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Toward Transnationalism

A Reading of Life of Pi

Supriya Agarwal

Abstract

With social and economic boundaries receding, transnationalism is a fast-growing phenomenon in the world. The article highlights the journey undertaken in the novel Life of Pi by the protagonist across several countries, justifying the thought that staying unconditionally loyal to one nation is futile. In contemporary times with a shift in social, economic, and cultural terms, the nation stands deterritorialized. Reaching out across borders in a world where distance and time have crumbled is looked upon as the beginning of the idea of transnationalism. Even the relationship of the protagonist with the unexplored islands has undergone change. Bereft of family, he is a castaway on unknown terrain, a victim of the unforeseen wrath of nature and in intimidation of the island, which he has to leave soon. Shifting focus of the present humanity is explored in the article, establishing the argument of change in the contemporary thought and lifestyle.

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Transition as Cultural Revitalization

Exploring Social Motives for Environmental Movement Participation

Anna J. Willow

Abstract

This article explores the Transition movement for climate change resilience as a cultural revitalization movement that is unfolding in response to the unique problems and prospects of the Anthropocene era. Drawing on ethnographic research, I suggest that personal well-being and community cohesion are essential motives for environmental movement participation. As Transition participants work to generate more satisfying cultural options, they relieve existential angst, reclaim the possibility of a positive future, create a safe space for radical resistance, and engender a simultaneously local and global sense of community. Ultimately, I argue that embracing environmental and (inter)personal action as both complementary and inextricably intertwined is essential if we are to catalyze the broad behavioral changes needed to evade catastrophic climate change and socioecological collapse.

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Facing a Toxic Object

Nuclear Waste Management and its Challenges for Nature-Culture-Relationships

Christiane Schürkmann

Abstract

Over the past decades, industrial societies have produced a range of substances whose effects humans increasingly identify as toxic—a prominent example is radioactive waste and the question of its disposal. This fabricated “object of modernity” not only calls for the knowledge of the natural sciences, it also affects society at large in its immense challenge of figuring out how to dispose of this material and altogether “detoxify” society from its hazardous activity. The contribution develops a heuristic perspective on toxic objects, exemplified by analyzing documents with a focus on how different societal actors in Germany problematize high-level radioactive waste (HLW) in the context of finding a repository site. The perspective on toxic objects aims to strengthen a more nuanced view of “modern” relationships between human action and material activity with regard to hazardous socio-chemical fabrications as a consequence of an objectified nature.

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Humans “in the Loop”?

Human-Centrism, Posthumanism, and AI

Nandita Biswas Mellamphy

Abstract

More and more scholarly attention is being paid to the challenges of governing artificial intelligence and emergent technologies. Most of the focus remains on questions of how to preserve the human-centeredness of increasingly advancing machine-driven technologies. I problematize discourses of “human-centered AI” that prioritize human control over nonhuman intelligences as a solution for the challenges posed by emergent technologies like artificial intelligence. Posthumanism provides a compelling theoretical basis for this line of questioning and for reimagining alternative ethical constructs. I outline and consider three distinct scenarios in which (a) humans are at the center of command and control, (b) humans and nonhumans share control, (c) human oversight is completely removed. I suggest that more attention could be given to critical and speculative ways of reimagining the concepts of “human,” “nonhuman,” and human/nonhuman relations.

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Introduction

Posthuman? Nature and Culture in Renegotiation

Kornelia Engert and Christiane Schürkmann

Abstract

The contributions in this special issue focus on different phenomena and conceptual approaches dealing with “the Posthuman” as a discourse of renegotiating nature-culture-relationships that has emerged over the past decades. The selected articles from fields of sociology, political science, and social anthropology demonstrate how to work with and discuss posthumanistic and post-anthropocentric perspectives, but also how to irritate and criticize universal assumptions of particular posthuman approaches empirically and theoretically. The introduction aims to position the particular contributions in a field of tension between de- and re-centering human beings and human agency.

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Making Post/Anthropocentric Futures in Agrobiodiversity Conservation

Franziska von Verschuer

Abstract

Since the mid-twentieth century global modernization of agriculture, seed banking has become a core technoscientific strategy to counteract agrobiodiversity loss and ensure future food security. This article develops a post-anthropocentric reading of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as a nodal point of global ex situ conservation efforts. Based on qualitative expert interviews, I explore the rationality of crisis and salvation that underlies these efforts and discuss its roots in an anthropocentric relation to nature as a resource. By arguing that the latter produces the crises that conservation measures intend to counteract, I show how the Seed Vault conserves this resource-orientation. I then illustrate a concurrent unruliness of more-than-human worldly becoming the embracing of which, I argue, is a way for conservationism to cultivate different, non-crisic futures.

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Posthuman Prehistory

Tim Ingold

Abstract

This article asks what part prehistory could play in establishing a posthumanist settlement, alternative to the humanism of the Enlightenment. We begin by showing how Enlightenment thinking split the concept of the human in two, into species and condition, establishing a point of origin where the history of civilization rises from its baseline in evolution. Drawing on the thinking of the thirteenth-century mystic, Ramon Llull, we present an alternative vision of human becoming according to which life carries on through a process of continuous birth, wherein even death and burial hold the promise of renewal. In prehistory, this vision is exemplified in the work of André Leroi-Gourhan, in his exploration of the relation between voice and hand, and of graphism as a precursor to writing. We conclude that the idea of graphism holds the key to a prehistory that not so much precedes as subtends the historic.

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“Rights of Things”

A Posthumanist Approach to Law?

Doris Schweitzer

Abstract

We can identify a legal vanishing point within neo-materialist and posthumanist approaches—either explicitly, for example, when things are regarded as political actors or contractual partners; or implicitly, when authors hint at the anthropocentric limitations of the granting of rights to human beings. Conversely, “rights of things” appear as a posthumanist approach to law as they decentralize “the human.” But do “rights of things” actually surmount the strict divide between humans (persona) and nonhumans (res) within law? By referring to three empirical cases—animal rights, rights of nature, and robot rights—I will argue that “rights of things” do not necessarily push against the anthropocentrism of law. Rather, we can identify a re-centralization of humans within a given milieu. Thus, the critical impact of the concept “rights of things” must be reconsidered; furthermore, we can draw some conclusions for the theoretical approaches of New Materialism and Posthumanism itself.

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The Alchemy of a Corpus of Underwater Images

Locating Carysfort to Reconcile our Human Relationship with a Coral Reef

Deborah James

Abstract

Through an ecocinema lens, an unconventional corpus of photographs of Carysfort Reef, one of seven iconic coral reefs along the Florida Reef Tract, represents something of an extreme time-lapse series. In the absence of a cohesive underwater documentary record at the time when the Florida Reef Tract is undergoing the most extensive reef restoration in the world, speculation allows us to search for patterns in damaged places with incomplete information and practice a form of multispecies storytelling of our encounters. Taken in 1966, 2003, 2014, and 2019, these images are evidence of cultural moments in our changing relationship with this reef in the context of anthropocentrism, the emergence of an alternative environment spectatorship of awareness, and a baseline for localized social change.

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Argentina and the United States’ “Gender Situations” in Eduarda Mansilla de García's Trip Memoirs (1882)

Linda Gruen

Abstract

This article explores the ways in which nineteenth-century Argentine author, Eduarda Mansilla de García, engaged with the issues of women and modernity in her 1882 travelogue, Recuerdos de viaje. It argues that the practice of travel writing served a dual purpose for Mansilla. Publishing a travelogue about the United States enabled Mansilla to trouble Argentine period gender restrictions while at the same critically evaluate North American females. Drawing from theorizations regarding travel writing as a place of power negotiations, I unveil how Mansilla employed her travelogue as a means of validating the cultural capital of Latin American geocultural space in comparison with that of the United States. Consequently, this nineteenth-century Latin American travel narrative did more than the task of light entertainment; it engaged with significant, ongoing period transnational debates regarding modernity, gender, and nation.