Celebrating diversity – the opportunities that new technologies offer for research

Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

In late September we held an intensive PhD school in hybrid form (offline and online) on ‘Technologies Are Us: Feminist Perspectives of Posthuman Futures’ in collaboration with Bergen University. Under covid conditions technologies have rapidly become us in ways that we had not dreamt of even a year ago. Everybody zooms now – a year ago we did so very rarely. But technologies are us not just in terms of what we do, but also in terms of how we relate to them: the emotions they conjure up as we grapple with their (and our) in/sufficiencies. The shiny AI world of much related advertising bears little relation to the actual experience of technology and technologized events. These require much forethought, pre-planning and inter-relation in contexts of uneven playing fields. An Australian participant, for example, had to be present during her night to listen to some of our sessions. And the west coast of the US was just waking up as we were beginning to call it a day. Bodies and spaces were thus not always in sync. Global reach does not equal global synchronicity.

The real joy of the event were the wonderful and highly diverse PhD projects the students presented, often modified by covid’s inexorable reach. One participant, working on technology and sport, had had his heart set on the Olympics – not now happening as planned – as his fieldsite, and had to re-think. Another was working, artistically, on the concept of the interface. Interface as a space of translation between different media, different energies, different materials. She was producing complicated conceptual artefacts, speaking to the notion of the interface. But when will the next exhibition be? Yet another PhD student was working on sexbots which all seemed rather similar in her material, though a documentary shown on BBC3 in 2018, Sexbots and Us, reveals how in ‘niche’ markets of different kinds are already being created. For all PhDs the question of ‘relation’ – a key concept in feminist theory – was central: how do we relate to technology, how does technology relate to us? How are we disciplined by algorithmic structures – bodily, cognitively, psychologically? Jennifer Robertson’s (2018) Robo sapiens japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family, and the Japanese Nation remains a useful corrective to some of our wilder fantasies. I thoroughly recommend it.

Gabriele Griffin

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