Critical Theory Seminar - War beyond the human: robots, race, and reproduction

Event speakers
Dr Lauren Wilcox (Cambridge)
24 January 2019 17:00 - 18:30
Old Library, All Souls College
All are welcome

In this talk, I draw from my manuscript in progress, tentatively titled “War Beyond the Human”. This work argues that category of ‘the human’ haunts our very capacity to understand, comprehend, and critique violence in global politics. The nature of our contemporary late liberal societies compels us to come to terms with the dynamics of political violence in which neither the subjects nor the objects of such violence can be understood as ‘human’ in uncomplicated terms, leading not only to anxiety over ‘killer robots’ but opening up a whole host of questions regarding embodiment, visuality, gender, sexuality, race and more. This talk draws particular from a chapter from work that centres the figuration of the robot, which serves as a nexus of many intertwined imaginaries and materializations of artificially intelligent machines. The ‘robot’ serves as an avatar that represents the human: standing in for, but at the same time displacing the human. To understand the critical potentials of thinking through relations of violence, embodiment, race and capitalism that are opened up by this figuration, we first need to interrogate the concept of ‘gender’ to understand the limits of contemporary feminist critiques of the figure of the ‘robot’ in culture and society. I will provide a brief genealogy of the concept of gender and of the effects that ‘gender’ may be said to have. First, gender is always already ‘queer’: that is, gender is about the regulation of sexuality. Second, gender is technological. Third, gender is a racializing apparatus. Following this I’ll show more closely how these understandings of the work that ‘gender’ does help us think through the political implication of the ‘robot’ figuration through an analysis of Blade Runner 2049. This text, I argue, both points to the politics of race awhile at the same time eliding this question through the dramatization of the themes of inhumanity, objecthood and slavery in its reproductive politics. Ultimately, I argue, the ‘robot’ avatar and discussions around artificial intelligence often reproduce the figure of the human as white in such a way discussions of ‘the posthuman’ also become implication in the reproduction of white supremacist capitalism.