Education in the shadow of the Anthropocene: Critical posthumanist experimentation

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Abstract

This article develops a critical posthumanist conception of education as a response to the Capitalocene and the Anthropocene. Both the Capitalocene and Anthropocene (Haraway 2016) are made possible by the “society of control” as described by Deleuze (1992). The control refers to the dominant position the human has assumed by oppressing and exploiting the various others such as the “lesser” humans, the non-human living and the multitudes of non-living beings. While the effects of this power are devastating to all, it rests on the humanistic denial of the human’s dependence on, and entanglement with, all the others. The dominance of human powers would not have been possible if it were not for the “resources” extracted from the others, such as human capital, natural resources and the power of technologies. The devastating nature of powers is due to the humanist isolation of the human from all the others. Human exceptionalism is made possible when the “human” has become the result of processes of purification and hierarchisation (Latour 1993). The hierarchy, which entails the superiority of reason, does not apply only to the other living and the non-living, but also to those regarded as “lesser” humans (the non-Western, women, colonised, working class, black). For Adorno and Horkheimer (2016) the “dialect of reason” entails the ways the belief in the power of the autonomous reason led to oppression and the deprivation of freedom. The Anthropocene refers to the domination of the planet Earth which results in environmental devastation due to human actions. The Capitalocene is a related concept which refers to the exploitation of all the others for the sake of capital accumulation by the few.

Humanistic beliefs have been shaping education to such an extent that it is called an “anthropological machine” by Snaza et al. (2014). While education has played a central role in entrenching notions of human exceptionalism and of hierarchical relations towards the others, it became caught up in the process of surveillance and standardisation, leading to predefined outcomes mainly to serve market needs.

Critical posthumanism attempts to provide a response to the devastating effect of humanism. According to Haraway (1991) posthumanism has overcome three boundaries: those between humans and animals, between humans and machines, and between the physical and the non-physical. While posthumanism is a broad movement that explores how the entanglement with technologies could lead to new modes of becoming, critical posthumanism queries the devastating effects when technologies are instrumental to humanist enhancement. Critical posthumanism goes further than the acknowledgement of entanglement to a sensibility of equality, mutuality and co-dependence. It realises that such a sensibility is the condition for the continued existence of humans and the others. Critical posthumanism queries the humanistic beliefs underlying the dominant position claimed by humans.

Critical posthumanist education recognises the ways students are already entangled with the many others. It aims to create a sense of equality, mutual dependence, becoming with the others, accountability and responsibility. The article explores four examples of pedagogical strategies aiming at such a sensibility: tracing of networks, becoming with others, embodied resistance and learning with animals.

The first example reports the experiences of a student tracing how subjectivity is embedded in networks. Angus, Cook and Evans et al. (2001) provide an account of how a student in a course called “Geographies of material culture” traced the networks associated with a mug of coffee. The tracing starts with immediate experiences of items such as milk, a kettle, water, electricity, coffee and a stainless steel spoon. It further traces the networks that make each of these items present, such as an electricity network, coffee plantations, international trade and working conditions. In the process the student experiences his dependence on, and responsibility towards, the multiple others that make his becoming possible.

The second example deals with the becoming of preschoolers when opening themselves up to being affected by others when they experiment with their bodies, movement and light. Olsson (2009) reports on the way the initial interest of preschools shifts when they start using an overhead projector (OHP) to project their favourite cars on a screen. While rearranging the cars and other objects on the OHP they discover how different patterns of light and shadow could be produced. Although the teachers were not always certain of the particular trajectory of the children’s quest, they took care to keep it alive through the provision of material and spaces. From this example it became clear that we cannot assume to know what children’s bodies can do or how they could become. “Following the child” in the preschool gains new meaning when children’s becoming is seen as an open-ended process.

The third example deals with the way the body participates in a pedagogy of resistance as a response to the way it is either eliminated or treated as a passive recipient of images in the digital era. Garoian and Gaudelius (2001) show how the single focus on digital reproduction is critiqued by the way the embodied subject creates new images and ideas. They use the work of performing artists to illustrate a pedagogy of resistance. They discuss how one of the artists, Stelarc, collects data when images from the internet are projected on the body while the latter responds to electronic impulses. The data which blend the images and the bodily reactions are uploaded on a website. The active role of the body which blends with software code in feedback loops constitutes resistance to the way digital space is disembodied.

The fourth example deals with the relationship with animals. Dinker and Pedersen (2016) develop a “species-inclusive intersectional pedagogy” which relates the oppression of animals to that of “lesser” humans and to environmental degradation. They argue that children should not simply learn from animals, but with them through an ethical, non-instrumental relationship. The pedagogical processes should include the perspectives and feelings of animals when, for example, they are hunted, slaughtered and held in captivity. They propose activities such as a visit to slaughter houses or farms where animals are kept in order to counter the romantic views that are usually presented. The article concludes by emphasising the importance of the critique of humanist assumptions about human superiority underlying both humanism and some posthumanisms and indicates that a new relationship is necessary for sustainable living with all the others.

Keywords: Anthropocene; controlled society; critical posthumanism; education; experimentation

 

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Onderwys in die skaduwee van die Antroposeen. Kritiese posthumanistiese eksperimentering

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