2019 Meeting

The Third Annual Meeting of the Post-Human Network

Symposium: Cybernetics and its Legacies

February 14-16, 2019 @ Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

In Der Spiegel’s famous interview with Martin Heidegger, he proclaimed that cybernetics is the new philosophy. Many decades later, Heidegger's pronouncement appears prescient. Our age is one of ubiquitous digital technology, media, and algorithm—one in which social relations are rendered as networks, intelligence and cognition are conceived in terms of information processing, and humanity is believed to be replicable as programmable 'artificially intelligent' machinery. While this new age precipitates utopian declarations of connectivity and democratization, there has also been continuous disquiet as to the social and political effects of the cybernetic orientation toward control.

Cybernetics, however, is not a unitary field. Its concepts, orientations and logics are not exclusive to automation and “intelligent” automata, but surface in other domains, including but not limited to biology, psychology, and linguistics. Thus, cybernetics has a complex legacy spanning a range of disciplines as well as different geographical regions. How do we evaluate the legacy of cybernetics? In what domains do we find cybernetic logics being applied or contested?

Cybernetic questions are also political questions. Originally denoting control of technical systems, the application of cybernetic principles specifically to social theory implies that networks and information are politicized as means of social control—ways to stabilize and steer society. Contemporary deployments of these logics of control are found in behavioral science and strategic design, to name a few. This disquiet, already professed in the later writings of cybernetic forefather Norbert Wiener, appears more recently in relation to notions such as Michel Foucault's biopower, Gilles Deleuze's societies of control, and N. Katherine Hayles' antihuman posthumanism.

How do we respond to the present ‘posthuman’ condition of cybernetic thought and system-building? Fearing the dystopian potential of a machinic future, Hayles calls on the next generation of scholars, activists, and artists to “contest for what the posthuman means.” Some have answered this call by offering alternative visions of the posthuman that value both human and non-human futurity. Others embrace control society’s cybernetic tendencies so as to germinate the accelerated decay of late capitalism. Is cybernetic control of humanity being achieved? Are machines, networks, and information necessarily enemies in fights for just, equitable, and sustainable futures? Can we envision or enact new intelligences, new networks, or new (post)humanities?

The symposium will be hosted at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, USA. More information about the campus, Tempe, and transport to and from the Phoenix metropolitan area are available on our website. The symposium will be hosted by PHuN with support in-large from the Center for Philosophical Technologies, the ASU Graduate and Professional Student Association, the ASU Department of English, the School for the Future of Innovation and Society, the School of International Letters and Culture, the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and the Institute for Humanities Research among other university organizations and institutions.

Conveners: Garrett Laroy Johnson (ASU); Jon Bratt (ASU)


Phillip Thurtle is professor in History and Director of the Comparative History of Ideas Program at the University of Washington. He received his PhD in history and the philosophy of science from Stanford University. He is the author of Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), The Emergence of Genetic Rationality: Space, Time, and Information in American Biology 1870-1920 (University of Washington Press, 2008), the co-author with Robert Mitchell (English, Duke University) and Helen Burgess (English, University of Maryland) of the interactive DVD-ROM BioFutures: Owning Information an Body Parts (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), and the co-editor with Robert Mitchell of the volumes Data Made Flesh: Embodying Information (Routledge, 2003) and Semiotic Flesh: Information and the Human Body (University of Washington Press, 2002). His research focuses on the affective-phenomenological domains of media, the role of information processing technologies in biomedical research, and theories of novelty in the life sciences. His most recent work is on the cellular spaces of transformation in evolutionary and developmental biology research and the cultural spaces of transmutation in popular culture and the arts. More...

Agronomist (ENSA Montpellier, 1986) and sociologist (Ph.D. Paris X Nanterre, 1991), Thierry Bardini, is professor and chair of the department of communication at the university of Montréal, where he has been teaching since 1993. From 1990 to 1993, he was a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at the Annenberg School for communication at the University of Southern California, under the supervision of Everett M. Rogers. His research interests concern the contemporary cyberculture, from the production and uses of information and communication technologies to molecular biology, or, in other words, everything that concerns the fictions of science and the science fictions of code. He is the author of Bootstrapping : Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution and the Genesis of Personal Computing (Stanford University Press, 2000), Junkware (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and Journey to the End of the Species (in collaboration with Dominique Lestel, Éditions Dis Voir, Paris, 2011). He now works on various projects on DIY biology and bioarts.

Xin Wei Sha is professor and director of the School of Arts, Media + Engineering (AME) at Arizona State University. He directs the Synthesis Center for responsive environments and improvisation with colleagues in AME and affiliate research centers. From 2005-2013, Sha was the Canada Research chair in media arts and sciences, and associate professor of fine arts at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. From 2001 to 2013, he directed the Topological Media Lab (TML), an atelier-laboratory for the study of gesture and materiality from computational and phenomenological perspectives. He established the TML at Georgia Institute of Technology in 2001, and moved the lab to Montréal in 2005 with the support of the Canada Fund for Innovation and the CRC. More...

Adam Nocek, Center for Philosophical Technologies, ASU

Stacey Moran Nocek, Center for Philosophical Technologies, ASU

Muindi Fanuel Muindi, University of Washington

Desiree Foerster, Universität Potsdam; University of Chicago

Sarah Choukah, Université de Montréal

Michael Beach, University of Washington

Nat Mengist, University of Washington

Josh Grant-Young, University of Guelph

Emiddio Vasquez, Synthesis Center, ASU

Angela Sakrison, Center for Philosophical Technologies, ASU

Garrett Laroy Johnson, Center for Philosophical Technologies, Synthesis Center, ASU

About PHuN

The Post-Human Network (PHuN or "Fun") is a collective of students and faculty based at Arizona State University. We engage with streams of ‘post-humanist’ thought and practice and seek to move beyond anthropocentrism in the academy and in society. Participants come from a number of disciplines across campus, including Arts Media and Engineering, Geography, and Literature. We aim to facilitate opportunities for collaborative study, creation, and experimentation. Our individual and collective production spans a variety of registers including, but not limited to, art, media, technoscience, urbanism, and design. Our work is influenced by areas of post-humanist thought such as vitalism, enactivism, process, new materialism, post-phenomenology, and systems theory.

The Post-Human Network meeting series has been supported by the ASU School of Arts Media and Engineering, the Lab for Critical Technics, the Synthesis Center, the ASU Department of English, the ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, the Center for Science and the Imagination, and ASU Institute for Research in the Humanities.