Technics, the university and feminist praxis (abstract/ intro/ synopsis)

Abstract:

The scope of this dissertation is twofold. Firstly, I think through the consequences of Stiegler’s thesis on the pharmacology of Western hyperindustrial societies and the role of the university in sustaining an ethics of philia through a reconceptualisation of desire and otium. Secondly, I make the case for a feminist organology as a necessary precondition for the aforementioned reconceptualisation. To begin with, I explore Stiegler’s call for a spiritual awakening to a new ethics which recognises the libidinal and technical origins of the human, and the need to project new therapeutics. Next, I acknowledge Stiegler and Derrida’s contribution in emphasising the university’s responsibility of professing the truth and developing the civil society’s noetic capabilities. I then turn to Ahmed and hooks’ feminist ethical commitments, pedagogy and practice to illustrate the already-existing but concealed technical and libidinal therapeutics under the form of reproductive labour and acts of care in the civil society. We will see how systems of domination and despiritualising economies distribute inequalities through the gendering of bodies, aesthetics, sensibility and desire. In light of this, I argue that the future university ought to activate within, and contribute to a feminist general organology, as a transitional site circulated by transindividuating, transgressive practices which acknowledge, invent and theorise (as otium) the pharmacology of technics and desire. This can be done by working closely with social movements and making use of new possibilities of transindividuation through new digital media.

 

Introduction:

THE DISSERTATION AS A PHARMACOLOGICAL ARTEFACT

Within the corporate university, the dissertation is discussed mostly in terms of it being evidence of one’s duty to fulfil the contractual responsibilities between the university as a service provider, and the student as a consumer. It is conceptualised in utilitarian terms as a material object created ex-nihilo, rather than an artefact facilitating the exploration of ideas which can be reproduced, adopted and transmitted within society. Indeed, as the editors of the student journal New Birmingham Review state, ‘the dissertation is, for many, a great undertaking which entails serious engagement and immense effort […] the dissertation’s fate is lamentable’ as it has a ‘very particular institutional life’ (Bowker et. al. 2015:i).
This narrow understanding separates and reifies the processes which permeate society and the university at once, and which affect us as whole beings. Little time is expected from the student to devote to reflecting on the scholarly responsibility to civil society; the meaning and value of the labour involved in the careful crafting of the dissertation; the possibility for spiritual enrichment through writing and reading, or the beauty of discovery and contingency. Further, the work of care undertaken by the supervisor is framed by the corporate university as yet another mechanism for monitoring and ranking staff.
The dissertation is a pharmacological, non-static artefact: at once toxic negotium (unpaid work undertaken instrumentally for grades, against marking criteria, as a guarantee for future employment) and otium (therapy for the soul through which its producer develops new ways of thinking). Everyday interactions and experiences gained through different contexts mark this present work. Thus, my ability to write and engage with it has rested upon a high level of contingency, fuelled by affective fluxes manifested through doubts and inspiration – they all played a part in the making of what appears to the reader as the ‘final product’ of my labour. Notably, the conditions under which this current dissertation has been undertaken are that of the white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy (hooks 2004) and hyperindustrial consumerism, as manifested within in a Russell Group University attacked by the Conservative Government with drastic budget cuts, neoliberalisation and privatisation. Despite the impossibility of separating the ideas and experiences produced within the university and society, as a form of negotium, the dissertation will be attributed to its author only. While designed by the institution as a form of negotium, I have actively struggled to make this dissertation ‘my own’ work of individuation and self-actualisation.
 

SYNOPSIS

The recent developments in bio-, nano-, info- and cognitive technosciences have been met with a variety of responses and approaches, ranging from the rejection of technology by religious fundamentalism; the total embracing of prostheses by post-humanism; the imagining of a post-work society by accelerationism; and the hope for overcoming human suffering and increasing human ‘performance’ by transhumanism (Abbinnett 2015; Williams and Srnicek 2013). Bernard Stiegler’s pharmacological approach distinguishes his work from technological determinism, technophobia or techno-utopianism, overcoming the opposition between these approaches.
 
Stiegler argues that contemporary Western civil societies face a catastrophe today. The industry, through marketing and consumerism, has succeeded in covering up and concealing the disruptive effects and dangers which we are all facing, leading to an incapacity of the civil society and its academy to address them (2015b). This is so because since the 1970s’ ‘conservative revolution’, the nation-state’s role in maintaining social systems and adjusting technical systems to it has been reversed due to its failure to absorb and contain technological ‘shocks’ (2015a:175-176; 2015b:132). So, contemporary Western societies have become ‘hyperindustrialised’ and entered an era of the Anthropocene characterised by ‘permanent innovation’ and entropy on a global scale (2007:40; 2015c). Through a speculative and careless economy, decision-making criteria have been delegated to algorithms and technosciences, technicising life itself – the total demise of humanity is possible and conceivable because we are all affected by a loss of knowledge, spirit and care (2010:11). Despite all this, Stiegler posits that the spirit of capitalism is self-destructive, unsustainable and unliveable: always faced by new processes of transindividuation as a spiritual response which manifests itself through the therapeutic technics of care and spirit.
 
The pharmacological approach permeates the entire dissertation – let me briefly introduce it here. Derrida, in Plato’s Pharmacy (1981), argues that writing is always a pharmakon: at once poison and therapy, for it both deprives us of anamnesic knowledge, and enriches our access to experiences which we had not lived. Stiegler, on the other hand, argues that the pharmakon precedes writing, for human memory and imagination themselves are always-already technical. Historically, the pharmakon starts with the manipulation of tools as mediating and constituting nature, the human, and society. Therefore, it is impossible to make a clear, oppositional distinction between ‘pure’ knowledge (devoid of technology) and hypomnesis (technological supports). Instead, the pharmakon constitutes and conditions the relationship between the human and technology (Abbinnett 2015:69-70; 76-77), and desire. So, human existence in the current hyperindustrial societies is, concurrently, despiritualising but also individuating.
 
Throughout his work, Stiegler sets up an approach for thinking the past, present and future of the civil society and the role of the academy in relation to it. However, as Stiegler himself admits, pharmacological analyses and otium are necessarily always incomplete. His work, therefore, opens up a particular project of otium, as he reveals the changing nature of otium and negotium, and the way in which the relationship between the two changes the way in which we relate to one another. Throughout the dissertation, I will be looking at various forms of otium, to show that Stiegler neglects the problem of gender in his analysis, inevitably his work being complicit with patriarchal beliefs. Following that, I develop a feminist organology and show that gendered sensibilities, aesthetics and desire are reproduced through work within the academy and the civil society. Furthermore, the criteria for otium and negotium within the hyperindustrial economy are valued according to their gendered (as well as racialised and classed) dimensions. So, gender, technics and otium are co-constituted, with desire emerging through this relationship.
 
The argument is developed thus. In the first chapter, I examine the originary technicity thesis developed by Stiegler who posits that the human is a technical and libidinal being. The human is transformed through the technics of their era, and consciousness emerges as a futural protensive phenomenon that comes through tools. The thesis raises the question of the relationship between tool use, the human and gender (from past to present), although the latter is not made explicit within Stiegler’s work. In response, I raise the question of Stiegler’s uncritical engagement with the naturalisation of gendered roles which permeates his originary technicity thesis through his reading of the Myth of Prometheus.
 
In the second chapter, I offer a close examination of the academy, its scholarship, and their relationship to the pharmakon of society. Following Stiegler and Derrida, I argue that the university’s responsibility to the civil society is defined by the relationship between humans and technology as a fate which is always potentially catastrophic. The university ought to intervene by inventing therapeutics through otium and interdisciplinary dialogue in a new economy of contribution where the contributors are singular, individuated and de-proletarianised (no longer simply producers/consumers), involved in the re-enchantment of their own world through otium. However, Stiegler’s conceptualisation of care, otium and desire is incomplete, for he ignores their shaping by co-constitutive systems of oppression which form the pharmacology of gendered relations maintained through the libidinal economy. This matter is tackled through the theory and practice of social movements, and therapeutic digital retentions.
 
In the final chapter, I show that the questions of care, desire and otium are inseparable from the questions of work, identity, performativity and domination. I proceed by examining the conditions and pharmacology of otium, as they emerge from the relationship between the university and the civil society. Further, I emphasise that feminist practice and theory sustain daily commitments to a spiritual economy. For instance, Ahmed and hooks’ embodiment of feminist ethics connects the civil society with the university, their otium being a testament to the possibility of noetic subjectivities, therapeutic technics and liberatory relationships.
 
In the conclusion I show that dismantling systems of domination must be at the core of the re-enchantment of society, and this could be done through transitional spaces of contribution that are necessarily feminist. These spaces would engage in the practice of care as a labour of spirit and love, within a libidinal and spiritual economy of contribution where self-actualisation and autonomy make possible a life worth living both at the individual and collective levels.

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