“Classifications are powerful technologies. Embedded in working infrastructures they become relatively invisible without losing any of that power. In this book we demonstrate that classifications should be recognized as the significant site of political and ethical work that they are. They should be reclassified.” - Bowker, G.C. & Star, S.L., 1999. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press., p. 319.
Haraway spells out the relation between the visual and the material electronics from which computational objects are constructed, leading to a sort of disembodied embodiment:
“The eyes have been used to signify a perverse capacity — honed to perfection in the history of science tied to militarism, capitalism, colonialism, and male supremacy — to distance the knowing subject from everybody and everything in the interests of unfettered power. The instruments of visualization in multinationalist, postmodernist culture have compounded these meanings of dis-embodiment. The visualizing technologies are without apparent limit; the eye of the ordinary primate like us can be endlessly enhanced by sonography systems, magnetic resonance imaging, artificial intelligence-linked graphic manipulation systems, scanning electron microscopes, computer-aided tomography scanners, colour enhancement techniques, satellite surveillance systems, home and office VDTs*, cameras for every purpose from filming the mucous membrane lining the gut cavity of a marine worm living in the vent gases on a fault between continental plates to mapping a planetary hemisphere elsewhere in the solar system. Vision in this technological feast becomes unregulated gluttony; all perspective gives way to infinitely mobile vision, which no longer seems just mythically about the god-trick of seeing everywhere from nowhere, but to have put the myth into ordinary practice. And like the god-trick, this eye fucks the world to make techno-monsters.” - Haraway, D.J., 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, And Women: The Reinvention Of Nature, Abingdon: Routledge., p. 188-189.
The bevy of technological extensions to sight Haraway enumerates, most of which are embodied in some sort of computational object, fully substantiates McLuhan’s earlier concerns regarding human relationships to technology (1962). Her critique also stands as a definitive stance calling to task patriarchal systems of colonialism, capitalism, militarism, and globalism for “fucking” the world with a verb that suggests an almost mindless masculinity. Yet, at the same time, she is acknowledging the accomplishment of these forces for having transmuted mythology (ironically itself a form of vision) into practice. Such an acknowledgement could be taken my many leadership scholars as an attribution of leadership (Grint, 2001, p. 187-224; Hooijberg et al. 2001; Ladkin 101-126).
* I take this to mean video display terminals or, in more recent parlance, screens.
Haraway, D.J., 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, And Women: The Reinvention Of Nature, Abingdon: Routledge.
Grint, K., 2001. The Arts of Leadership, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ladkin, D., 2010. Rethinking Leadership: A New Look at Old Leadership Questions, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
McLuhan, M., 1962. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
Braidotti charges scholars to be attentive to the importance of bringing their own affectivity to their work, arguing this is a mode of ethical accountability to the other:
“Affectivity plays a big role in both Haraway’s work and my nomadic subject: both invent a new conceptual style that refuses to engage in negative criticism for its own sake and acts instead from positive and empowering relationships to texts, authors and ideas. The emphasis falls on a cognitive brand of empathy, or intense affinity: it is the capacity for compassion, which combines the power of understanding with the force to endure in sympathy with a people, all of humanity, the planet and civilization as a whole. It is an extra-personal and a trans-personal capacity, which should be driven away from any universalism and grounded instead in the radical immanence of a sense of belonging to and being accountable for a community, a people and a territory.” (2006, p. 205)
Providing a ground for such a move, she argues forcefully that
“Social institutions tend to generate, instill and reward the reproduction of negative passions forcing the oedipal subjugated participants to labor under the twin logic of narcissism and paranoia. This ability to disconnect from the paranoid-narcissistic-self-nexus, so as to activate a more affirmative set of passions enacts simultaneously an act of withdrawal (a minus) and of addition (a plus). The subject subtracts him/herself from the reactive affects by stepping out of the negativity circuit. By virtue of this s/he transcends negativity, thereby generating and making room for more affirmative forces. This ascetic practice produces both a vision of the self and a role for the intellectual which consists not in leading the opinions (doxa), legislating the truth (dogma) or administering the protocols of intellectual life, but rather in creating and disseminating new concepts and ideas. It is not a matter of representing others, or speaking on their behalf, but rather about injecting doses of positivity into institutional and academic practice, so as to turn it into an instrument of production of the new. The link between reason and the imagination, theory and passion is crucial to this project.” (ibid.)
Braidotti, R., 2006. Posthuman, All Too Human: Towards a New Process Ontology. Theory, Culture & Society, 23(7-8), pp.197–208
In a beautiful piece of writing, Kirby asks
“can the rampant culturalism that understands the mediations of language as a purely cultural technology, a technology that cannot have any substantial purchase because it remains enclosed against itself, explain how computational models, bio-grams of skin prints, blood evidence, genetic signatures, pollen chemistries, and insect life cycles (all data that present as languages) - how can this cacophony of differences possess any possibility of predictive reference?” (Kirby, 2008, p. 224)
In this question she is essentially concerned with the relation between language - as a technology I might note - and what me might call the world of action and objects - what some might call objective reality. Another, perhaps broader way to frame this, is the binary between “abstraction and materiality” (ibid, p. 217).
In an inclusive critique of both Butler and Latour, Kirby ultimately claims, as the title pronounces, that culture is really nature all along - that
“…nature is articulate, that there is no radical disconnection between nature and culture, and that agency is a distributed, implicated eco-logy with no central, organizing origin…nature is, already, all of those mutating, complex plasticities that culture’s corrective would animate it with.” (ibid., p. 229)
These arguments support the view of distributed agency I have been developing for some time and led toward a posthuman perspective. Interestingly while Kirby does not use that word in this paper, in her depiction of “consubstantiality” I think she captures it quite nicely:
“To allow the implications of consubstantiality to work its mystery is to enter a counterintuitive realm where identities might be conceived as emergent “mutualities” - “collectivities” that are not mere aggregates.” (ibid., p. 230-231)
This view - one counter to what she refers to as a (dominant) “Cartesian mind/body (nature/culture) division” (ibid., p. 216) - is one I find quite helpful to develop an alternative perspective.
Kirby, V., 2008. Natural Convers(at)Ions or What if Nature Was Really Culture All Along? In S. Alaimo, S. J. Hekman, & M. Hames-Garcia, eds. Material Feminisms. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, pp. 214–236.
Wordsworth’s Sonnet - The World is Too Much With Us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
“Everyday practice is therefore a form of theory too, and theory is a kind of practice (however hard it might pretend to be something else)…Dethroning the fantasy of the pure intellectual by pointing to the material conditions of his reproduction is [therefore] crucial.” - Parker, M., 2002. Queering Management and Organization. Gender, Work and Organization, 9(2), pp.146–166.
“To say of someone that he is a Romantic thinker or a Romantic hero is not to say nothing. Sometimes it is to say that what he is or does requires to be explained in terms of purpose, or a cluster of purposes (perhaps internally contradictory), or a vision, or perhaps glimpses or intimations, which may point toward some state or activity that is in principle unrealisable - something in life of a movement or a work of art which is part of its essence, perhaps unintelligible. No more than this has been the purpose of the most serious writers on the many - the countless - aspects of Romanticism.” - Hardy, H., 2013. Editor’s Preface. In Isiaiah Berlin’s The Roots of Romanticism 2nd ed., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. xix–xxix., p. xxiii