In The Manifesto for Cyborgs, Haraway (2007) argues that “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machines and organisms” (p. 35). Haraway uses the cyborg as the metaphor for the post-war blurring of boundaries, for the disruption of the categories by which we organise: human and machine, physical and non-physical, etc.
In the excerpt in our reading by Hayles (1999), she takes on some of these ideas, encapsulating them in how she defines the ‘posthuman’. It “privileges informational pattern over material instantiation” (p. 2); it treats consciousness as “an evolutionary upstart” (p. 3), and it considers the body “the original prosthesis”. It’s an even more radical blurring of boundaries, a fracturing of identities and categories we use. The subject is now inescapably hybrid, embodied virtuality:
there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals (p. 3)
So far, so good. Boundaries blurred, binaries overcome. We are all hybrids. With the philosophy in mind, I tried (and struggled) to connect this to education and pedagogy, and I found a really useful article by Gourlay (2012). Drawing on the work of Haraway and particularly of Hayles, she points to the relationship between the lecture and the VLE as an example of the blurring of virtual and embodied boundaries in education:
the binary is blurred in the context between face-to-face and online engagement, as the context increasingly allows simultaneous engagement with networks of communities and sources of information beyond the physical walls of the university (p. 208)
Gourlay argues that the VLE displaces the lecturer’s biological body, shifting it to the side, while the lecturer’s voice is relativised by the effects of the displacement. The voice becomes one among many as the new setting of the lecture destabilises authority and singularity. What the lecturer says may be questioned, instantly, by the information to which the student has access (although this didn’t feel particularly ‘new’ to me). For the student, the relationship between the lecture and the VLE allows for greater hybridity, which Gourlay describes as “cyborg ontologies” (p. 208).
Gourlay’s focus on voice provides a way to explore sound and the extent to which sound(s) are embodied or not; this reframes, to an extent, Sterne’s chapter in Critical Cyberculture Studies where he bemoans the sidelining of sound studies in cybercultures research.
Yet Sterne’s main point is that we can use sound as a way to trouble any certainty we may have developed in our understanding of what cyberculture ‘is’. One of the ways in which he uses sound is as a way to upset the status quo, to keep us from complacency, and as a barrier to essentialism. He uses it in a way which is relative to the ‘dominant’ approach as it attempts to disrupt it. And that got me thinking about the way we conceive of, and write about, posthumanism. We’re still speaking of posthumanism in relation to humanism; we’re still referring to the boundaries and the binaries even as we theorise overcoming them. We’re still thinking in terms of human and machine, face-to-face or online, virtual and embodied, lecture and VLE. To an extent, this is inescapable: hybridity is relative and subjective. But are there ways in which we can account for this in our educational practice?