Cyborg Ethnography: Future cultures and technologies of power

Felicity Heathcote-Márcz and Professor Andy Miah

When the ethnographer encounters technology ‘in the field’ there is an instinct to open up “black boxes” that create ways of being in the world ethnographically out of reach, the lives of research participants and the technological objects that make up organisations. This stream of the 2017 Ethnography Symposium aims to explore the ambiguities of cyborg research in its broadest sense – the study of ontological and category hybrids of object-subject, human-other-technologies and how these collections of ‘frictions’ and ‘zones of engagement’ (Anna Tsing, 2005) form the social worlds we call culture.

From engaging with ethnographically posed questions such as is cyberculture recreating the ‘self through deliberate acts of alienation’? (Orlan, 1993), what is living a ‘bio-political life’ in times of self-mutilation (body hacking, bio-engineering, cosmetic surgery) and new kinds of bodies that live forever (social media and cyborg prosthetics)? And, is it possible to know or control the black boxed meetings of social and technical things in their bounded lives? (Eg. the promise of an ‘internet of things’ or the unexpected culture of robots - whose etymology ‘forced labour’, gives away a problematic genesis). This stream aims to bring the reflexive submersion of an ethnographic methodology into focus for debating such questions and potential routes forward.

This stream is looking for papers which offer confrontations with mainstream value systems of cyborg worlds, deconstructions of the material-social boundaries of technology (Orlikowski, 2000), and questionings of technology as the basis upon which epochal claims for “modernity” can be established and justified (Misa et al. 2003). Michelle Murphy’s ‘economisation of life’ and the new focus within anthropology circles on ‘Anthropocene’ politics, may help contributors question the value-paradox that is intrinsic to cyborg lives.

Papers submitted to this stream may explore hybridity and symbiosis between human and advanced human tool constructs recognised as technology, how these are central to new conceptions of and resistances to work and capital as well as how technologist ideologies operate and reproduce, and how alternatives can or can’t be made tangible.

The recent ‘ontological turn’ in organisation studies will inform debates found in this space for discussion, as will the ontological claim that ‘the human’ has always been a technological prosthesis or ‘supplement’ (Haraway, 1991).

The organisation of life as techno-political regimes that mix powers of the body, capitalism and culture to reproduce value may come up against post-colonial visions of technology-human relations, non-linear virtual (or virtual-imaginary) environments or subversion and resistance from research participants who are deeply embedded within such regimes.

That the ideology of technology fetishism has become part of the mainstream discourse of organizational life has major implications for business and management theory and practices, and a deeper understanding of this phenomena from the perspectives outlined above offers meaningful value to inter-disciplinary research agendas (STS, CMS, social anthropology, ethnography studies, science studies, bio-ethics,and others).

Please submit a 500 word abstract or proposal in pdf format by Tuesday 28th February 2017.