice as an organic farmer, and thoughts and theories of the so-called Humanities. In this paper I will argue that farming is an enactment of posthuman thoughts.

When, as part of my research, I asked urban farmers in Baltimore “Can soil speak?”, the most moderate answer was “yes”. „Of course!“ was a more common reaction. The question if the soil cares for them received even more affirmative responses with elaborate examples of their intimate relationship to and with their garden and soil. None of the gardeners were confused by my anthropomorphizing of the nonhuman. - Was is at all anthropomorphizing? Was is not just a conversation about their everyday „becoming-with“ (Barad) with what „the human“ wants to think as „the other“? So, what is the nonhuman turn in the view of (urban) farmers who struggle everyday with the weather (the effects of the man-made climate change), with the toxicity of urban soils (the waste of past human encounters), with the living and dying, rooting and blooming of the non-human?

I will introduce what I mean by Agrarian Posthumanities and why this research field can be seen as the third wave of critical agrarian studies. With the help of queer theory, new materialism and postcolonial theory, I would like to read the poetic and political statements from my interviewees and show the answers they have given me in the form of photographs. These voices of pictures, tomatoes, soil ecosystems, earthworms, urban farmers and me -all together deeply rooted int the natural science of agri-culture- will build the assemblage (Bennett), the com-post (Haraway), the involution (Myers), the entanglement (Barad) that branches out into cultural and literary studies by speaking of a piece of matter that will always matter: earth.

About Sophie von Redecker

Sophie v. Redecker is a Phd student and lecturer in the Department of Organic Agriculture at Kassel University, Germany. She is a research fellow at the Section “Management in the international Food Industry” and a fellow of the ICDD Kassel (International Center for Development and Decent Work) for a project that focuses on the postcolonial socioecological exploitation in agricultural systems. She received a certificate in Women and Gender Studies from Kassel-University. During her Master Studies she hold a scholarship of the Rosa-Luxemburg Foundation. On completing her masters, she was awarded a prize for the highest overall mark in the year.

She attended different lectures and seminars at Johns Hopkins University by, among others, Karen Barad, Jane Bennett, Katrin Pahl, Gabriele Schwab, Nils Bubandt.

Before studying agriculture, she was trained in theater acting and received her diploma in acting in 2012 from Schule für Schauspiel Hamburg.

Her research focuses on Critical Agrarian Studies with a special focus on more-than-human ontologies and the question how (radical) democracy can be broadend in a non-anthropocentric manner. Recently she is developing a new field of art-based research: Agrarian Posthumanities, in which she investigates the human-nature relationship from a farming perspectives. She presented the pictures from a field research with the method of photo-interviewing under the title „Interdependent care. Human_soil relations out of and in the fields“ in the context of the documenta14 art exhibition in Kassel. She also co-organized an art exhibition on “resistance within the global food system”.

She presented conferences papers at the ASLE, MLA and ACLA conferences.

She attended the posthuman summer school by Prof.Dr. Rosi Braidotti at Utrecht University in 2018 and was a participant at the SLSA International PhD and Postdoc Masterclass Deconstructing Green held by among others Prof. Dr. Natasha Myers and Prof. Dr. Anna Loewnhaupt Tsing at Copenhagen University 2018.

Her paper The peasant way of a more than radical democracy – the case of La Via Campesina was recently published in the Journal for Business Ethics.

She identifies (if at all) as a queer farmer.

16:20-16:40: Jochen Kleinschmidt (Del Rosario University) - Posthumanism, Differentiation Theory, and the Concept of Crisis in International Relations

Paper abstract

The academic discipline of International Relations (IR) has, in the past, creatively adapted theoretical innovations derived from approaches originally developed in sociology or the humanities. Social constructivism as well as diverse strands of poststructuralism, feminism, postcolonialism, and decolonial theory provide testimony for the success of these adaptations. In line with IR’s evolution towards an ontology concerned with global and diverse social macrostructures instead of state interactions under anarchy, the adaptation of new theoretical material has often consisted of the upscaling of the original core concepts.

Thus, social constructivism now saw states instead of humans making sense of their social surroundings, poststructuralism encountered biopower in international organizations and great power politics, feminism describes gendered structures in global capitalism and politics, and postcolonialism discovered the inherently Eurocentric nature of supposedly inclusive global governance networks. Superficially, the existing engagement of IR theorists with posthumanist theory appears to follow the same pattern: Scholars exploring the new terrain do so mostly by scaling posthumanist approaches regarding issues such as animal rights, the Anthropocene or big data up to the spatiality of international and global politics.

The core argument that I will make in this paper is that while those approaches may result in interesting research, it is likely that a more important contribution of posthumanist theory to IR theory will be a result not of upscaling, but of displacing the anthropomorphic ontologies still current in the discipline. In this sense, the focus of applying posthumanist concepts in IR theory should lie more on the description non- anthropomorphic social structure, as discussed in recent efforts directed at establishing Luhmannian differentiation theory as a perspective within IR, rather than on the discussion of non-human agency, as has been the case hitherto. This theme will be explored using the concept of crisis as a case study. It will be demonstrated that previous notions of large-scale crisis in IR, such as those derived from the works of Gramsci, Polanyi and Carr, generally rely on implicitly anthropomorphic ontologies. A posthumanist approach informed by differentiation theory will allow for a much richer understanding of contemporary crisis phenomena.

About Jochen Kleinschmidt

Jochen Kleinschmidt is Associate Professor (Profesor Asociado) at the School of International, Political and Urban Studies of Universidad del Rosario, Colombia. He received a PhD in Political Science from Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) of Munich, Germany, in 2014. Previously, he was Assistant Professor at EAFIT University, Medellín (2014-2016), Adjunct Lecturer at the University of the German Armed Forces, Munich (2009-2012), and Visiting Researcher at NATO School, Oberammergau (2008). His research interests lie in International Relations theory, political geography, military technology, and conflict studies. His work has been published in journals such as International Politics, Alternatives, Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, and Colombia Internacional. ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0730-6494

16:40-17:00 Audronė Žukauskaitė (Lithuaninan culture research institute) - Posthumanism and immunity

Paper abstract

The recent theoretical field of posthumanism gravitates into two extremes: the first one – an extended humanism – appears in the form of the animal rights movement that entitles human rights to animals. This kind of extended humanism can be felt in the so-called new animism, for example, in the indigenous anthropology of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, that entitles “personhood” not only to animals but also to plants, rivers, and the planet Earth. Another extreme is an attempt to think the world before or beyond the human, practiced by speculative realism and object-oriented ontology. However, instead of choosing between these two extremes – “everything is human” or “there is not any human” – we could take a third way, proposed by Richard Grusin. Paraphrasing Latour, he argues that “we have never been human”, because “the human has always coevolved, coexisted, or collaborated with the nonhuman – and the human is characterized precisely by this indistinction from the nonhuman” (Grusin 2015). We have never been human, because we have always been dependent on other species living within our bodies.

However, this redefinition turns posthumanism (or nonhumanism) towards those paths of (mostly biological) thinking that celebrate different forms of coexistence – symbiosis (Margulis, Sagan, Gilbert), sympoiesis (Dempster, Haraway), or hybridity (Despret, Latour). The question which still needs to be answered is whether all forms of coexistence are profitable and welcomed. But how does one define the limit at which this co-existence is collaborative and productive (“posthuman”), and beyond which it becomes damaging and lethal (in other words, “posthumous”, e.g. coming after life). At this point I would like to introduce the concept of immunity as being central for posthumanist theory. As demonstrated by Derrida, Esposito and others, the concept of immunity marks an ambivalent capacity of life (biological and also political) to protect itself and also to engage in new forms of coexistence.

About Audronė Žukauskaitė

Audronė Žukauskaitė is Chief Researcher at the  Lithuanian culture research Institute. Her recent publications include the monographs Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Philosophy: The Logic of Multiplicity (in Lithuanian, 2011), and From Biopolitics to Biophilosophy (in Lithuanian, 2016). She also co-edited (with S. E. Wilmer) Deleuze and Beckett (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), and Resisting Biopolitics: Philosophical, Political and Performative Strategies (Routledge, 2016; 2018). Her research interests include contemporary philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy, biopolitics, biophilosophy, and posthumanism. 

17:00-17:20 Russell Kilbourn (Wilfred Laurier University) - Posthuman Memory: A Cinematic Introduction.

Paper abstract

If, as Rosi Braidotti suggests in Posthuman Knowledge (2019), transhumanist posthumanism privileges the ontological status of embodied (or disembodied) forms of the human-afterthe- human, then critical posthumanism foregrounds epistemological questions stemming from such a critique, and the sentient and/or affective forms that emerge in the wake of the human. Among the most meaningful of the latter is memory. Generally speaking, theorists overlook or minimize the significance of memory to a thinking of the neo-, non-, or posthuman. There is no entry, for instance, for ‘memory’ under ‘M’ in Rosi Braidotti’s Posthuman Glossary (2018). In The Posthuman (2013), Braidotti nevertheless revalues memory as one of the “main criteria for posthuman theory” (162), a positive life-affirming force of imagination—invoking Michael Rothberg’s concept of ‘multidirectional memory’ as ideal form of the kind of emancipatory memory she envisions (166). In this paper I explore the faculty/phenomenon/medium of memory at the intersection of cinema and memory studies, with three diverse 21st-century films as focus: The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (Kunuk and Cohn, 2006); Arrival (Villeneuve, 2016); A Ghost Story (Lowery 2017).

The dominant tendency in posthumanist theory, with respect to memory, is to privilege stories in science fiction film, typically at either a dystopian or utopian extreme. This essentially transhumanist perspective, however, risks overlooking the more meaningful dimension of posthumanist memory manifesting on the level of film form. Close attention to audiovisual style facilitates the critical interrogation of the issues and questions around posthumanism, such as whether or not a given film actually represents or embodies a given posthumanist concept, properly speaking, or whether (as is most likely) the film, in the end, perpetuates some form of anthropocentric or neo-humanist understanding of the relations between the human as currently understood and what comes after. That said, it will be seen to what degree posthuman memory names a modality of human or posthuman experience that is as much about the present or future, where these temporalities are marshalled in the service of a memory that transcends a mere relation to the past (or a ‘making present of the past,’ to quote Terdiman [1993]), with the potential to operate at a global scale far beyond discrete social groupings. The ultimate question, perhaps, is whether such a posthuman memory will still wear a human face.

About Russell Kilbourn

Russell J. A. Kilbourn is Professor in English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, specializing in film theory, memory studies, comparative literature, and adaptation. Kilbourn has published many book chapters and journal articles, and his books include: The Cinema of Paolo Sorrentino: Commitment to Style (Wallfower/Columbia UP 2020); W.G. Sebald’s Postsecular Redemption: Catastrophe with Spectator (Northwestern UP 2018); The Memory Effect: The Remediation of Memory in Literature and Film (WLU Press 2013), co-edited with Eleanor Ty; Cinema, Memory, Modernity: The Representation of Memory from the Art Film to Transnational Cinema (Routledge 2010). Kilbourn is also one of the founders of the Posthumanism Research Network (based at Brock University and Wilfrid Laurier), and his current research interests include posthumanism, the postsecular, and Inuit cinema.

For Dr. Kilbourn's research and publication information see: rjakilbourn.com.

17:20-17:40: Q & A