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Human No More

Human No More: Digital Subjectivities, Unhuman Subjects, and the End of Anthropology

NEIL L. WHITEHEAD
MICHAEL WESCH
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 264
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cgr5j
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  • Book Info
    Human No More
    Book Description:

    Turning an anthropological eye toward cyberspace, Human No More explores how conditions of the online world shape identity, place, culture, and death within virtual communities. Online worlds have recently thrown into question the traditional anthropological conception of place-based ethnography. They break definitions, blur distinctions, and force us to rethink the notion of the "subject." Human No More asks how digital cultures can be integrated and how the ethnography of both the "unhuman" and the "digital" could lead to possible reconfiguring the notion of the "human." This provocative and groundbreaking work challenges fundamental assumptions about the entire field of anthropology. Cross-disciplinary research from well-respected contributors makes this volume vital to the understanding of contemporary human interaction. It will be of interest not only to anthropologists but also to students and scholars of media, communication, popular culture, identity, and technology.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-170-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction: Human No More (pp. 1-10)
    Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Wesch

    Over the last decade the growing possibilities of living in online worlds have continued to undermine and throw into question traditional anthropological conceptions of place-based ethnography. Such conceptions were already facing criticism for artificially bounding, limiting, and reifying “culture” in a world in which transnational cultural flows are commonplace. Online worlds add yet another dimension to this critique, providing examples of social forms that stretch and often break the definitions and boundaries of “communities” and “groups” and blurring our taken-for-granted distinctions between the human, bestial, and mechanical, thereby forcing us to rethink our notions of what might constitute the “subjects”...

  4. 1 The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic: Making an Ethnography of Networked Social Media Speak to Challenges of the Posthuman (pp. 11-32)
    Jennifer Cool

    For approximately ten years I was a participant-observer of Cyborganic, a group of San Francisco web geeks who combined online and face-to-face interaction in a conscious project to build community “on both sides of the screen.” Cyborganic members brought Wired magazine online; launched Hotwired, the first ad-supported online magazine; set up web production for CNET. com; led the Apache open-source software project; and staffed and started dozens of Internet enterprises, such as Craig’s List, during the first decade of the web’s development as a popular platform (1993–2003). Cyborganic pioneered self-publishing and featured some of the earliest online diaries before...

  5. 2 We Were Always Human (pp. 33-48)
    Zeynep Tufekci

    The above paragraph is actually not about the Internet. It is about writing, and it is attributed to Plato (Plato 1997, 552). The text in brackets originally read “the written word” or “written down.” Many new technologies are accompanied by loud protests of loss of humanity, and a common thread runs through them. Plato encapsulates the heart of the oft-repeated argument with his claim that writing robbed words of their soul by freezing them into an immutable medium rather than the flesh and blood human who can talk, respond, and listen in context. As I will argue, this unease stems...

  6. 3 Manufacturing and Encountering “Human” in the Age of Digital Reproduction (pp. 49-70)
    Matthew Bernius

    There is little question that Jennings and President Obama had their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks when they made these remarks. The two jokes play upon a time-honored cultural meme: the more intelligent—or perhaps “human”—the machine, the more likely it is to threaten its creators. In the past, these types of references were largely restricted to what we might call “geek culture.” Today, such references are becoming more and more mainstream, reflecting how our day-to-day lives are becoming increasingly intertwined with various forms of artificial intelligence (AI). From the “smart” algorithms that power Internet search engines, to...

  7. 4 The Digital Graveyard: Online Social Networking Sites as Vehicles of Remembrance (pp. 71-88)
    Jenny Ryan

    In October 2007, my grandmother was diagnosed with the cancer that led to her eventual death the following spring.³ A devoted mother of fourteen children, she, along with her children, grappled with many difficult spiritual and medical decisions throughout her illness. One evening I witnessed first-hand the incredible unity and strength that comes about in the toughest of life’s challenges and the capacity for technology to extend the possibilities for collectively coping with them. Ten of my aunts and uncles took part in a conference call to discuss plans and options: my mother, a nurse, gave medical advice; my uncle...

  8. 5 Anonymous, Anonymity, and the End(s) of Identity and Groups Online: Lessons from the “First Internet-Based Superconsciousness” (pp. 89-104)
    Michael Wesch and the Digital Ethnography Class of Spring 2009

    Fox 11 News in Los Angeles calls the “group” Anonymous “hackers on steroids.” The Economist calls them “Internet activists.” They call themselves “the first Internet-based superconsciousness” with a meta-laugh, laughing at all attempts to describe them, including their own. They interact with one another primarily on imageboards like 4chan but spread to other web domains as needed, strategically leveraging the tools and structure of the Internet to accomplish their goals. They interact almost entirely anonymously, rarely if ever sharing any details of their offline identities. They continuously work to shed their collective identity as well, sometimes declaring themselves as harbingers...

  9. 6 Splitting and Layering at the Interface: Mediating Indian Diasporas across Generations (pp. 105-130)
    Radhika Gajjala and Sue Ellen McComas

    Since early 1990s, a time that coincides with global access to the Internet in the form of the World Wide Web, there have been certain rearticulations of categories of diasporas from the South Asian region through techno-mediation. Such rearticulations are based in the naming of diasporas through the politics of a nation-state whereas others are based in the naming of diasporas through transnational linkages along the lines of struggle for a nation-state (as in the case of Tamil Eelam diasporas). In addition, these diasporas (as is the case with previous diasporas) are shaped by labor needs within various economic contexts....

  10. 7 Avatar: A Posthuman Perspective on Virtual Worlds (pp. 131-146)
    Gray Graffam

    When paraplegic Jake Sully takes virtual form in the film Avatar, he enters the world of the Na’vi, where he assumes the fully functional physical form of an alien humanoid species and falls in love with the young, attractive, and highly spirited Ney’tiri. At the end of the film, struggling and dying, he succeeds in transferring his life essence into his avatar form and completes his transformation to a living being in an alien world.

    For those who have played Second Life or World of Warcraft, the film Avatar is a powerful allegory for life experience in an online virtual...

  11. 8 Technology, Representation, and the “E-thropologist”: The Shape-Shifting Field among Native Amazonians (pp. 147-156)
    Stephanie W. Alemán

    This chapter centers on both the familiar and the arrestingly new. On the one hand it is about my long-term relationship with the Waiwai (Carib-speaking Amazonians in Guyana and Brazil) as collaborators and friends, familiar territory for me. In fact, this territory is not only familiar but rather comforting to me.

    On the other hand, this chapter is also about following them as they venture into cyberspace and online worlds—places with which they are relatively unfamiliar, but also places in which I am not a familiar participant. This aspect of emergence that is ongoing and shifting makes following ethnographic...

  12. 9 The Adventures of Mark and Olly: The Pleasures and Horrors of Anthropology on TV (pp. 157-176)
    James B. Hoesterey

    Taking a cue from MacDougall’s questions about the spaces between filmmakers and subjects, in this chapter I reflect on my experiences as anthropological advisor for several documentary programs broadcast internationally on Discovery Channel, National Geographic International, Travel Channel, and the BBC.¹ In my roles as translator, cultural broker, and “fact-checker,” I learned about how television executives conceive, produce, and market primitivist media in the digital age. This chapter draws from these experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly—but I direct most of my analytical gaze toward Travel Channel’s reality TV series Living with the Mek: The Adventures of...

  13. 10 Invisible Caboclos and Vagabond Ethnographers: A Look at Ethnographic Engagement in Twenty-First-Century Amazonia (pp. 177-198)
    Kent Wisniewski

    I had been awake for a while when I heard my research assistant Dal clapping, then pounding, on the door of our two-room, cinder-block dwelling, yelling, Accorda! Accorda, aí! (“Wake-up! Wake-up in there!”) It was the wet season and I lingered in bed because it was only in the morning hours that my body heat finally dried out the thin foam mattress and I no longer had the feeling of sleeping on a damp sponge. I was reveling in those precious dry moments and wondering how we would ever find a caboclo community to work in when I heard Dal’s...

  14. 11 Marginal Bodies, Altered States, and Subhumans: (Dis)Articulations between Physical and Virtual Realities in Centro, São Paulo (pp. 199-216)
    Michael Heckenberger

    This chapter considers articulations, points of contact, and disarticulations, distortions, and other “disconnects” between virtual realities both of urban planning and mass media and on-the-ground or “lived” realities of human subjects whose identities and subjectivities are constructed in place, in this case, in Centro, São Paulo. It stems from a long-time interest in urban landscapes in Brazilian cities, developed while living in them for over five years, including São Paulo, Rio, Brasília, Belém, Manaus, and Porto Alegre, among others. This interest was at first a casual sideline to my primary research with Brazilian indigenous groups but grew into a kind...

  15. 12 Are We There Yet? The End of Anthropology Is Beyond the Human (pp. 217-230)
    Neil L. Whitehead

    For anthropology the recognition of multiple modernities, both now and in the past, and the existence of other globalized worlds beyond that of the Western sensorium and the expansion of that sensorium enabled by new digital worlds (Jones 2006) suggest that many of the central categories of Western intellectual experience, such as the cultural and the natural, the modern and the traditional, and the global and the local are all deeply entwined in any discussion of society, history, environment, and the beings through which such abstractions are constituted. This is true throughout the humanistic and social science disciplines, not just...

  16. Afterword (pp. 231-234)
    Anne Allison

    In this provocative collection, two questions are continually provoked: what has happened to the human condition in an era of heightened digitality and deterritorialization, and what is happening to the anthropological condition in an era when place-based ethnography has become so out-of-date? Indeed, in these times of “digital subjectivities” and “unhuman subjects,” are we facing a condition of being “human no more” that announces the “end of anthropology”? In what I take to be a resounding “no” to both questions, the authors overwhelmingly endorse anthropology as an enterprise that not only can but must stretch its notion of place—and...

  17. List of Contributors (pp. 235-236)
  18. Index (pp. 237-243)