Thinking out of Order: Pedagogy of Un-disciplined Philosophy of Technology

What follows will, in some version, end up near the end of my dissertation. I append it here to help remind me of where I want to go with the project, but also in the hope of reminding me how the project fits in with my general teaching plans for the future. As always, an comments or ideas are most welcome.

(Chapter 5 or 6?): Pedagogy of Non-humanist Posthumanism
When taken seriously, declaring we (humans) are posthuman (Hayles, 1999) or cyborgs (Harraway, 1991) or hybrid (Latour, 1993a) compels not only a reimagining of humans and non-humans, but an examination of how to commence educating students and lay publics about the implications of these claims. In this chapter, I focus on the former group: students. In academic settings, like in philosophy of technology, or STS courses, such necessarily interdisciplinary projects present various challenges for educators. First, the breadth of subject matter pushes educators to specialize, to localize around particular subtopics. Just as a survey course in U.S. literature imposes boundaries—temporal, thematic, topical, etc.—interdisciplinary courses require even stronger delineations and demarcations. In a limited time, what texts, concepts, methods and theories should students encounter and engage with to provide them the necessary introduction to a topic (non-humanist posthumanism (Sharon, 2014), or just posthumanism or transhumanism) so vast. Second, what educational goals should the course(s) seek to fulfill? Should students receive training in writing academic papers for limited audiences? Should they learn to write/perform for lay audiences? In responding to this second challenge, a fundamental pedagogical question must be addressed: do educators wish to produce their own hybrids—students capable of writing/speaking/performing in multiple registers for a smorgasbord of audiences? If so, what kind of model should the educator be? One who knows well the scholarly rigor necessary for academic journal publication? Someone versed in engagement with lay publics through various media like blogs, newspapers and magazines, podcasts, speaking/video performances (like TED Talks)?

The un-disciplined philosopher of technology I have described in this dissertation bridges the lay and academic arenas with varying degrees of success, but un-disciplined philosophy of technology, in academia at least, aims at synthesis: speaking to multiple audiences and drawing from various disciplines, sources and perspectives. The fundamental pedagogical question for UPoT, then, involves creating the kinds of environments that would allow students (undergraduate and graduate) to become the synthesis—the hybrid—that manages to traverse academic disciplines (even interdisciplines like STS with practitioners from history, philosophy, sociology, political science, etc.) without losing sight of the connections that make academic work applicable, interesting and significant for non-academic publics. Academic philosophy of technology certainly has a role to play in promoting such hybrids, but assuming students have already received substantial grounding in academic writing, un-disciplined philosophy of technology, as a set of perspectives to be taught, requires a separate foundation. UPoT aims for no mere mass appeal; its practitioners do not pretend simply to appropriate, indoctrinate and discipline lay publics. Un-disciplined philosophy of technology, with a non-humanist posthuman core, aims to challenge publics (academic and lay) and inculcate habits of critical investigation and reflection (convenient, as this is, generally, a goal of higher education) regarding the relations (or false dichotomies) between humans and non-humanities; born entities and made entities; subjects and objects.

In what follows, I outline a series of courses—including learning goals, readings, and evaluable tasks—comprising a “specialization,” or perhaps even a “certificate,” one could achieve while pursuing graduate study in Science and Technology Studies departments. Rather than seeking a total reform of STS pedagogy, I propose an incremental change, an “update” that aims to prepare graduates for professions within academia and without, but that also requires them to engage with fundamental philosophical issues swirling within contemporary STS. My central claim is that un-disciplined philosophy of technology can help students grapple with epistemological, ethical, and ontological issues implicit—if not yet fully explicit—within STS, such as Tamar Sharon’s notion of non-humanist posthumanism (2014). Perhaps somewhat unimaginatively, I begin with a trope often found in philosophy: the thought experiment.

Imagine a future where STS has moved beyond peripheries and where its practitioners need no more explain their topics of study than a chemist, mechanical engineer, or postmodern literary critic (read: Yes, they must explain their work. No, the explanation does not require some outside validation of why the work matters, should occur, etc.). Traditional dualisms have exploded; their ashes fertilize a materialism that, while acknowledging the existing of many and multiple objects (humans existing as one of many), does not seek to reduce them to concomitant parts of a seamless whole. What are, and should be, the epistemology, moral theory, and ontology of such a time? How do the things in the universe get along? How have they been produced and at what costs? Do we wish to return to traditional dualisms or Enlightenment humanism? Could we?

The above sketch for a thought experiment (or, we could simply call it the opening of a course introduction) employs what I imagine as some common strengths of thought experiments. It is fictional in the sense that the world does not appear this way currently. It is broad with clear enough descriptors to delimit the subject matter while remaining vague enough to allow the audience to imagine the world for themselves. It is abrasive/jarring in that it imagines a world/time with substantive changes that cause upheaval in how humans view themselves, the world, and their relationships to that world and everything else in it. It is compelling because there are aspects of it that both appeal to us now and challenge us to imagine how every thing would come to be this way. Finally, it permits the audience to engage in speculation about how that world/time should be organized—philosophically, politically, socially, economically, bodily—and constituted.

A grounding in ontology, epistemology and moral philosophy, allows STS practitioners (particularly emerging scholars) to capture the nuances of a non-humanist posthuman position. It is crucial for STS work because it unmasks important aspects of human, science, and technology interactions. We rising STS scholars, as children of our parents (the previous generation of STS scholars), imagine the world as our predecessors did, and though much can be learned from them, we must take their lessons about symmetry and blurring the lines between subject and object seriously. This will entail forming our own understanding of the interactions of humans and technologies, humans and nonhumans (or, more plainly: objects). We emerging scholars have been raised in a world vastly more connected: we are connected with each other without much regard to spatial and temporal limits; we are connected with our technologies so extensively that we can even intelligently and non-metaphorically converse about the possibility of cybernetic organisms (cyborgs); and, we are (re-) connected with our organic environments in ways that might even make Heidegger (1979) proud.

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