“The Cybernetic Anthropocene: Surplus Value, Surplus Populations, Surplus Potentials” with Nick Dyer-Witheford

Join us on Friday, November 27, for a discussion with visiting scholar Nick Dyer-Witheford on “The Cybernetic Anthropocene”. 

The Cybernetic Anthropocene: Surplus Value, Surplus Populations, Surplus Potentials

The combination of automation, logistical command and financialization that enabled the mid-twentieth century’s “cybernetic revolution” has raised to a new intensity a fundamental dynamic of capitalism – its drive to simultaneously induct populations into waged labour and expel them as un- or under-employed superfluous to its increasingly machinic systems. Digitization has accelerated this “moving contradiction” (Marx 1973: 106), creating a cyclonic process that, on the one hand, envelopes the globe in networked supply chains and agile production systems, making labour available to capital on a planetary scale, and, on the other, drives towards development of adept automata and algorithmic software that renders such labour redundant. In this whirlwind, the traditional, Euro-centrically conceived, stereotypically male “working class” of the global northwest is disintegrating into both a strata of technology professionals, tending to identification with digital capital, though shot through with hacker proclivities and, a vast pool of un-, under- and vulnerably employed labour, transnational and feminized, living the shadow lands between work and worklessness that has always defined the proletarian condition. Dispossessed labour evicted from the land by ongoing primitive accumulation in Asia, Latin and America and pouring into new industrial enclaves is unevenly combined with workers expelled from an emergent futuristic accumulation based on automated production, software-agentic circulation and algorithmic financialization. Divided across border-policed wage-zones of a world-market, the fractions of this global proletariat are frequently in tension with one another, even though subject to common exploitation by capital: thus, though the technical composition of class is apparent, its political composition rife with contradictions. Nonetheless, the networked, no-future ‘take the square’ risings of 2011-13 may be harbingers of the resistant movements of “universal labour” tasked with working itself out of a job, toiling to develop a system of robots and networks, networked robots and robot networks in which the human is increasingly surplus to requirements.

The New World Anthroposphere: Cities, roads, railways, transmission lines and underwater cables. Image via Globaia.org

Nick Dyer-Witheford is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. He is the author of Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1999) and Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex (London: Pluto Press, 2015). He is also, with Stephen Kline and Greig de Peuter, a co-authors of Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2003), and, with Greig de Peuter, co-author of Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2009) and has also written articles and book chapters on the video and computer game industry, the uses of the Internet by social movements and theories of technology.


“The Earth is Not “Ours” to Save: (In)Human Agency and Bewildering Education” with Nathan Snaza

Join us for our next discussion in the series with an exciting talk from scholar and educator Nathan Snaza (University of Richmond). 

Friday, November 20, 12-1 PM (+)

Arts-Based Research Studio (Education North 4-104)

The Earth is Not “Ours” to Save: (In)Human Agency and Bewildering Education

The anthropocene names the epoch of Earth’s history in which the human has become a geological actor. Much of the contemporary discourse around environmentalism and climate change calls for humans to act in particular ways to avoid a catastrophe in an imagined future. My point of departure in this talk will be this simple claim: that thinking human action can avert climate-related catastrophe is a re-assertion of the human’s status as geological actant. Yet the earth is not “ours,” even to save. What is needed, then, is a way of letting go of the human’s dominion in the world, which is inseparable from a shift in how “agency” is understood. Turning to posthumanism and feminist/queer theory, I offer a “bewildering education” that turns away from being “human” in the dominant key and instead seeks a new political discourse that acknowledges animate and inanimate agencies. This political engagement or entanglement is always already there, but Western, colonialist humanism has produced a mode of education that disattunes us from it. Bewildering education is then a pedagogics of attunement, of learning to affect and be affected differently. We need a way out, not of ecological catastrophe (that we might learn to affirm), but out of the anthropocene. 

Image Source: http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/man-made-ecological-catastrophe-more-half-all-earth%E2%80%99s-11446
Image Source: http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/man-made-ecological-catastrophe-more-half-all-earth%E2%80%99s-11446

Nathan Snaza Biography

Nathan Snaza teaches modern and contemporary literature, literary and gender theory, and educational foundations at the University of Richmond. He is the co-editor of Posthumanism and Educational Research (Routledge, 2014) and Pedagogical Matters: New Materialism and Curriculum Studies (Peter Lang, forthcoming). His essays have appeared in journals such as Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, Angelaki, Symploke, Cultural Critique, and Educational Researcher.