Presentation abstracts

Posthuman Health Studies: No Humans Involved?

Professor Dan Goodley, iHuman, University of Sheffield

This paper critically intervenes into the growing field of scholarship of posthuman health studies. I make a case for being ‘in but not of the posthuman turn’ (Adams and Weinstein, 2020: 235); cognisant of our contemporary times that continue to render some human beings as valued and others as expendable. I briefly introduce recent literature associated with posthuman health studies and then turn to two events: police brutality of Black People in the USA and the deployment of Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation notices to Disabled People during the pandemic in the UK. Activist responses to these incidents of dehumanisation - captured by Black Lives Matter and People First - necessarily demand us to think critically about what is gained and lost by the posthuman move in health studies and medical humanities. I contemplate three tensions; the prominence of humanism, more-than-human possibilities and human troubles. I conclude that there is an urgent need to address ‘white-washing’ and ‘ability-washing’ in posthuman health studies through a thorough engagement Black Studies and Disability Studies

Autistic Inflection and (Post)Human Communication

Kerri Betts, The University of Leeds

Autistic communication blurs the lines between binaries on many fronts: creativity/disorder; neurotypical/neurodiverse; and human/non-human. In this paper, I will expand upon my theory of autistic inflection – a specific usage of language by autistic users that is playful in its approach, a stretching of boundaries, and in many cases actually infusing language with creatively new interpretations. This theory of communication gestures not only to a more complex relationship with our environment but a destabilising of the perceived divide between nature and human through a more creative and generative approach to language.

My examination of autistic inflection in Katherine May’s life writing (The Electricity of Every Living Thing (2019) and Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020)) in combination with environmental theories (such as Alaimo’s notion of transcorporeality) explores how autistic language may further entangle the human within nature and cast yet more doubt on the idea that either category is discrete. Autistic inflection stands to deconstruct the hierarchy that privileges both conventions of language use at the expense of diversity and creativity and the human over the non-human.

How do humans die? Cross-species conversation and interspecies entanglements in end of life care.

Vanessa Ashall, University of York

This paper describes a novel multispecies approach to studying end of life care. We share our analysis of data arising from a unique focus group of medical and veterinary professionals, who explore their experiences of caring for human and non-human animals at the end of their lives.

We engage with contemporary post human and new materialist theories to generate a novel empirical analysis which shifts end of life care research beyond existing species, professional and disciplinary boundaries. We demonstrate the material role of animals and animal medicine in human end of life care, and vice versa, and show how conceptual explorations of human and animal end of life care practices can enable fruitful engagement with difficult areas of contemporary debate.

Finally, we show that cross-species conversations are already occurring in end of life care settings but are currently undervalued. Our speculative approach aims to show how both the studies and practices of end of life care might benefit from the further development of research approaches which test existing species and professional boundaries.

What does person-centred care mean, if you weren't considered a person anyway: a black, queer, feminist, critical posthuman approach to evidence based medicine and person-centred care

Jamie B. Smith, Charité Universitätsmedizin, Berlin

We are practising nurses in the UK and Germany. In this paper presentation, we explore the context of person-centred care and some of the assumptions made by this approach to healthcare. We discuss the colonial, patriarchal, and misogynistic consequences of person-centred care with a critical posthuman framework. We then highlight the ramifications of this approach in how realities are produced in healthcare and how some people may be disenfranchised from healthcare by person-centred care and evidence based medicine. Last, we show how our own critique comes from a place of privilege and we point towards black, queer feminism to contextualise our point of critique with humanism and person-centered care in order to empower the diversity of individuals and communities.

Burroughs and Addiction through Bakhtin

Nicholas Griffin, University of Sheffield

This paper proposes to compare and contrast the work of William Burroughs and Mikhail Bakhtin. This will be done to examine similarities and convergences between the two thinker’s humanisms, in order to understand how Burroughs posits a framework for rethinking drug addiction that moves beyond medical curative discourse.

Burroughs and Bakhtin share similar preoccupations with the self, bodily borders and how external factors influence these areas. Bakhtin argued the self on its own is incomplete, requiring the perception of the Other in order to understand its boundaries and realise its humanity. For Bakhtin, this Other is always human. While this relationship to the Other in Bakhtin’s sense leads to healthy identity formation, Burroughs undercuts this positivity through placement of the drug into this equation as an inhuman Other. From this position the drug limits the boundaries of the self, reducing it to an object of addiction and total need. Burroughs consequently complicates Bakhtin’s theory, questioning what happens when the self internalises the inhuman and, indeed, sees it as fundamental to its formation. Burroughs resultantly questions how drug use challenges notions of the human as a fixed category, and notions of humanistic addiction treatment that work towards this category’s reinforcement.

Reimagining Medical Encounters and Intimacies: The Slip of the Tongue, the Motif of the Worm

Olivia Turner, Newcastle University

Michael Balint’s ‘confusion of tongues’ theory exposed the inadequacy of language used between the doctor and patient interaction. This inadequacy of words in the clinical and care interaction calls for a different reimagining of language and the body. Therefore, I propose a confusion of tongues between the doctor, patient and cadaver, and an alternative language to reclaim the medicalised body. The cadaver represents a different visceral body, experience, and care, which speaks through a material and sculptural language. Beyond the articulable quality of the medical body, it is important to acknowledge its inexpressible, visceral nature. Its complete subjective intensity means it has no appearance and remains shapeless on the tongue. Therefore, we need to make room for the imagination to take shape and residence on the tongue, like a worm. The medical and pharmaceutical interventions performed on and between human and animal bodies, implicate the social, economic, and patriarchal structures of power and influence. The worm is a recurring motif within the artwork ‘O (Symptom)’ (Turner, 2021), a metaphor for disembodied, transgressive, and othering treatment of the medical body and for its corporeal uncertainty, transition, and transformation. A lover and a parasite to unravel experiences of pain, pleasure, and abjection of the medicalised body.

South Africans’ opinions on human heritable genome editing: A (partial) acceptance of post-humanity?

Donrich Thaldar, Bonginkosi Shozi, Michaela Steytler, University of KwaZulu-Natal

A deliberative public engagement study among South Africans on the topic of heritable human genome editing (HHGE) – the first of its kind on the African continent – found that there is overwhelming support for allowing the use of HHGE to prevent genetic health conditions, and to make future people immune against diseases such as TB and HIV/Aids. However, significant majorities opposed allowing HHGE for enhancement such as higher intelligence and cosmetic choices. There was an acute awareness among participants that, because the use of HHGE technology would entail irrevocable changes at a genetic level, such use may have a profound effect on how we as humans see ourselves. Although this realisation was cause for pause to reflect, it did not constitute a principled bar to HHGE, as is evident by the overwhelming support for allowing the use of HHGE is certain circumstances – including editing ‘normal’ genomes to provide future people with immunity against certain diseases that are currently epidemics in South Africa. Moreover, there were calls for government support for HHGE research. Accordingly, it is suggested that South Africans view the possible move to post-humanity in a pragmatic way by balancing health benefits with potential societal costs.

Vanishing and Surveillance in Pandemic Times

Eleanor Wakeford, The University of Leeds

In March 2020, an article in The Economist coined the term ‘Coronopticon’ to highlight the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic was enabling ever more intensive collection of personal data by corporate platforms such as Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. But while Shoshana Zuboff, the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, states that technology corporations are ‘salivating’ at the notion of total, ‘comprehensive surveillance’ in a post-Covid world, this paper will explore the cracks, slippages, and vulnerabilities inherent in an open, unpredictable world. Instead of narratives of total control, this paper asks what a posthuman or new materialist theory of surveillance might look like.

Using the work of visual artist Oreet Ashery and author Saleema Nawaz, I will explore how contemporary surveillance strategies reinforce humanist ideals of the bounded and atomized individual and consider how contagion itself can offer a strategy of posthuman care and resistance. In Donna Haraway’s concept of ‘viral response-ability’, being ‘viral’ means embracing vulnerability and refusing fixed notions of self. While pandemic response methods such as contact tracing depend on visible and static identities, this paper will argue that vanishing, or in Rosi Braidotti’s words ‘becoming-imperceptible’ is also an act of posthuman care.

Immersive Theatre in more-than-humanities methodologies

Bentley Crudgington, The University of Manchester

The social contract under which animal research is permitted consists of a complex arrangement of legislation, regulation, and practices which in turn have constructed many types of human roles such as scientist, animal technician, patient, activist, lay, all with implicit and explicit expectations on their agency, status, and acceptable behaviours.

In 2018, we developed Vector, an immersive theatre experience which uses elements of performance, game, and integrated technology. Vector enables participants to occupy active positions through which to explore their ideas about animal research, rather than being cast as passive witnesses to processes they cannot influence. Using the scenario of an imaginary ethical review board tasked with future proofing vaccine productions during global pandemics, participants experience the decentralisation of discrete human roles in favour of deeply entangled contingent ecologies.

Immersive theatre can be considered as inter-personal performance which brings together dialogical and relational aesthetics. It is the praxis of reconstituting and enriching social relations, which resists re-presenting normative moral obligations in favour of co-creating thick, impure involvement in a world where questions of how to care needs to be posed.

This paper shall explore how Vector offered more-than-human(ities) methodologies for co-creation of multi-species speculative-ethical-futures, where participation is not contingent on how one should act, but radically open to how one might act.