“Humans aren’t really running the show anymore”
Interview with Professors Scott Schaffer and Nandita Biswas Mellamphy on a new Research Topic in Frontiers in Sociology
— by Radhaika Kapur
How will we define ‘civilization’ and ‘community’ if Elon Musk’s Mars Colony Plan is a success? Do developments such as CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing point to a post-human era? A new Research Topic in Frontiers in Sociology — Cosmopolitanisms, Social Inclusion, and Global Futures — seeks to initiate discussion on these questions and beyond.
Topic Editors Professor Scott Schaffer and Professor Nandita Biswas Mellamphy (Western University, Canada) describe the urgency behind an ‘ethical intervention’ and their aspirations for the Research Topic.
What are your motivations for launching this Research Topic?
NBM: Scott and I have been colleagues and friends for over a decade — we are both social and political thinkers. When we started discussing this Research Topic, we saw it as a good opportunity to put two critical discourses into dialogue and contestation: postcolonial or subaltern studies and posthumanism.
For myself, I came into direct contact with new media theories and philosophies of technology around 10 years ago. I began to look at how shifting communication infrastructures are affecting the notion of politics which goes back more than 2000 years. This led to my contribution to the book ‘Critical Posthumanism and Planetary Futures’ which concentrates on post-humanism and post-colonialism.
SS: I have had a continued interest in global social thought, particularly in exploring how the hegemony of Western epistemologies impacts how the rest of the world think about themselves and their relationships with others. Recently my focus has been on speculative sociology, which looks to anticipate social problems that may manifest in 50-100 years’ time. I am interested in the development of normative based interventions in response to situations such as the discovery of another intelligent civilization. Considering future problems constantly draws out questions regarding our sense of social membership and ethics. This, in turn, opens up the broader discussion on what being human even means — the fundamental point that ties me in with what Nandita is doing and motivated me to initiate this Research Topic.
What subjects would you like to see addressed by authors submitting to your Research Topic?
NBM: I would like to see an exploration of the interrelationship between “the global” and “the planetary” or “the post-planetary.” For individuals like Elon Musk, a legitimate response to the question of resource-allocation is the colonization of Mars. So, in a sense, the global is now enmeshed not only with the planetary but also with the post-planetary. These concepts are distinct but related.
Secondly and leading on from this, links between the post-colonial and the post-planetary could be explored. As humans contemplate colonizing other planets, what does it mean for how we define our species?
Finally, submissions could investigate the scope of the post-human. While the post-colonial typically entails how humans colonise one another, the question of how information and technology is colonising us is becoming more and more real.
Why is it important to discuss these matters now?
NBM: Right now, our entire planet is being mined and linked both geo-politically and bio-informatically . Technology is influencing our ways of thinking and being. At this point we have to consider that humans aren’t really running the show anymore.
SS: We see technology changing humans to the extent of biochemistry and pharmacology. Material technology has the power to change brain chemistry and cause addiction. Furthermore, young people’s physicality is being impacted as they slouch from phone usage. Bodies are changing to meet technology.
NBM: There is certainly an urgency to this, a burgeoning research agenda. People are predicting that by 2025, fully autonomous lethal weapons will have been developed. Are we being excised out of the picture and colonized by information?
Once complete, what impact would you like to see the Research Topic having?
SS: We would hope that papers in our Research Topic could contribute to public discussion that probes if our ways of thinking about the world are appropriate. There is the scope for thinking about these questions from a practical point of view and hence we aren’t really looking for manuscripts that are compacted with dense turgid prose.
NBM: With any information output there is always a spillover effect. Publishing open access online will increase the potential to reach beyond typical forums for academic research and hence hopefully create new dialogues and confrontations.
Cosmopolitanisms, Social Inclusion, and Global Futures is now open for submissions. For any queries please contact: email@example.com.
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