Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘cyborg’

Recently I was asked to reccommend some academic texts for the study of fashion alongside a cultural studies/anthropological theme. You can find the answer on the ‘about’ comments page, however I thought it might also be useful to paste it in here as a post too.

The following books are listed alphabetically by author, because that’s not only fair, but also it would be impossible for me to advise anyone on what books could be of most use to them. It depends entirely on the information you’re looking for, and the aims of your theoretical research. However, I do have a large personal library of academic texts surrounding anthropology and gender in particular, as well as fashion theory, and these have inevitably become interlinked with feminist texts, media and PR critical analysis, and various other intermingling topics, particularly psychoanalytical of late.

If you’re thinking about looking at the subject of fashion and culture, however, these texts might be a good starting point – I know they were for me:

Barthes, Roland (2004), The Language of Fashion. Berg Publications
Barthes is concerned with semiotics – i.e. the idea that everything can be taken as a sign or symbol for something else. I personally used this book to help me research Dandyism, of which this book has a short chapter, examining not only the techniques of this dressing style, but also its social ethos and political symbolism. The book is not very long, so I see it (perhaps mistakenly) as an additional add-on to Barthes earlier work, ‘The Fashion System,’ which is also excellent.

Crane, Diana (2000), Fashion and it’s Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. University of Chicago Press.
This book examines clothing not only as a mode of self expression, but as a mode of non-verbal reaction against social norms. It examines views on class and gender in particular, with a keen focus on outward expression of sexual orientation. I found the chapter “Fashion Images and the Struggle for Women’s Identity’ particularly impressive whilst researching for an essay on advertising in women’s fashion, and the notion of ‘building’ and embodying identities. However, the book also touches on political elements such as global markets, class and control, and also, unlike many books about fashion, devotes an entire section to a very interesting exploration of masculine identities as impressed through dress.

De Beauvoir, Simone (1949, republished 1997) The Second Sex. Vintage Classics.
Good lord, where to start on this book? It’s vast, for one thing. My own tattered but faithful copy looks like a hedgehog on acid, it has so many coloured tab markers in it! Helpfully segregated into two ‘books’, and these into various parts with their own chapters, De Beauvoir’s book is one of the most important books (in my very humble opinion) to study when looking at not only Gender studies, but also the social construction of ‘woman’ from infancy, through childhood, to adulthood, with the section on motherhood particularly interesting as it examines the idea that a mother is not a natural transitional identity, but must be in some ways socially formed. Anyway, I can’t go on about this because we would be here for many days!

Moore, Henrietta L (1988), Feminism and Anthropology. Polity Press.
It is very difficult to discuss Fashion, in an Anthropological sense, without looking at Feminism. I have a love/hate relationship with the subject, however it is important to understand certain movements of feminism (the so-called ‘waves’ are very different from each other and should influence the way we view movements in fashion and embodied identity differently). Moore’s book looks to the main social issues surrounding and impacting feminism, such as changing family structures, the viewing of and status of women in the workplace, and what ‘women’s work’ is or has evolved as, and perhaps most importantly, examines feminist critques in anthropology itself. The book has come under a lot of criticism, not all of it complimentary, but this by no means makes it less useful reading.

…Those are my ‘big four,’ if you will, for the specific area of focus on fashion and anthropology, however the following are equally important and very often influence my reading:

Butler, Judith, (1999) Gender Trouble. (Routledge)
Cole, Shaun (2000) Don We Now Our Gay Apparel: Gay men’s dress in the twentieth century. (Berg)
Vinken, Barbara (2005) Fashion Zeitgeist: Trends and Cycles in the Fashion System. (Berg)
Wolf, Naomi (1991) The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women. (Vintage)

Various other theorists of interest:
Sophie Woodward (women and everyday dressing)*; Emma Tarlo (muslim and faith dressing and it social and political signifiers)*; Hannah Arendt (theories of loneliness); Valerie Steele (fashion theorist and historian); Joanne Entwistle (the dressed body); Donna Haraway (theories of cyborg and techonology in the social sphere); Ariel Levy (feminism); Germaine Greer (feminism); Frances Pine (women’s work and family roles in rural Poland)*, etc etc etc!

Also, if you have access to JStor or AnthroSource, these are invaluable search engines for academic articles and readings, as well as academic book reviews. Most universites have access to these and they are brilliant. I like to download and save interesting readings, even if I just think they might be of use at some point though not necessarily for what I’m researching at the time.

I hope all of this is useful to anyone looking into this subject area! If you have your own reccommendations, please leave comments for other people to be informed – and to inform me too!

(*okay, I’m biased, these three have been tutors of mine…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

(May 2007, Catherine Lucas)

An Analytical Perspective on the Cultural Phenomenon of Internet Blogging Through an Understanding of Haraway’s Theory of the Cyborg.

 

In her “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” Haraway outlines a definition of a cyborg as a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”§ (Haraway; 1991) Where the concept of blogging is concerned, writing one’s thoughts, opinions and desires into the anonymity of the Internet could be categorized as a progression of ourselves becoming cyborgs, particularly in the social sense. For bloggers, sharing one’s ideas across the Internet has become even more of a second nature than holding a face to face discussion of their beliefs and judgements. In this manner, technology becomes an extension of the human brain and its faculties. One may now even enter an actual virtual universe to interact on this level.

Haraway theorises that we are all now “chimeras theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism,” where our natural movements flow easily into that of the machine without us giving much realisation to the action, and so in short, “we are cyborgs.” (Haraway; 1991) Blogging is a cultural phenomenon that is centred on this idea of an extension of the brain, imagination and our human expression; rather than discussing or debating our ideas and fantasies, we now record them on a universally accessible database of information.

While this phenomenon is certainly relevant to the exploration of the cyborg, it may also be linked to Arendt’s theories of alienation, as blogging, while a useful tool for purveying information, is also a solitary technique of interaction if one considers only ‘physical reality’ as the real sense of a reality, and ‘virtual reality’ as one which can only be accessed on a solitary level, where one is not communicating physically, and relies on an imagined state to convey one’s own thoughts and ideals. Therefore, although blogging is for many seen as a social activity, this social interaction may be viewed as merely superficial, and as a shield that distracts us from our own ‘real life’ alienation, by inhabiting a fictional reality to console ourselves of our own sense of loneliness. By using blogging as a defence mechanism in this manner, one is effectively succumbing to the idea of a growing epidemic of human-roboticism.

Haraway examines the rise of roboticism throughout her manifesto, unfolding the idea of “boundary breakdowns” between human and machine, which are expanded on by Schaer in her article on a “Life Less Ordinary” (Schaer; 2007) as she explores the entire ‘online world’ of Second Life. These boundary breakdowns have been met with abject criticism from many theorists and journalists who see the exploration of the virtual as a rejection of natural reality, and as a psychological retreat into an anonymous and fictional existence where one can be ‘safe’ from the outside world and also shun ‘true’ human interaction, which is described by Middleton as an “amputation” or betrayal of our cultural heritage, stemming from the rise of the blog (Middleton; Australia –undated). As Schaer puts it: “Don’t these people have real lives? Why make a whole bunch of fantasy friends…when you could be outside in the real sunshine…?” (Schaer; 2007)

This rise of roboticism is for many seen as dangerous, as the concept of blogging emerges as a new media type; Johnson and Kaye’s study of blog users’ reliance on blogs for information on politics, for example, shows an embracing of robotically conveyed media. If cyborgs are designed to exist through futuristic or technological advances, bloggers can record their opinions for access by Internet users for generations to come, however due to inevitable Internet ‘skewing’ (explored by Drezner and Farrell; 2004) the same opinions would retain their popularity and readership by internet users and so could create a biased image of the world detailed and discussed within them. Cyborgs are seen as having lost some human characteristics such as ‘feeling’ due to being a ‘technologically altered’ human hybrid, (Haraway; 1991) in which case bloggers who use blogging as a facility for an extension of human interaction could theoretically turn more cynical, more ‘robotic’ in their world outlook, and more passive to the real world as it happens around them, only viewing it through an analytical brain. Haraway offers a chilling perception of this, in that “our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.” (1991)

However, O’Donnell constructs theories on how “the blogosphere might challenge or enhance current theories of teaching,” (O’Donnell; 2005) as a more positive side to this argument. If, as Haraway suggests, we are all cyborgs, our communicative ideas using online technology may only become more technologically advanced, an idea already explored by Schaer as she interviews Angela Thomas, a lecturer at The University of Sydney, who uses the virtual world ‘Second Life’¨ to teach classes and hold meetings within a ‘virtual reality’. Thomas states, “I don’t like to distinguish what I do in Second Life as unreal because, for me, it’s very real to be paid to teach my classes there.”(Schaer; 2007)

Whilst one argument may suggest that understanding a virtual reality such as Second Life as ‘very real’ is proof of the possible dangerous nature of integrating oneself too far into a cyber world of blogging and other technological methods of communication, others could argue that such advances can only help broaden our intellectual horizons, with the vast, infinite possibilities of the Internet “seen as a place to give and share information,” by Thomas (Schaer; 2007). From this viewpoint, discourses expanded through online blogs could improve access to education and interaction with the rest of the world, to those in underprivileged countries, or those who find themselves housebound or with social interaction difficulties.

It would be naïve to simply dismiss the growth of the cyborg in our society as dangerous and objectionable, when it could bring relief to many others. When an anonymous blogger in his own home can make his political voice heard without the requirement of ‘traditional’ and ‘human’ methods of physical demonstration and revolt, but through a concise documentation of ideas and opinions, surely such an extension of one’s thought processes can only enrich a world of opinions by providing bloggers with the tools to voice these hopes. However, Dr Adriane Vromen (University of Sydney) poses a very important question of “whether it [virtual environments and the internet in general] can go beyond communities of shared interest… The Internet has become indispensable, but whether it can create a real sense of debate… is another question altogether.” (Schaer; 2007)

In exploring the references of this essay, it is apparent that Haraway’s theories of the cyborg have maintained their relevance and even exceeded their original readings; as our community becomes progressively more reliant on technologies and the invention of newer, faster and more efficient methods of mechanising daily life, the “Manifesto for Cyborgs” begins to look more prophetic than speculative. As a society, we have collectively taken the ideas of a cyborg culture to new levels as technology continues to evolve and impose itself on our culture, leading one to rely more heavily on it as the ‘technological age’ continues, even to the extent of a progressive reliance on blogged opinions to influence our own perceptions of political climate, which is an area of most fundamental social discourse, being an indefinite and under no circumstances a static state, as explored by Drezner and Farrell (“The Power and Politics of Blogs,” 2004).

However, if cyborgs are the point of conjunction between imagination and material reality, (Haraway; 1991) how can one regulate this possible intrusion of the imagination as it is expressed in blogs and the sphere of virtual reality? If one cannot distinguish the ‘false’ from ‘real life’, then surely this would result in a social and cultural deflation, though initiated, presumably, in good will and with the intent of exploring new technology and it’s devices. If, as Haraway asserts, “the cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy and perversity,” (1991) then one cannot help but wonder what might happen should these ironies distort within the impersonal void of the cyber world. 

Notes:

  • § Haraway: “A Manifesto for Cyborgs…” 1991. In this manifesto, Haraway seeks to define the Cyborg and also puts forward the theory that not only are humans becoming like cyborgs, but that we are actually part cyborgs already due to the prevailing intake of how technology increasingly influences our lives, and the readiness with which we have come to accept it as second nature, for example in a contemporary sense I am using a Word Processing program to ‘write’ an essay, rather than using the traditional method of writing words by hand, and this method of communication has become second nature, has become ‘normal’ to me.

 

¨For more information about ‘Second Life’, please see my additional informative essay (below) exploring this program in further detail, or go to http://www.secondlife.com

References:

 

PART 2


“Second Life”: An Informative Exploration.

(Note: this information piece although written to further inform the Marker, is not a part of the above essay.)

Although my essay was not primarily based on the phenomenon of ‘Second Life’, I found that it raised for me many parallels not only with Haraway’s theory of the cyborg, and that we have become a cyborg culture, but also with Arendt’s theories of alienation –has society become so ‘lonely’ although over crowded, as we have so little time to interact with each other in our ‘real’ lives, that we are forced to retreat into a whole other ‘virtual world’ when we get home, so that we can allow ourselves to live another life we wish we had but know we will never achieve? The following information explains what Second Life is in more detail, and expands on how it is being used in particular by academics and businesses for further financial gain –a true world of cyborg…

According to its tag line, Second Life is a “3D online digital world imagined, created and owned by its residents.’ It is a complete other continent found in a virtual cyber reality, in which people can recreate themselves a new appearance, personality and lifestyle for a preliminarily free membership, or by purchasing a premium membership for $9.95/month (US$).

The advantage of paying for a premium membership is that as an online ‘person’ you can purchase and develop on your own virtual plots of land –the availability of land is infinite, due to the infinite nature of virtual reality. With the free account, users are not allowed to ‘own’ land. Land can be rented or bought for various amounts of money, as well as private islands for the wealthy. These purchases are bought through the ‘Linden Dollar,’ which is the Second Life currency.

This currency already has a recognised exchange rate with the online secure payment method ‘Paypal’ which is used by Ebay users, for example, to pay for purchases using credit cards. The Linden Dollar is also recognised with an exchange rate by some American banks. It is important to note that although paying with a virtual currency, the money really does come out of your ‘real life’ bank accounts! However, this also means that one can invest, and sell products and services through Second Life, which gives one the opportunity to make real money through a virtual stock market…

Second Life has millions of members, including academics and businessmen, some of whom even use their ‘avatar’ presence (one’s online personality) to be able to conduct ‘business meetings’ with their colleagues in other countries, which many find preferable to video conferencing or cross-audio conferencing, as they have a greater sense of ‘being in the same room’ and less far away from the people they seek to interact with –in utilising Second Life in this manner, they are making use of a virtual reality in order to make their actual world seem smaller, and so feel closer to others.

If this was an opinion piece, I would definitely wish to ask: how can the phenomenon of Second Life be a good thing when it is encouraging us so far into the cyborg that we are constructing full online lives, masquerading as the person we wish desperately to be? Should we not be encouraged to accept out own selves and our own reality, and to make more communicative efforts to meet real people, flesh people who don’t look like cartoon characters? However, on the other side of the coin, surely the advent of Second Life must be a blessing for those who cannot interact with others on a personal level through psychological or phobic issues, and especially for those suffering from any number of severe disabilities which would render them house bound or bed ridden –Second Life gives them an opportunity to explore the world, even if it’s not the world the rest of us inhabit. With a huge increase in online or virtual reality methods of education, which could certainly benefit those who cannot for whatever reasons, attend conventional means of educative institutions, it would not be that surprising if we saw a Second Life University crop up in the virtual world in the near future.

References:

http://www.secondlife.com

Arendt, Hannah: “The Human Condition.”

Haraway, Donna: “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.”

Schaer, Cathrin: “A Life Less Ordinary.”

Read Full Post »