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COMUNICAZIONI SOCIALI - 2015 - 3. Being Humans

digital COMUNICAZIONI SOCIALI - 2015 - 3. Being Humans
Digital issue
journal COMUNICAZIONI SOCIALI
issue 3 - 2015
title COMUNICAZIONI SOCIALI - 2015 - 3. Being Humans
subtitle The Human Condition in the Age of Techno-Humanism
curatore Chiara Giaccardi
publisher Vita e Pensiero
format Digital issue | Pdf
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Technological artefacts that only twenty years ago were but evocative objects have now become ordinary presences in our life: from artificial implants to mass cosmetic surgery and body manipulation, from new forms of permanent media interconnection to interaction with artificial intelligences. Hence a number of new crucial questions arise, related to our living together in the age of post-humanism. Nowadays, when technology is no longer a tool, or even just an environment, but is wearable and incorporated, and can act retroactively on the very structure of the organism, what are the main challenges we have to face, and the main narratives for making sense of this new human condition?

In the tradition of the journal, this special issue addresses the topic from different theoretical perspectives and disciplinary fields. Contributions are divided in three sections: 1) The post-human condition: living in a brave new world'. The essays in this section embrace different ambits relevant to the public sphere and our life together, such as politics, work, religion, fashion, literature. 2) Bodies in question/questioning bodies: here the main focus is on the redefinition of the ableism-disability relationship (and the resulting problematic redefinition of 'ableism' itself) in the light of the typical post-human question of healing-enhancement. 3) Representations/Imaginaries: here the focus is on the way in which the topos of enhancement has been dealt with by fictional and non fictional texts over time, from early television to cinema up to web series.

Cosa significa essere umani nell'era dove una tecnologia pervasiva e sempre più 'incorporata' ha eroso il confine tra natura e cultura? Come le nuove possibilità di potenziamento ridefiniscono l'idea stessa di normalità? Quali implicazioni sul nostro vivere insieme? Come porre, se è il caso, la questione del limite? Quali forme narrative concorrono alla costruzione degli immaginari su questi temi? Nella tradizione della rivista, il monografico affronta questo intreccio di questioni a partire da diverse prospettive e diversi ambiti disciplinari. I contributi sono suddivisi in tre sezioni che riguardano alcuni cambiamenti significativi nella sfera pubblica, la ridefinizione dell'idea di 'normalità' relativamente al corpo, gli immaginari legati al tema del 'potenziamento'.

Introduction

The Posthuman Condition: An Introduction
by Chiara Giaccardi pages: 11 Download

I. The Posthuman Condition: Living in a Brave New World

The New (Old) Characteristics of Posthuman Politics
by Gladden J. Pappin pages: 10 € 6.00
Abstract
Technological developments associated with transhumanism, genetic engineering, human-machine interfacing and the ‘Singularity’ will disrupt the foundational assumptions of modern politics. Rather than benefiting all mankind (in principle), the new technologies will modify the character and expression of human nature in ways that will divide society. The political consequences of transhuman technologies will be to reintroduce a division between those who can and wish to adopt the new technologies and those who cannot or do not wish to do so. Liberal politics, based on the fear of death and the universal benefit of technological advances, will be replaced by a technologically enabled return of classical politics: the rule of the unwise by the wise, with wisdom now defined as rational calculation. While most political discussion of transhuman technologies revolves around securing equal access to them or preserving mankind from unintended consequences, the transhumanist intellectual movement depends on hopes that undermine the foundations of modern liberalism. Only a recognition of spirited resistance to rational control will avoid a political conflict between those insisting on the rationality of transhuman technologies and those refusing on the honour of human nature.
The Posthuman at Work
by Tatiana Mazali pages: 10 € 6.00
Abstract
In this paper, I aim to describe and analyze the modus operandi of the ‘digital artisan’. Rather than provide an insight into specific professions, the paper focuses on common practices intrinsic to the use of digital media at work. The paper is divided into two parts. It begins with a brief outline of the principal shifts in posthumanist thought around the turn of the millennium. After touching on the technological milestones that mark digital developments and their evolution, I describe current scenarios embracing ubiquitousness and the Internet of Things. The first part concludes with an examination of current shifts towards a posthuman framework that have led us into a human–technology ‘ecosystem’. The second part looks at a similar description of technological advancements with regard to the specific context of labour and the workplace. It explores the three main models of posthumanism ‘at work’: automation, dematerialization and re-materialization. The re-materialization model corresponds to an ecosystem approach that has spawned the digital artisan. The paper goes on to outline some of the common characteristics of the human-technology relationship peculiar to the digital artisan: the prevalence of an exploratory way of working, which underlines the importance of errors, and an approach to learning best defined as ‘embodied cognition’.
Postumanizzazione e divinizzazione
by Andrea Vaccaro pages: 10 € 6.00
Abstract
This article discusses certain trends peculiar to the posthuman in relation to figures of the Christian eschatological promise in line with the traditional patristic discourses. Among this subject’s many aspects, in particular, three ‘figures’ belonging to each of the two fields are compared: a) On one hand, the idea of the planetary creature as a product of the trend towards interconnected cognitive processes among human beings by virtue of global communications; on the other, the eschatological promise of the unification of all humans saved as a member of the one body of Christ at the end of time. b) On one side, the contemporary trend to dematerialization (computerisation, digitalisation, etc.), which finds its anthropological apex in the concept of human beings as (informational) patterns and in the image of the hologram; on the other, the eschatological figure of resurrected humans who will live in the form of ‘spiritual bodies’ in the heavens and in new lands. c) On one hand, the overbearingly unnatural impact of technology as dominion over Nature, transforming it on demand; on the other, the untrammelled power of miracles that, according to the description of many of the Church fathers, the divinised human in the kingdom of heaven will possess. This article attempts to interpret today’s technological transformations and posthuman trends as foreshadowings of (or approaches to) Christian eschatological reality. Based on an ‘apprehensive’ interpretation of the current stage in the world’s transformation and the human race’s transition, the proposed perspective observes this reality from a philosophically tranquil and theologically enthusiastic standpoint, beginning with statements made in important Church teaching documents, especially from the Second Vatican Council.
Wherever Two or More Are Networked. The Dialectic of Presence and Absence in Online Encounters
by Stephen Okey pages: 9 € 6.00
Abstract
This paper argues for the concept of “digitally mediated presence” as a way of articulating online encounters. Employing theologian Brian Robinette’s work on the Resurrection, embodiment, and the dialectic of presence and absence as well as communications professor Heidi Campbell’s research on online religious communities, the paper argues that digital technology can convey a person’s attention, recognition, and concern for the other despite a lack of physical proximity. While this mode of presence is different from physically mediated presence, it is nonetheless embodied and can constitute an encounter with the real presence of the other.
Il corpo e l’essere umani oggi: protesi, macchine, moda
by Patrizia Calefato pages: 10 € 6.00
Abstract
This article focuses on the relationships between the ‘clothed’ body and its technological, communicative, and substitutive prosthesis in the contemporary age. The concept of prosthesis has been deeply and broadly analyzed by social sciences, from Leroi-Gourham to McLuhan, in relation to both the physical and the communicative enhancement of the human body. The two perspectives – one biological and, the other cultural – are strictly connected today. Umberto Eco has described different functions of prostheses: substitutive, extensive, intrusive and magnificative (Eco, 1997). The latter seems prevalent at present. According to Eco, it consists in ‘doing with our body something that perhaps we have dreamed to do, but that we never succeeded in doing’. I explain this idea of ‘magnifying’ the body through the perspective of both cultural studies and fashion theory, using examples including the two cases analyzed by Stefano Rodotà (2012): a) the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne in 2008 to admit double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius to the Beijing Olympics; b) the case of Aimée Mullins, the double-amputee Paralympic athlete, activist, actress and model, who modelled for Alexander McQueen in 1999 on two handmade carved-wood prostheses. In the prosthetic body, the substitutive function of the prosthesis cannot be separated from its aesthetic or communicative functions. Fashion, in this sense, concerns a sort of ‘second nature’ of the body that, far from being a neo-scientific conception, consists in the embodiment of the cultural, sensorial, aesthetic, communicative and technological dimensions, as part of the body itself. At the same time, these dimensions enhance the concepts of both life and nature. The sex appeal of the inorganic (Walter Benjamin) is no longer a paradigm through which the fashionable body is seen as a ‘corpse’; on the contrary, it expresses some new ethical aspects of the vitality of the body itself.
The Shape of Thought: Humanity in Digital, Literary Texts
by Elise Takehana pages: 12 € 6.00
Abstract
This article considers arguments on the book as a structuring paradigm for thought and how the rise of digital technologies shifts the structure of thought away from that of the print codex. Rather than making evaluative judgments on this transition from print to digital, this essay considers what differences exist between the structure of thought in print and in digital media and how that new structure offers another vision of the human subject. Developing a networked and ecologically aware state alters the unified and singular view of the subject born from the codex as organizing paradigm. After a brief review of the literature, the article presents short readings of the structure of two digital stories – David Clark’s 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein and Kevin Gold’s Choice of Robots – as a means of exploring how restructuring models of thinking from the print codex to digital platforms affects the literary representation of subjectivity.
The Speculum of Hyperrealism, toward the Displacement of the Social
by Raffaele Federici pages: 10 € 6.00
Abstract
The disciplines of sociology and aesthetics have seen a renewed interest in morality and ethics in recent years. Recognizing that artworks can serve as moral critiques, as a speculum of observation, and as social and cultural critics, this paper seeks to apply some insights from relational sociology to the field of hyperreal arts by exploring the ways in which moral claims are expressed, evaluated and negotiated by and through the works of hyperrealist artists. Art is located in human interactions and their social contexts. Central to it are inter-subjectivity, being together, being humans, the encounter and the collective elaboration of meaning, based on models of sociability, meetings, collaborations and places of conviviality.

II. Bodies in Question/Questioning Bodies

The Cochlear Implant between Restoring and Transcending Humanness: The Cases of Michael Chorost and Enno Park
by Markus Spohrer pages: 10 Download
Abstract
This paper deals with a neuro-prosthesis that has been the subject of various controversies since it was developed in the 1950s and successfully applied and commercialized in the 1980s: the Cochlear Implant (CI). While praised as a medical ‘wonder’ by a range of medical experts, the CI is regarded critically by some Deaf activists, as the practices involved in cochlear implantation construct deafness as a ‘disability’ and degrade sign language to a mere ‘prosthetic language’ instead of acknowledging deaf people as an individual cultural and ethnic group and sign language as their genuine form of communication. In this context, the CI’s rehumanizing and dehumanizing effects have frequently been discussed: from a medical perspective, being ‘deaf’ is an ‘abnormal’, ‘inhuman’ state that needs to be cured. Here, the CI is functionalized as an enhancement, enabling ‘rehumanization’ of the formerly ‘disabled’ individuals. However, the Deaf opposition argues that they do not consider themselves ‘deficient’ or ‘abnormal’ in any way and that the CI is a ‘dehumanizing’ instrument of power by which deaf people are ‘normalized’ and assimilated into a majority of hearing people. These controversies aside, self-proclaimed cyborgs like philosopher Michael Chorost and software programmer Enno Park consider socio-technological symbiosis with the CI as a possibility to transcend the physical and perceptive borders of the human body and to question and revise (humanist) concepts of what it means to be ‘human’. This paper considers those three perspectives, thus focusing on a cultural phenomenon that has rarely been addressed within CI research. Indeed, an effort will be made to analyze how popular film and media discourses on post- and transhumanism and the motif of the ‘cyborg’ are appropriated, reworked, negotiated and associated with the CI as a means of subjectivization. The paper will also consider how these discourses are mobilized in order to construct the CI as both a rehumanizing and a dehumanizing instrument or a means of transcending humanness.
Inviolable Uniqueness: Human Enhancement Technologies, Ableism, and the Healing Potential of Human Dignity through FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement
by Kathleen Eggleson pages: 10 € 6.00
Abstract
Ableism is the term used to describe the set of discriminatory attitudes and practices in favour of the able-bodied. The prejudices of ableism operate against people with age-related impairments, chronic medical conditions, injuries, variant forms, and physical, developmental, and/or psychiatric disabilities. The root of ableism is societal regard for the value of human life that is merely conditional on the basis of functionality. The phenomenon of ableism and its relationship to human enhancement technologies comes to the fore in the recent film FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement (Making Change Media, 2013). For producer and director Regan Brashear, physical disability is the primary lens through which ableism is presented for examination from multiple angles. Intimate interviews with several people with physical disabilities and performances by integrated dance companies featuring dancers with and without observable disabilities are the documentary’s two distinct but complementary primary approaches, combined with observational cinema and archival content. The film’s articulate verbal and striking visual content drives at the eponymous question of whether the human body or society has greater need of being fixed. The remedies needed to fix society are not technological in nature. Societal changes with plausible efficacy in combating ableism depend on transcending material realities and values. The film, confined to a secular American cultural context, raises urgent questions but offers no answers. The Church, with its public role in offering holistic, non-mainstream perspectives on the universality of human value and historical advocacy for marginalized people, is a fit respondent for one of the film’s calls to action: to lay out a path for societal healing towards justice through the thick of ableism’s myriad manifestations. In this article, Catholic social teaching that addresses people with disabilities explicitly, as well as the fundamental concepts of human dignity, is articulated in response to FIXED’s evocation of ableism’s threat to the common good, exacerbated by broadly but unevenly distributed human enhancement technologies.
The Human Specimen: Nonfiction Representations of Conjoined Twins
by Susan Santha Kerns pages: 9 € 6.00
Abstract
Although representational platforms have changed since audiences took pleasure from gazing curiously at conjoined twins in sideshows, representations of conjoined twins remain a staple of nonfiction television. This article looks at several nonfiction television shows that relegate conjoined twins to scientific specimens, rather than humans, and how singleton ideals and biases are projected on to them. Alice Domurat Dreger says singletons, or single-bodied people, “understand psychosocial individuality as requiring anatomical individuality” and these ideals help maintain “order” through predictability. These singleton standards reveal themselves in what the shows privilege – scientific discovery, separation and independence – in large part via voiceover. The shows’ visuals, however, often compete with the master narrative; images of capable, though anomalous, bodies counter claims of incompetence. Instead of being seen as humans, conjoined twins are construed as specimens in need of scientific explanation and restructuring, resulting in the heroic doctor figures whom José van Dijck’s work describes, while the narratives reflect Rosemarie Garland Thomson’s notion that “error” replaced “wonder” as modern science, medicine, and ethics evolved since the nineteenth century. Surgical advancements, equipment and doctors often overshadow the twins, and individual lives are privileged above all else. These shows project “error” onto conjoined twins (sometimes literally) and narratively resolve the scientific problem that the twins’ bodies pose. The voiceover again undermines the visuals, indicating an investment in “error” and scientific progress over human agency; even though conjoined twins have adapted to their bodies, they are characterized as “struggling”. Examining these nonfiction representations of conjoined twins foregrounds how “being human” is more complicated for those with anomalous bodies who must constantly negotiate scientific discourses and social demands while endeavouring to be seen as people at all in the face of overriding narratives about their humanity.
Human or Alien?: fMRI as a Diagnostic Tool for Autism Spectrum Disorders
by Claire Barber-Stetson pages: 8 € 6.00
Abstract
New research by Marcel Just et al. achieves a previously unattainable success rate (97%) for the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to diagnose autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). As a methodological by-product, they find that autists do not think of themselves as part of social interactions, but rather as “spectators”. In describing their research, Just et al. use the alien metaphor, a frequent recourse among both autists and neuro-normates. This article raises concern that this new technology and Just et al.’s findings could re-ground existing cultural stereotypes in biology, furthering autists’ alienation. When considered with autist memoirs, though, their findings suggest that there may be different ways to understand one’s self than through one’s relationship to other people. While fMRI’s potential as a diagnostic technology should be treated with caution, Just et al.’s other findings have potential philosophical and practical applications.

III. Representations/Imaginaries

Cibernética y la Resbaladiza Concepción de Humanidad y Otredad drante la Guerra Fría: The Creation of the Humanoids (1962) and Who? (1973)
by Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns, Juan Ignacio Juvé pages: 10 € 6.00
Abstract
This essay works with two forgotten films made in America during the Cold War era, years framed by the discussion of humans and others less human. Right from its title, The Creation of the Humanoids (Wesley Barry, 1962) already from the title, debates the possibility of creating something more or less human. In a post-holocaust society, robots take it upon themselves to help the dying human race by giving them android bodies. After humans die, the androids secretly transplant their minds into cybernetic bodies, thus ensuring humanity’s survival. Still, the humans do not realise that they are really robots with human minds. Thus, the distinction between humanity and robotics is blurred. Since the first cyborg projects were carried out during the early years of the Cold War, this preoccupation within America is not uncommon. The film speaks about a post world where the cyborg dismantles the biological categories of sex and gender. Following this idea, the film’s cyborgs are created by a father-mother machine, and the film ends with the possibility of cybernetic breeding, further breaching the frontiers between humanity and cybernetics. Meanwhile, in Who? (Jack Gold, 1973), an American scientist (Joseph Bova) is severely injured and scarred in a car crash on the East German border; he is captured by the East German military, and scientists use metal implants to save him. Back in the States, no one can tell if it is really him or a Communist spy. Again, boundaries become fuzzy when life-enhancing implants blur the subjects’ humanity.
Scarlett Johansson’s Cyberfeminist Cyborg
by Nicole Richter pages: 11 € 6.00
Abstract
Historically, representations of the female cyborg in cinema have held an ambiguous place in contemporary feminism, primarily because they are presented as highly sexualized beings designed to fulfil male fantasy. Scarlett Johansson’s recent body of work – Lucy (2014), Under the Skin (2013) and Her (2013) – radically challenges the historically imagined synthetic female of popular culture. Each film represents Johansson as a cyborg in some way and initially projects elements of the sexualized cyborg from popular science fiction onto Johansson. However, these projections establish a foundation for the films to carefully deconstruct the paradoxes surrounding the feminine and the virtual. Lucy, Under the Skin and Her advance female cyborg identity in two progressive ways: 1. each film under discussion prioritizes the pursuit of self-knowledge in the female cyborg character, and 2. they reject the heteronormative structure of romantic coupling. Unlike previous female cyborgs (like those found in Blade Runner (1982), The Stepford Wives (1975) or The Perfect Woman (1949)), this self-awareness does not serve a supporting male fantasy or a romantic resolution. Rather, it disrupts the traditional romantic narrative of coupling and embraces a polymorphic worldview that exceeds the limitations of male fantasy. In addition, each film explores mind-body dualisms in new and fascinating ways, playing with notions of the disembodied voice and cyborg embodiment. For example, what differentiates Johansson’s portrayal of a cyborg in Her is the literal lack of embodiment – she possesses no body, and her being is imagined through her voice alone. The highly sexualized representation of the female cyborg is nowhere to be found visually, at some level contesting biological materialism and its emphasis on sexual difference defined through the body. Yet, the star’s body is evoked through her voice, complicating this immaterial premise. These new versions of the female cyborg advance cyberfeminist possibilities.
Sheldon the Robot and Penny the Barbarian: Technology, Gender and Embodiment in The Big Bang Theory
by Katherine H. Shaeffer pages: 9 € 6.00
Abstract
This paper addresses the relationship of technology to the human in the television series The Big Bang Theory and argues that the function of technology in the series is “scientifictional” (pulling from Hugo Gernsback’s term “scientifiction”). The series takes its cue from stories from the “Silver Age” of science fiction and self-consciously uses the tropes of science fiction to interrogate modern-day inequalities along class and gender lines. The article works with Sherryl Vint’s Bodies of Tomorrow to explore how The Big Bang Theory acknowledges the importance of embodiment to ethics. Additionally, the paper examines traditional science fiction tropes from The Big Bang Theory in conjunction with James Triptree, Jr’s 1973 “The Girl who was Plugged in”, a story that similarly questions the intersections of technology, gender and embodiment. This essay focuses on how Penny and Sheldon serve to explore these intersections. The first two episodes of season four, “The Robotic Manipulation” and “The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification”, are central to this analysis. “The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification”, in which Sheldon creates a robotic interface for himself, is the episode that deals most explicitly with technology and its relationship to the body. The third episode in season two, “The Barbarian Sublimation”, is also important to this analysis, as it centres on Penny’s embodiment and her relationship to technology. The Big Bang Theory has consistently reaped well-deserved criticism for its uneven and often sexist presentation of male and female characters, as well as for its stereotyped portrayals of geek culture. However, the series is not uncritical of these aspects of itself, and it plays with gender, embodiment and technology in ways that are both complex and deeply rooted in the traditions of science fiction.
H+: Transhumans in Cyberspace
by Stephen Joyce pages: 9 € 6.00
Abstract
This paper examines some issues with transhumanist philosophies as dramatized in the ground-breaking web series H+. Specifically developed to take advantage of new media’s interactive potential, H+ nonetheless portrays a pessimistic approach to technological progress and posthumanism. This critique is related to two problems for the transhumanist movement. First, both the narrative and the financing of the web series indicate some of the issues associated with corporate financing of transformative technologies, an issue to which proponents of transhumanism pay remarkably little attention. Second, the claim that posthuman society should be better because posthumans may be morally superior to us is critically examined, and the paper argues that morality cannot be advanced through biotechnology, as moral codes are social in nature and are distinct from moral dispositions. Rather, enhancement technologies are likely to throw up new ethical dilemmas that cannot be solved simply through posthuman enhancement.
Indice ragionato 2015
pages: 9 Download
Articles about COMUNICAZIONI SOCIALI - 2015 - 3. Being Humans:
Being Humans. The Human Condition in the Age of Techno-Humanism   (Issues)
Technological artefacts that only twenty years ago were but evocative objects have now become ordinary presences in our life: from artificial implants to mass cosmetic surgery and body manipulation, from new forms of permanent media interconnection to interaction with artificial intelligences. Hence a number of new crucial questions arise, related to our living together in the age of post-humanism. Nowadays, when technology is no longer a tool, or even just an environment, but is wearable and incorporated, and can act retroactively on the very structure of the organism, what are the main challenges we have to face, and the main narratives for making sense of this new human condition?

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