A Post-Human World? Rethinking Anthropology and the Human Condition

From 13 June, 2013 to 14 June, 2013
9.00 am - 5.00pm on both days

Anthropology has historically been based on an idea of the human as a 'species-being' defined by its unique capacity to order its own world. At the annual symposium of the University of Sydney Department of Anthropology, participants will ask how anthropology would change if we gave up this assumption. They respond in different ways to Bruno Latour's challenge to ‘open up the question of humanity’ by considering that ‘the non-human is not inhuman’ (1997: 15).

At the symposium, the participants will debate the separation of nature and culture. Each considers the possibility of a ‘post-human’ condition as it applies to their own research. How are our research agendas as anthropologists changed when we assume that human and non-human exist in relationship to one another as mediators rather than as ends and means, and with neither subordinate to the other? In recent years, anthropologists have explored the post-human condition through research on topics of surveillance, political ecology, cross-species relationships, disabilities, and virtual worlds, among others. This symposium brings together anthropologists from across the field, and many from other disciplines, to consider the implications of a post-human world in which humans are part of nature and nature is part of the human. We will debate the question of what is anthropology, both where it has come from and where it is going. There will be both wide-ranging plenary sessions tackling big issues and several breakout sessions with a variety of topical foci. Some of the topics the sessions will address are:

·       Alternative and emerging conceptualizations of environment and human ecology

·       The politics of recognition of new kinds of subjects and new kinds of beings

·       Anthropology as a science

·       Urban political ecologies

·       New approaches to agency, consciousness and mind

·       And more

There will also be two invited distinguished lectures:

Marianne Elisabeth Lien, University of Oslo

Domestication Retold: Reframing the anthropos of anthropology

Abstract: Domestication refers to a significant historical moment when humans began to grow plants and control animals for food procuring purposes. The Neolithic revolution in the Middle East is often portrayed as the beginning of this journey that allegedly paved the way for human population growth, division of labor, social stratification and state formation. As a story of human progress this narrative reproduces and maintains fundamental dualisms between the ‘civilised and the savage’, the ‘tame and the wild’, and ‘nature and culture’, as well as humans and non-humans.

But what if it did not actually happen that way? What if significant transformations were unintentional outcomes of mutual interaction and non-humans are key agents? What if the origin story is not one, but many, and always unfinished? Drawing on recent research in archeology, as well as nutrition and genetics, I consider the implications for anthropology of a less anthropocentric understanding of domestication. How can multispecies co-evolution help us re-frame the ‘anthropos’ of anthropology? How can we understand current socio-material phenomena as outcomes of lively encounters human in the human non-human contact zone? And what does domestication look like from the Arctic, and from under the water surface? Engaging ethnographies from the margins of domestication, I explore alternative trajectories of relational becoming, as well as alternative futures.

Nikolas Kompridis, University of Western Sydney

Abstract: The “Anthropocene” poses a number of urgent, inescapable challenges for the human sciences, not least of which is the challenge of what sense they are now to make of their primary object of study: the human. What sense can be made of the human once various forms of anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism have been discarded? How does the object of the human sciences change when inquiries into the human incorporate the normative perspectives of the non-human? Who or what is the figure left standing for the sciences of the human to study?

Click here to the Symposium Abstracts.

Location: John Woolley Building

Contact:Katarina Ferro
Phone: 61 2 9036 5351

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