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Towards post-human society? (CSO Open Seminar 2019)

Published on
22 November 2018

The Centre for Social Ontology is organising a round-table and open discussion on whether, and in what respects, contemporary societies are becoming post-human. The expression post-human is used in broad terms to refer to technological and social developments that displace or transform the boundaries of our common humanity. The seminar is convened by Prof. Ismael Al-Amoudi (GEM, social and organisational studies) and will feature Professors Margaret Archer (Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, social theory), Pierpaolo Donati (Bologna, sociology), Jamie Morgan (Leeds-Beckett, philosophy and economics), Doug Porpora (Drexel, media studies) and Colin Wight (Sydney, international relations).

PROGRAMME

The morning (9h-12h) will feature a round table in connection with the CSO's current project on post-human society. Places are limited to 35 participants. We are delighted and honoured to welcome five very distinguished speakers: Profs Margaret Archer (Warwick and PASS), Pierpaolo Donati (Bologna), Jamie Morgan (Leeds-Becket), Doug Porpora (Drexel) and Colin Wight (Sydney).  

The afternoon (13h30-15h) will feature a general discussion around the question ‘Towards post-human society?’ The point being to generate informed dialogue rather than expert monologue. 

Between 15h and 17h, our five guest speakers will be available for individual 30 minutes discussions. Do not hesitate to discuss with them either a research project of yours for which you would like their input, or questions you may have about their own research, about realist approaches to social science, etc. 

PLENARY SEMINAR IN ROOM C241

09.00 WELCOME + presentation of the CSO and its two projects to date (Prof. Al-Amoudi)
09.30 Discussion
10.00 COFFEE BREAK
10.15 Roundtable: Towards post-human society? (Profs Archer; Donati; Morgan, Porpora and Wight) 
12.15 LUNCH
13.30 General discussion: Towards post-human society?
15.00 END OF PLENARY, START OF INDIVIDUAL SESSIONS
15.00-15.30 Afternoon individual meetings #1 (Boxes 102; 103; 104; 110; 111; 112)
15.45-16.15 Afternoon individual meetings #2 (Boxes 102; 103; 104; 110; 111; 112)
16.30-17.00 Afternoon individual meetings #3 (Boxes 102; 103; 104; 110; 111; 112)
17.00 END OF AFTERNOON INDIV. MEETINGS
 

REGISTRATION

Please use the first sheet of the Google Doc to register for the morning, and the second page to register for the individual sessions should you wish to do so. Places being limited, please register early.

 Why be interested in post-human society?

Human biological nature has been remarkably stable for over 200,000 years. Yet recent advances in technology threaten to blur and displace the constituents of our shared humanity. Biological engineering already allows us to defy the laws of natural evolution that prevailed for about four billion years. In theory, and increasingly in practice, we are capable of transforming human physiologies, immune systems and life expectancies, but also human intellectual and emotional capacities. Cyborg engineering is also well under way. We are now surrounded with miniature mobile devices that extend our powers of communication, computation, memorisation and perception (smart phones, laptops, hearing aids, cloud storage, etc.) While these devices are still separable from our body, connected implants are increasingly in use. The latter include therapeutic devices such as thought-operated bionic arms, retina implants and bionic ears. But also surveillance devices such as intra-dermic microchips gathering data on soldiers and prisoners. A third, and less certain, development concerns the production of novel life forms which could disrupt our understanding of ‘life’, ‘consciousness’ and ‘humanity’. While the creation of novel organic life forms is an established possibility, the creation of inorganic life forms, and a fortiori conscious ones, remains speculative though, to date, unrefuted.
A dangerous combination: antihumanism, transhumanism, posthumanism
Human biological engineering and cybernetics can be called transhumanist because they transcend the boundaries conventionally attributed to humanity. While the abrupt transformation of our human constitutions is a technological phenomenon, it is also, and crucially, a social and a cultural phenomenon. And while transhumanism does not constitute in itself a threat, we identify a danger in the combination of transhumanism with anti- or post-humanist social theories[i] on one hand and with antihumanist practices, institutions and ideologies on the other. The dangers posed by the combination of antihumanism, transhumanism and posthumanism are exacerbated in the context of morphogenic societies where change generates more change and where actors are rewarded for seeking contingent complementarities – that is, associations motivated by foreseeable gains rather than grounded principles.
Social scientists’ significant absence
The social and cultural challenges to human nature have provided a popular topic for science-fiction novelists, popular science writers, philosophers, bio-ethicists and, increasingly, policy-makers. To our knowledge, however, there are few systematic and significant studies conducted by social-scientists. Social sciences’ absence is problematic for several reasons.
Firstly, it leaves the assessment of specific transhuman developments open to fantasy. Without rigorous and systematic studies, antihumanist or posthumanist developments are relegated to the fait-divers section of social studies and generate responses that are either anemic or hot-blooded. Secondly, without a rigorous social theoretical discussion, transhumanism leaves us with slippery ontological and ethical compasses when examining its dehumanising tendencies. Thirdly, we must understand why decent persons engage in, or simply tolerate, so many of the dehumanising practices and institutions brought by transhumanism. In the absence of substantive studies informed by the social sciences, it remains difficult to be more specific than the vague and trivial claim that ‘transhuman developments are not necessarily good or bad in all circumstances’.
[i] For a critical discussion of anti/post-human social theory, see Archer, MS (2000) Being Human. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

References

Archer, MS (2018). 'Bodies, persons and human enhancement: Why these distinctions matter.' In: I. Al-Amoudi & J. Morgan (Eds) Realist Responses to Post-Human Society: Ex Machina. London and New York: Routledge.

Al-Amoudi, I (2018). 'Management and dehumanisation in Late Modernity'.  In: I. Al-Amoudi & J. Morgan (Eds) Realist Responses to Post-Human Society: Ex Machina. London and New York: Routledge.

Carrigan, M (The evisceration of the human under digital capitalism'. In: I. Al-Amoudi & J. Morgan (Eds) Realist Responses to Post-Human Society: Ex Machina. London and New York: Routledge.

Donati, P (forthcoming). 'The dygital matrix and the hybridisation of society'. In: I Al-Amoudi and E Lazega (Eds) Post-human organisations and institutions: Confronting the Matrix'. London and New York: Routledge.

Maccarini, AM (2018). 'Trns-human (life-)time: emergent biographies and the 'deep change' in personal reflexivity.' In: I. Al-Amoudi & J. Morgan (Eds) Realist Responses to Post-Human Society: Ex Machina. London and New York: Routledge..

Porpora, D (2018). 'Vulcans, Klingons and humans: what does humanism encompass?'. In: I. Al-Amoudi & J. Morgan (Eds) Realist Responses to Post-Human Society: Ex Machina. London and New York: Routledge.

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