(Post)Humanism in the Accelerated Academy

Our sixth event took place on November 30th, organised by Jana Bacevic, Mark Carrigan and Filip Vostal.

Keynote: Liberalism Must Be Defeated: The Obsolescence of Bourgeois Theory in the Anthropocene by Gary Hall, Director of Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, UK.

  • Jana Bacevic (University of Cambridge): In the realm of objects: knowledge (and) production
  • Garfield Benjamin (Solent University): The fractal knowledge machine
  • Eleanor Dare (Royal College of Art): Normative validity and the quantified academic self
  • Jason Eyre (De Montfort University): Learning as Seizure: Expressions and Implications in the Marketised Academy
  • Lisa Jack (Portsmouth Business School), Hanne Nørreklit and Lennart Nørreklit (Aarhus University): Beyond the Post-Truth Turn: From Habitus Based to Digital Based Performance Management of University Scholars
  • Zachary Kaiser (Michigan State University): Posthuman Oracles: Cybernetic Dreams and Capitalist Hallucinations in the Computationalist University
  • Lai Ma (Univeristy College Dublin): My Metrics and I: The Flattened Self in Information Infrastructure
  • Miriam Madsen (Aarhus School of Education): Intelligible Measurements: An Analytical Methodological and Ethical Approach of Shifts Between Knower and Known
  • Susan Lee Robertson (University of Cambridge): Vertical Vision, Vertigo and Unhingement in the Accelerated Academy
  • Filip Vostal (Czech Academy of Sciences): Maintaining Beamtime
  • Steve Watson (University of Cambridge): The pre-and posthuman limbic system in the accelerated academy

The conference seeks to conceptualise change in contemporary knowledge production in a way that transcends the dichotomy between theoretical frameworks that emphasise the role of humans (e.g. pragmatism, cultural sociology, critical realism, Bourdieusian sociology) and those that seek to dissolve the human and/or focus on non-human actors (actor-network theory, poststructuralism, STS, new materialism, transhumanism). Bringing together scholars in social sciences and humanities whose work engages with relationships between the human, post-human, metrics, and agency in the ‘neoliberal’ university, the conference addresses the methodological implications of how we theorise human agency, the agency of technical systems, and the relationships between them, in order to foster and support critical scholarship and engagement the current (and future) socio-political environment requires.

It is by now widely accepted that the transformation of the structures of governance and funding of higher education and research – including pressures to produce more and faster, and the associated proliferation of instruments of measurement such as citation (‘H’) indexes and rankings – pose serious challenges to the future of the academia. The critique of these trends has mostly taken the form of calls to ‘slow down’, or assertion of the intrinsic value/unquantifiable character of scholarship, particularly in the social sciences and humanities. While these narratives highlight important aspects of academics’ experience of neoliberal restructuring, they often end up reproducing the inter- and intra-disciplinary division between theoretical and interpretative frameworks that foreground human agency (focusing on student movements, working experiences of academics, or decision-making) and those that foreground the performativity of non-human agents (focusing on the role of metrics, indexes, analytics or institutions).

This intellectual fragmentation constrains attempts to study these processes in genuinely interdisciplinary ways. On the rare occasions when meaningful exchange does happen, conceptual, ideological, and institutional fault lines hinder sustained dialogue, often leading to the reassertion of old certainties in lieu of engagement with complex relational, institutional, socio-technical, and political/policy realities of transformation. The conference aims to provide an intellectual and institutional framework that challenges this dichotomy, and seeks to develop ways of thinking that are mutually reinforcing, rather than exclusive. It focuses on the issue of the (post)human as the ontological underpinning to the descriptive and explanatory work needed, as well as the normative horizon for resistance.

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