November 5, 2014

Kroch Symposium Explores Topics in Humanism

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A two-day international symposium exploring topics of posthumanism and the posthumanities kicked off Wednesday in Kroch Library.

The symposium — titled “Expanded Communities and Posthumanity” — featured presentations by the symposium’s coordinator, Prof. Marta Segarra, French literature and gender studies, University of Barcelona ,and Prof. Laurent Dubreuil, romance studies and comparative literature.

Posthumanities is an “emerging field in the discourse of disciplines,” according to Dubreuil.

“The core proposal is to look at what the humanities could be, once you are challenging [the idea] that the human would be at the core of the humanities,” he said.

One stream of post-humanities is linked to the field of post-humanism, which reassesses humanistic concepts “with the idea that animals, for instance, could have a place there that would not be a marginal place,” according to Dubreuil.

Another aspect stems from a growing interest in the sciences and technology and how scientific understanding can “revive the humanities,” Dubreuil said. The third stream is involved with reflecting on the philosophical meaning of being something, whether that is a human or an object.

All of these approaches are represented at the conference, which is part of a greater movement to “reinvent the humanities,” according to Dubreuil.

“Reinventing means that we are not forgetting what humanists used to do,” he said. “The point is how are we able to take what is the strength of the set of disciplines we have been trained in and we believe in … and also have a kind of infusion of new disciplines and other disciplines.”

Presenters came from universities across the globe — with the largest constituencies from Barcelona and Ithaca.

“We have some of the best specialists in the post-humanities,” Segarra said.

Though studies in the post-humanities have gained traction in the United States and in some parts of Northern Europe, they have yet to take hold in Southern European countries — including Spain — according to Segarra.

Discussions in the posthumanities extend beyond academia, according to Dubreuil, who referenced a recent case in New York is questioning whether apes should be granted “legal personhood.”

The symposium’s concluding presentation, scheduled for early Thursday evening, will be given by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who is renowned for her work with great apes.

According to both Dubreuil and Segarra, Savage-Rumbaugh’s experiments examine what it means to be human.

“She was basically translating sets of hypotheses that you would find already being proposed by Greek philosophers in the fifth century and she turned that into some kind of experimental protocol,” Dubreuil said.

Dubreuil said he hopes that her lecture will offer yet another perspective to the conversation.

“Her work and her persona show that there is a dialogue taking place that it’s not only the humanities suddenly asking you questions, it’s also that these questions are really at the core of many inquiries in the sciences,” he said.