Re: AnthroFuturism

Tue, 12 Apr 1994 00:46:41 -0400

>> I am wondering why anthropologists seem
>> stuck in the past
>Because you haven't read enough contemporary anthropology. There will be
>a large contingent of anthropologists at the SSSS meetings in New Orleans
>this fall ... Some papers I've seen abstracts for will discuss things like
>women in space, Sim* software, satellite technology, fetal surgery, etc.

OK, Chris, you win, I haven't read enough contemporary anthropology.
No, scratch that, actually I have.
(Some of it, even, by you and some of the other nifty folks at Rice, who
offered me a chance to study with your dept. but then told me I wouldn't
want to come anyway.)
If somebody was paying for the trip (and somebody ain't), I would be at the
4S meetings in a heartbeat. They sound real cool to me; I met some of the
folks from the Anthro of Sci, Comp, & Tech., at the Triple A's, exchanged
email with a couple of them, and agree, yeah, there's hot research
happenin' there. But this seems to be (as with so many other Triple A
subfractures) hardly "gathering steam," as it were, in the field. I got a
taste of it at the Cyborg Anthropology panel at the Triple A's, definitely
I am hungry for more. (Just got my first copy of _Science, Technology, and
Human Values_. Good stuff!)

>(You may want to read things like Benedikt (ed.), _Cyberspace: First Steps_;
>Traweek, _Beamtimes and Lifetimes_;

Read both, pal, in fact Traweek (and my advisor Dr. Martin) were
inspirations for my senior thesis topic - "The Social Construction of
Knowledge Among the High Energy Physics Community at JHU". And Benedikt's
books is one of my favorites, up there with Sterling's _Hacker Crackdown_,
which is one of the best non-sociological social examinations of hackers
I've ever read.

>or any number of medical anthro articles
>on technology, drug therapy, etc. Also, you can anticipate forthcoming works
>by Rabinow on the biotech industry, Fischer on science & autobiography,
>Stone on virtual cultures, and Tyler against cyborgs.)

Wow, I can feel the anticipation building right here in my room.
Hmm, *against* cyborgs? How come?

>And, I think you need to realize that there's more to the non-past than just
>technology. There's plenty of anthropological material out there that tries
>to tease out what might be emergent in the social, political, and economic
>changes going on in the world.

Hey, no kidding. Did you sleep through the Pomo Wars of last semester?
Seems to me I was arguing just that very statement just six months ago,
with reference to postindustrialism/postmodernity.

>> (It could have something to do with the fact that
>> early 20th century Futurism was a nasty fascist, speed-obsessed European
>> artistic movement. Maybe.)
>Right, and it wasn't a movement that art or modernity ever really got over
>with entirely (see Perloff, _The Futurist Moment_).


>> The future approacheth.
>A "modernist myth" if I ever heard one. But then, to call it such is to give
>anthropology too little credit, isn't it? Or have you missed out on the much
>older literature on the cultural and linguistic bases of time as well?

No... I'm fully aware that in many societies, there prevails a nonlinear or
nondirectional view of time... and that the ideas of 'progress' and
'evolution' through time are Western cultural constructs... and that maybe
we're backing into the future (Backing to the Future! Starring Fox J.
Michael!) instead of approaching it.
Nonetheless, I would hold to the following statement: not only will
there be new technologies in the near (linear, Western) future, but that
the very pace of technological change is increasing (cf. Toffler, Terrence
McKenna), for good or for ill.

>> I am wondering if any anthropologists are
>> considering the cultural impacts of such things as:
>> 1. Space migration.
>Oh come on! Hasn't this been studied by a prof in your own department?

Which one? This is news to me. Of course, I've only been here less than a

>I recall, at least, that there was a course to be offered on anthropology
>in space the year after I graduated (from UF ... not so long ago).

What happened to it? (BTW, when did you graduate?) Was Extraterrestrial
Encounter an important part of the course?

>> 2. Life extension ...
>Do you think that, just maybe, the reason the anthropology of aging has
>become such a common issue that, again, a course was taught on it in your
>own department is because there is such a large percentage of people over
>65 *today*?

Well, Chris, there's the anthropology of *aging*, and then there's the
anthropology of *life extension* - in particular, I'm thinking of drugs and
techniques in the future which might actually negate or reverse some of the
effects of aging, esp. on the brain...

>> 3. Neurological modification ...
>Urgh. Here's a terrific example of why anthropologists should (and do) keep
>science-fiction out of their approach to anthropology.

I don't think that ignoring some of the speculations found in science
fiction, merely because it *is* (labelled) 'fiction,' is something that
somebody who claims to be a postmodernist-type-person, should do... the
speculations of sci fi reflect deep ambivalences and concerns about
technology and the future and what it holds for humanity; in this regard I
highly recommend (please note my .sig file!) Philip K. Dick...

>Your questions are
>ridiculous because (among other things) they're founded on a Cartesian
>conceptualization of 'experience,' because neurobiologists are well on their
>way to debunking the 'myth of the neuron' (or so I read in the pop science book
>_Mapping the Next Millenium_), and because language is a lot bigger of a nut
>to crack than you seem to think.

Hey, don't accuse *me* of things I don't believe in! I don't subscribe to
neurological reductionism or Cartesian mind/body dualism. I also think that
language is a real big nut, a lot bigger than a couple of glowing spots on
a PET scan. Heck, if you asked me on a good day, I might even tell you that
I doubt the neurological dogma that the mind is an epiphenomenon of brain

>> 4. Artificial intelligence ...
>Sherry Turkle (a psychologist/sociologist/STS type, so sue me) asked similar
>questions about artificial intelligence in _The Second Self_ without having to
>resort to such utterly fantastic scenarios.

I fail to see what is 'utterly fantastic' about the scenarios I suggested.
I do see a distinct lack of reflection on the part of people who consider
these scenarios 'utterly fantastic,' since they remind me of the guy who
said this flight thing would never happen, four years before the Wright

(See chapters 1 & 7, especially,
>I think; isn't she going to be the discussant at your AAA panel?)

She is; I haven't gotten around to her book yet; I do intend to discuss it
with her; I have a feeling she would not agree with your assessment...

>> 5. Genetic engineering ...
>No adequate references come to mind, but the anthropological literature on
>the rhetoric of authenticity is, I believe, sufficiently large to handle
>such questions should they arise.

Tall order! Seems to me more is needed than the "rhetoric of authenticity."
More maybe on such things as the "social construction of the gene"! Surely
you are aware of texts about biology & society dealing with this topic?
Such as Degler's _The Search for Human Nature_?

>Plenty of people are, indeed, looking at
>things like the Human Genome project (I know one graduate student using it
>as an ethnographic "site," and I'm certain I could dig up several other
>references if you really need them).

Well, Dr. Moore here is on the Ethics and Human Diversity panels of the
project. But this mapping business is only the prelude. The fun starts when
we start mucking with genes, and not just mapping them. I think Dr. Timothy
Leary, when he comes here this week, will be talking some about this. (That
wasn't a joke. He is coming this Thursday.)

>It's easy to lament the backwardness of anthropology, considering how often
>you see people claiming to be "Tylorians" (as someone on this list once did)
>or whatnot, drawing kinship diagrams, romanticizing the field experience, or
>proclaiming that cultural materialism is alive and well (where "well" must
>mean something like "valetudinary"), but in fact, quite a large number of
>(well-known and otherwise) anthropologists participate in the study of
>contemporary social, economic, and technological developments.

Never doubted it. Just wanted to thump the brush and see who jumped out.
Glad you didn't have a spear in hand, Chris. (Just a sewing needle.)

>I also think
>that these people are often more aware of the positional ins and outs of
>avant-gardist social theory than you seem to be,

Err... maybe so... but you don't seem to know just what my take on the
'ins' and 'outs' of 'avant-gardist social theory' is! (You can ask me, if
you phrase the question better than that!)

>and I think that a refusal
>to become "stuck" in the future is not only wise but necessary if we are to
>avoid always only imagining ourselves to be products of a modernity that
>has already past us by.

Spoken like a true PoModemite. Well, I ain't no modernist product, and I
ain't stuck in this or any future, as a resolute nondeterminist (hard to be
one and a futurist, but that's where chaos theory comes in...)
BTW, I think you may think that I am a technophile of some kind,
blissfully imagining a great (and unstoppable) technofuture... but since I
see lots of bad stuff on the horizon (hyperreality, especially), I would
hardly call myself that. But I'm no technophobe Luddite either.
Cyberpunk, I suppose, is the preffered term, albeit hackneyed. Either
we take charge of the technology, or it (and its corporate masters) takes
charge of us... that's the way I see it.

>Christopher Pound ( | They think they are Parisians, but
>Department of Anthropology, Rice U. | they are nothing. -- Pierre Bourdieu
Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
Anthropomorphist, Metanoid, Lerian, MatrixWanderer, HyperRealist, etc.
Rhipidon Society, VALISystem A, Sol Node 3
"Philip K. Dick is dead, alas/ Let's queue up and kick G-d's ass." --
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