After Culture - Reflections on the Apparition of Anthropology in Artificial Life

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Excerpts: "Cyborg anthropology poses a serious challenge to the human-centered foundations of anthropological discourse. The term "cyborg anthropology" is an oxymoron that draws attention to the human-centered presuppositions of anthropological discourse by posing the challenge of alternative formulations. While the skin-bound individual, autonomous bearer of identity and agency, theoretically without gender, race, class, region, or time, has served usefully and productively as the subject of culture and of cultural accounts, alternate accounts of history and subjectivity are also possible" (Downey, 2).

“The autonomy of individuals has already been called into question by post-structuralist and posthumanist critiques. Cyborg anthropology explores a new alternative by examining the argument that human subjects and subjectivity are crucially as much a function of machines, machine relations, and information transfers as they are machine producers and operators.

From this perspective, science and technology affect society through the fashioning of selves rather than as external forces. For example, the establishment of anthropological sub-jects and subjectivities has depended upon boats, trains, planes, typewriters, cameras, telegraphs, and so on.

How the positioning of technologies has defined the boundaries of "the field" as well as the positioning of anthropologists within it has been a notable silence in ethnographic writing. It is increasingly clear that human agency serves in the world today as but one contributor to activities that are growing in scope, that are complex and di-verse, and yet are interconnected. The extent of such interconnectedness has been made plain both by the decline of challenges to capitalist hegemony and by the empowerment of information technologies, the latter through the combined agencies of computer and communications technologies" (Downey, 4).

"A crucial first step in blurring the human-centered boundaries of anthropo-logical discourse is to grant membership to the cyborg image in theorizing, that is, to follow in our writing the ways that human agents routinely produce both themselves and their machines as part human and part machine. How are we to write, for example, without using human-centered language? And if writing is a co-production of human and machine, then who is the "we" that writes?" (Downey, 5).