Feminist Technoscience Studies: Articulating the Human and the Non-Human

Feminist Technoscience Studies: Articulating the Human and the Non-Human

Report of a course taught at Lancaster University, 23-26 May 2011

The Department of Sociology of Lancaster University organised this innovative intensive taught course/workshop in May 2011, aiming to bring together postgraduate scholars in Feminist Technoscience Studies (FTS) and Science and Technology Studies (STS). This was a multi-national event where graduate students from countries around the world (Chile, Australia, Sweden, Germany to name but a few) exchanged ideas aiming to generate possibilities on re-thinking relations between human, animals and machines.

On the opening day of the workshop Professor Maureen McNeil (Lancaster University) explained detailed key concepts of the Feminist Technochience field by focusing on important issues for feminist technoscience studies. The central idea was the necessity to find alternatives to the forms of human exceptionalism that have dominated modern thought, and more particularly technoscience. Other key ideas presented by Professor McNeil were the definitions and the inter-relationship of the three concepts Feminism, Technology and Science. After the presentation the group debated questions for the origins of knowledge (“Who formulates knowledge and from what perspective? Why do we “see” and perceive the world the way we do?” and many more). The day was concluded with the beautiful and thought-provoking film «Invisible» (2006). Artist and film maker Roz Mortimer’s work was an excellent introduction to the relationships between nature, animals, humans reproduction techniques and the effects of contemporary science and technology to humans through animals. The documentary film, among others, provoked questions on how we perceive the natural and the non-natural.

The second day started with group discussions on the film-showing and participants were asked to draw sketches in order to define how they see themselves in relations to animals. Afterwards, Dr. Celia Roberts (Lancaster University) gave a lecture on methods of looking on animal, microbe and human articulations. She presented different kinds of analysis methods where images are used as a primary reasearch material in order to reach conclusions about human-animal relations. Part of her reasearch was about the use of bodies and animals in the production of scientific knowledge («Are animals and humans alike and if not what are the boundaries in such a perception?»), followed also by a workshop and discussion. Later on we saw Dr. Vicky Singleton (Lancaster University) who presented her feminist commitment to a scholarship of care that reminds us to attend closely to questions of how difference is made, and when and how it comes to matter. Dr. Singleton presented her ongoing research on UK farm practices, relations between farmers and animals, legislation issues like tagging on cows and how these affect accountability and responsibility. The relationships between farmers and animals provided useful questions and links with my research interests which related-among others-to the relationships between a technology (computing) and humans (users). After lunch break, the participants had a field trip to the empirical location of Cobble Hay Working Farm. The aim was to understand practises of human and non-human relations and commitments. The day finished with the workshop dinner at WaterWitch Pub, with plenty of creative and  productive discussions among the workshops participants.

On the third day, the international scholar, Professor and Queen’s National Scholar, Myra Hird (Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada) presented opportunities to gain scientific knowledge from different disciplines as well as the nature. Her conversations included areas like sociology (for example, the social construction of gender and how gender produces sex, formation of cultural identities), psychology (persistent belief in sex as a sign of gender, continued association of homosexuality with pathology), psychoanalysis (the norms of society, gender identifications and the melancholy of gender identification, symbiosis that can be parasitic), feminism (the authenticity debate: why we need identities?, Are we in the realm of the body’s erasure by concepts of culture?). She also talked about Donna Haraway’s description of the «fantastic lie» of reproduction, that it is a way to leave our individual features to descendants, something that can in fact happen only through cloning. She emphasized questions like “why does reproduction matter?” and suggested the study of bacteria in order to understand contemporary societies and articulate differences between sex and gender definitions. After lunch, participants divided in groups, and composed poster presentations on the relevance to technoscience to their ongoing research projects.

In the afternoon the key international scholar, Professor Karen Barad (UC Santa Cruz, USA) and the distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies, Donna Haraway (UC Santa Cruz, USA) presented their work via video-link presentations looking at how technology affects our lives by criticize technology on the human. More specifically Professor Barad presented her philosophical and technoscientific method to determine the relevance of time and space based on quantum physics and Aboriginal tribe perceptions where times does not go forward but it splits in different directions. Unpicking time in this way re-defines the western approach, in order to understand how humans engage with the world. Her method is based on the «metaphoreality» of science and critiques the use of science as a tool to write history in a more abstract manner. «…We live in a three-dimensional world. For a better understanding we should try to evaluate the world in four-dimensions instead». Donna Haraway gave an expansive presentation which covered many areas such as symbiopoesis and autopoesis of organisms and the 2 split experiment in quantum physics and its relation to time and perceptions of cause and effect. Researchers were described as «quantum scissors», cutting through the slime, becoming entangled and making brakes in knowledge, «cutting together apart». Haraway encouraged us to «interfere well» and «make mistakes in interesting ways».

The closing day, Professor Lucy Suchman presented a video on artificial intelligence, materiality and practises of science and the interaction between human and a machine (a human-like behaving, anthropomorphic robot). Based on previous discussions during the four-days workshop, professor Suchman suggested that we went from human to non-human (animals) but that it however was still not clear what the artificial intelligence machines were. The presentation also included brainstorming on the open and still too problematic questions in the discipline about how non-human is a machine, followed by group discussion on intimacy and sympathy feelings viewers developed through robot’s behaviour, movements, design, etc.

This course was a cutting-edge and thought-provoking, offering extensive and boundless ideas form diverse fields. I was gladly part of this workshop with the kind support of the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology. EASST fully supported my participation with a bursary award and I would like to thank the association for giving me this opportunity. I went back to Greece with much to think about.

  • A special thanks to Rebecca Fish (Doctoral Candidate, Lancaster University) for her useful additions and the proofread of this report.