Monthly Archives: March 2007
In response to another post, I ask – Is the debate really about the origin story and a human desire to ‘control’ all that is outside of them? I have been thinking about this, and I’ve come to think that the majority of research is human-centric, not because of our desire to control, but our desire to understand. The research carried out – even if we are looking at two non-human entities, is still being viewed through a human perspective. Through all attempts to be objective, research is still filtered through the ideology of the researcher, the methods selected by the researcher and ultimately, by determining the results – which, in the case of non-human actors, is an imposed meaning by the human researcher based on the tests, experiments, observations and readings.
I am struggling with this as much as I seem to agree with it. The argument that has been put forth to me is that non-human agents have (potentially) an identity of their own. But from my definitional understanding, identity is attributed meaning attributed. From my understanding, identity – like meaning, is a human construct. A rock is a rock (in all its physicality) whether I say it is or not. It exists outside of my human intervention of definition. But once I call it a rock, I ascribe meaning to its physicality, as the word rock has meaning behind it. So, another question is, is the rock’s meaning inherent in its physicality? Does an animal see the same meaning (definitionally speaking of course) as a human would? And how do other rocks see it? I know I am pushing the example a little far, as I know that when my friend speaks of non-human agency and interaction (and identity) she is not really speaking of rocks. But I am having trouble moving away from the idea that as long as it is a human looking at something, it will inevitably be, at its core at least, be human-centric – but not for control, but mere contextualized understanding.
If we, for a moment, forget about origin stories – are we starting in the middle? How far back does an origin story need to go before it blurrs (or spoils) the true phenomena that one is looking to understand? Maybe these questions are contextual? Different answers for the hard sciences and social sciences – since origins may have more meaning, more relevance in one or the other?
I am comforted by the fact that some of the great philosophers spent their entire lives never finding the answers.
*Note: If prompted, I could find references to contextualize some of this – at the moment, it is just an informed, personal ramble.
Always something I have been uncomfortable stating – that I am a sociologist. But now that I am stepping towards convocation again, after 5 years of reading, writing and studying in one field I think I can say it proudly.
I have been working with digital culture and technology as a research focus, and have often read books about cyborg theory (Gray, Harraway, and Niedzviecki) which talk about the fusion of humans and technology. A friend of mine has been walking a slightly different path, looking at non-human agency in digital technology, and we have had many conversations about the possibility of identity and culture without humans. I have not read the literature she has, but my argument always comes back to the “but humans made the AI in the first place” argument, while her retort has often been “but moving past the human.. once it exists, there can be agency without the human”. I do not disagree with her, I just have not been wholly convinced yet.
Maybe its the anthropomorphic-centrism instilled in me by modernity, or maybe I’m just being difficult – either way, I stumbled upon an interesting passage last night while reading Hans Christian von Baeyer’s Information: The new language of science. Although my personal research interest lays in trying to remove the human from the absolute center of identity in the digital age, the following passage stuck with me – and reminded me that I am a sociologist, and (for now) I study people.
If it is true that the limits on information-processing will turn out to be more human than physical, technological or economic, it is ironic that popular usage makes so much of the prefix ‘cyber’, as in cyber-cafe, cybersex, cybercrime, and cyberworld. ‘Cyber’ was introduced into the English language back in the 1950′s by Norbert Wiener’s world ‘cybernetics’, which referred to the science of control over systems. He derived it from the Greek kybernetes for helmsman or guide – whose initial K appears in the name of the American academic honour society ΦΒΚ, an acronym for the Greek maxim ‘Philosophy, the guide of life’. As we surf the Web for the latest high-tech magic, it pays to remember the human roots of the word. A cybership without a human steersman is a vessel without control. [p. 8]
Indeed, it is human-centric – but for as long as I am studying cultures and identities (both human constructs) I think it’s ok to start from the inside out. This is not to say that there is not agency sans humans, but the question is, can culture and identity exist without the human? Perhaps I need to start with defining the difference between agency and identity – a task I have avoided until now.
The difference between face to face and digital identity construction has been my research focus for the past several years. As I finished reading Malaise of Modernity, I got to thinking about how identity constructed traditionally, in what Taylor calls a ‘dialogical’ process. Although not new to the idea of identity construction, he situates the process in contemporary society that is becoming increasingly individualised. The jist of the dialogical process of identity construction is that it is a two-way, reciprocal process between the self and the outside world. This follows the symbolic interactionist approach to identity construction as well.
The important point behind the dialogical process is that the individual is confronted with negotiating the actions and behaviors outside of themselves. They are influenced and affected by outside opinions, ideas and morals. The individual internalizes this information and in turn re-negotiates their identity. So far, nothing new here.
But what got me thinking, was Taylor’s focus on the alienated individual who becomes more and more seperated from outside influences, as individuals become less politically involved, less socially involved in an increase in self fulfillment over social fulfillment. This got me thinking about the role of blogging in Taylor’s view of modern society. It is also no secret that blogging has an impact on the blogger’s identity, often being seen as a public space for individuals to work out and negotiate elements of the self (think of Foucault, journals, essays and hupomnemata). But I wonder if blogging is a false dialogical process because of the blurring of the line of public and private within many blog spaces.
What I mean is, I sit here and I blog, knowing full well that it is a public space. Theoretically, I would be tempted to say that by blogging publically, I am participating in a dialogical process between myself and the outside world. But, seeing as there is little feedback in the blogging process, I am really only externally contemplating ideas and issues that are essentially internal – just in a public space. If this is the case, one could argue that blogging offers a false sense of exteriority, only really reinforcing the blogger’s position and therefore their identity. Is this a syndrome of an increasingly individualised society? I THINK I am having a conversation with the world, but really its all inside my head?
Well, it’s been a week since I submitted my thesis, and I suppose it’s time to move on. It took me a few days after submitting to calm down, get rid of the jitters that plagued me every day wondering how my committee was taking to it. A few good days of junk television and hockey games, and it’s time to get on with my academic life.
I started last night by tackling the stack of books that I have been buying during my “no read” time. Over the past year, I have been discouraged to read as I was forever being inspired and spiralling out of theoretical control, so in order to focus on narrowing my work, I read only what was necessary to complete my thesis. It was nice to pick up Taylor‘s Malaise of Modernity. It’s short, sweet and written in a simplified dialogue of sorts (it comes from the Massey Lectures).
I will write more on this text and how it sparks questions of contemporary identity and the desire to seek (or create)digital community and identity.
Indeed, before I start theorizing anew, I need to wrap up some gamecode projects and get my PhD apps out there! Ah how tempting procrastination is =)
A colleague and good friend of mine, Shanly Dixon; along with Dr. Sandra Weber have an edited volume due out soon called Growing Up Online: Young People and Digital Technologies available for pre-order over at Amazon.com.
From the original flyer:
In this cutting-edge anthology, contributors examine the diverse ways in which girls and young women across a variety of ethnic, socio-economic, and national backgrounds are incorporating and making sense of digital technology in their everyday lives. Contributors explore identity development, how young women interact with technology, and how race, class, and identity influence game play.
the online fantasy role-playing game EverQuest, which boasted nearly half a million players at its height and became a landmark of interactive entertainment in the online age.
From sex and violence to … violence in a fish costume? Yes, indeed! After finishing the game, you are rewarded with being able to replay the game with your full abilities, arsenal and a bonus fish suit. Yup! Kratos pulls up his tights and slithers into a giant fish costume and resumes the vengeful battle. There are other alternate skins (7 to be exact) to be found through completing higher levels and different tasks, but surely none are as great as the “Cod of War”
Well, now that my thesis is in the safe and critical hands of my committee, I can pretend to relax, and move on to the other things that have been neglected in my life over the last three months. Indeed, I have to see if I even still have friends – as I noticed this morning that one of them who I have not spoken to since January has changed her phone number!
I have recently been invited to participate in a workshop on PhD applications at the upcoming SAGSA conference. Luckily, I only have to speak for about 10 minutes … anyone who knows me might laugh at how I might restrain myself – but I still hate the idea of public speaking (but I am getting better at actually doing it once I’m there). Should prove to be interesting as I am talking about applying to the PhD through contacts.
On that note, I have to get to my PhD application for Universite de Montreal, as they have finally opened up their “Doctorat en Etudes Cinematographiques“, which closes May 1st. Back to the grind of proposal writing, begging people to write nice letters about me and paying the university to look at my application!
Also on my list, is to put together some sort of print/e-version of the proceedings or related works on research methods from Trials & Tribulations symposium last fall. I always feel so bad that its already March, and this is just getting started now, but I think in this case, its better late than never.
Finally…God of War 2. We bought it the other day, and first of all, I have to say it is beautiful. I really enjoyed watching the first one be played (i am not too good at playing it, as my fingers and brain don’t work as fast as the game’s combat system requires – unless I want to have a full blown anxiety attack!). Instead of using the controller, I tend to be the backseat player, asking my partner 100 questions and trying to help with the puzzle sequences.
My youngest daughter also loves to watch her father play. (Different generation, different hobbies I guess heh). I must admit, through all the violence and bloodspill, mixed with a vengeful and testorone oozing being that is Kratos , I was none more disturbed at letting my daughter watch the game as when, early in the game, Kratos is dropped into a tranquil pool of water, with many little ‘spa’ like pools. I encouraged my partner to explore the area, although it looked too quiet for any good battle – surely there had to be something there – else the game would not have dropped him there. Surely enough, he stumbles upon two buxom babes, breasts aheavin’ urging Kratos to come nearer. As Kratos gets close and embraces both of them, you seen the camera pan out and to the right, focusing on a cherub water fountain – emulating urination of course. At this point, you are prompted to start pushing the triangle, circle and square button in rapid succession, as well as turning the center controller around and around. As you push the buttons, the cherub’s fountain sputters a little to the left and a little to the right – all to the moans of the two ladies. If you do not correctly enter the sequence quick enough, Kratos backs away and one of the women states that she was not finished!
My partner found this quite hilarious – he is the god of war sweety, is what he tells me – surely he deserves some respect! So, he tries again, to see what happens. If you follow the sequence correctly, and quickly enough, the cherub’s fountain sputters and then explodes. I was dumbfounded, a little repulsed and quite upset that my daughter (who luckily did not get the reference) found it hilarious that the little cherub was peeing all over the place. Kratos is then rewarded a handsome amount of money for his performance (didnt know the God of War was also a gigilo!)
So far, that is the only sexual reference in the game. But I am both disturbed by its presence, and to my reaction. Why is it ok for my daughter to watch heads being torn off, blood spattering all over. Even though she did not get the reference, why am I so offended by the sexual content and not the violence? Beyond my personal feelings that one need not be explicit to get a point across, I feel that somewhere, the violence should bother me just as much.
Concordia’s Sociology & Anthropology’s Graduate Student Association (SAGSA) is holding is bi-annual student conference, this year titled “Excursions in Anthropology & Sociology“. With an opening Keynote with Canada Research Chair in the Comparative Study of Indigenous Rights and Identity at Mcgill, Ronald Niezen. You can check out the preliminary program , there looks to be some very interesting presentations. Happy for me, seems to be lots on identity =)
I am not sure if there is an attendance fee, but it would be worth it is there was.
It’s printed – all four copies, in neat little piles sitting on my desk.
I am tired, it is late and I am slightly sick to my stomach… but I have been feeling that way the last 2 days as I realize I (was) am close to being done.
Tomorrow, I submit. It is in their hands now.
No fancy words, no waxing poetic – just a huge sigh of wowness…