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PhD course

New technologies and the future of the human

  • ECTS credits10
  • Teaching semesterSpring
  • Course codeSANT906
  • Resources

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Course description

Language of instruction

English

Course content

We invite PhD students of Anthropology and related disciplines to take part in a course dedicated to an investigation of the imaginary projects of technoscience, in which new ways of being human and new ways of being social are developed. This is going to be an exploratory course, mobilizing what we know about the human being into thinking and speculating about what the future might bring. In this effort the lecturers and students together will explore possible entries into an understanding.

Technological innovation in human-computer interfaces, medical breakthroughs in nano- and biotechnology, infrastructural transformations of urban orders, algorithmic government, new technologies to intervene in anthropogenic climate change, all seriously challenge established understandings of the human being and its environment. Mind-blowing questions are now being asked, namely:

What will be the nature of the human being in the future? What are the potentials of new genetics? Of cloning? Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) develop and enhance human qualities? What happens to social relations when we are primarily living in digital, virtual spaces? What social, legal and political status do robots, avatar and digital selves acquire? What is the future of cities when scientists predict radical life-threatening climate disasters, and even their extinction? And, what do the new technologies of surveillance, climate regulations and "greening" policies entail for the institutional frames for human life?

As reflected by these questions and in the age of technoscience, the very idea of what a human being is, has come to be fundamentally challenged: in new human-machine interfaces, in human enhancement technologies, in synthetic biology and genetic engineering, as well as new nature/culture relationships. Active transhumanist movements work for ideological and political backing for investments in science that can bring about a new and potentially enhanced and even immortal human form. The idea of a future where humans live in space are not only the fantasies of California billionaires like Elon Musk, or sci-fi movies, but has become imaginative grounds for social movements, especially in the U.S. and Russia but also across the globe.

One might argue that the notion of futurity - i.e. the horizon and orientation towards a time yet to come - is fundamental for understanding contemporary society. It might be key for an understanding of the larger structural aspects of the major issues and crises of our time. However, futurity, we propose, is also key to how people orient their own lives - in relation to for instance death, kinship, or generational shifts - as well as to their ideas of a failing environment or a less viable society at large. Perhaps paradoxically, the increased interest in technological sciences, apparently giving us direct access to the 'future' (e.g. political prognoses, economic models, weather and climate scenarios etc.), has created a blind spot for the social and human sciences in our understanding of what such futurity represents for the human being. We encourage students to contribute to the course with empirically based, hands-on analyses of technological innovations and futurity at the ground level of people's lived lives and their relationship to larger economic, political, social, and historical processes.

How should we understand this turn to re-defining the human, re-defining life, and re-defining habitable space and sociality? We welcome students who are open to thinking about such a reconfigured human being - when facing all sorts of societal challenges such as ecological crises, economic uncertainty, deprivation and dispossession, food and energy management, urbanization, as well as rising trends of being placed inside new regimes of digital infrastructures, AI controls, pharmaceutical and medical doctrines, in new labor regimes, monetary regimes, and environmental protocols.

Examples of issues to be considered during the course (illustrated by case studies) in student essays:

  • Arguments about cultural change and the way new technologies might rephrase what the human being and the social is, particularly vis-à-vis the material world.
  • An understanding of the human being and the inherent pitfalls with such concepts as mind, consciousness, body and organs, intelligence, relations, agency, and environment.
  • Demonstrate critical and experimental approaches within both theory and methodology when it comes to the domain of what defines the human being in the world.
  • An understanding of the particular contributions anthropology may make into debates on new technologies and futurity; and to demonstrate how anthropological analyses and perspectives may overlap, complement or contradict perspectives on the nature of technology and the human found in other sciences.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course the participants should be able to:

  • Formulate and express arguments about cultural change and the way new technologies might rephrase what the human being is, particularly vis-à-vis the material world.
  • Articulate an understanding of the human being and the inherent issues with such concepts as mind, consciousness, body and organs, intelligence, relations, agency, and environment.
  • Demonstrate critical and experimental approaches within both theory and methodology when it comes to the domain of what defines the human being in the world.
  • Being able to discuss the concept of 'social technologies' as a starting point for understanding technology per se.
  • Show a reasonable understanding of the particular contributions anthropology may make into debates on new technologies and futurity; and to demonstrate an understanding of how anthropological analyses and perspectives may overlap, complement or contradict analyses and perspectives on the nature of technology found in other social sciences.
  • Identify, analyze, and juxtapose various analytical and theoretical positions on the nature of human being and technology specifically drawing on the literature assigned to the course.
  • Prepare and present an essay or thesis chapter that engages one or several of the issues of the course and which makes use of one or several case studies.
  • Receive and provide constructive criticism on a submitted essay.

Study period

28 March - 31 March 2022

Credits (ECTS)

The full course yields 10 ECTS

Partial course yields 5 ECTS

Specific terms

Course registration and deadlines

  • Deadline for registration for course: 21st January 2022
  • Notification to admitted participants 25th January 2022
  • Submission of pre-circulated papers:  18th March 2022.
  • Appointment of discussants: 23rd March 2020.
  • Submission of final essay: 1st June 2022 

Please register here.

Compulsory Requirements

Full course (10 ECTS):

  • Before the course starts, each PhD student will prepare a paper for precirculation, addressing her or his research project in relation to the course theme.
  • Each PhD student must also familiarise himself/herself with the course literature and overview of lectures before the course (see separate document).
  • Each PhD student must also act as a commentator of another PhD student´s paper during the course.
  • Receive and provide constructive criticism on the assignments.
  • Within two months after the course participants will submit their written essay for evaluation. Essay length: 7000 Words +/- 10 percent, including footnotes.

Partial course (5 ECTS):

  • Submission of 5000 words essay before the course

Both the pre-circulated paper draft and the final essay is to be sent to contact Anne-Kathrin Thomassen (mailto:anne-kathrin.thomassen@uib.no) at the Department of Social Anthropology, UiB.

Form of assessment

Full course (10 ECTS):

  • Essay, 7000 Words +/- 10 percent, including footnotes

Partial course (5 ECTS):

  • Evaluation of submitted 5000 words essay,
  • Approval of presentation and discussion during the seminar

Who may participate

PhD students in anthropology, history, political science, human geography, sociology; either before or after conducting qualitative data-collection or fieldwork

Addtional information

Programme

The programme runs for three and a half days starting in the morning of Monday 28th of March and ending mid-day on Friday 31st March. The programme is designed to alternate between lectures, PhD students presenting and discussing their papers and an excursions into the urban order of Paris.

In the course seminars, each student paper will be allotted 45 minutes, beginning with the PhD student presenting a 15 minute summary of the paper´s contents. This is followed by a 10 minute commentary from one of the other PhD students (selected in advance), after which she or he will chair an open discussion on the paper for approximately 20 minutes. All lecturers will take part in the discussions.

Detailed programme.

Academic responsibility

Professor Knut Rio, UiB

Lecturers

Joffrey Becker - Human Technology Center, RWTH Aachen
Anya Bernstein - Harvard
Bjørn Enge Bertelsen - UiB
Kerry Chance - UiB
Annelin Eriksen - UiB
Knut Rio - UiB

Participation expenses

There is no participation fee. Students will be expected to cover their own travel and accommodation.

Reading list

Reading list

Course location

Paris, Centre Universitaire de Norvège à Paris. 54, Boulevard Raspail

Contact

Study period

28 March - 31 March 2022