By: Lavínia Pereira
It was only in July that I was informed I had been selected for this year’s Rosi Braidotti’s Summer School at the University of Utrecht (12-21 August). It was my second time applying and I was told it was very difficult to be accepted due to the avalanche of applications they receive every year. So I was both glad for the opportunity and disappointed with the news that the summer school would – eventually – be online. Despite this setback (I am really not a fan of the online mediation apparatus that we have been forced to use, during these last few months!), my expectations were high and… they were fulfilled.
For those not familiar with her work, Rosi Braidotti is an italian-australian philosopher whose thought can be situated at the crossroads of feminist theory, new-materialism, critical theory, and the French continental philosophical heritage of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. What caught my eye in Braidotti’s work when I first read her 2013 book ‘The Posthuman’, a couple of years ago, was her ability to bypass some of the core trends that characterize the poststructuralist context in which her scholarship was first produced and received, and to face the challenges it raised.
Having started her research route in the wake of the French feminist tradition of thinkers such as Simone de Beauvoir, she diverges from the contemporary Anglo-American gender theorists such as Judith Butler. Despite being one of the core figures of new-materialism, she clearly denounces the anachronism of the Marxist linear conception of time in face of the multiple ‘mutations of advanced capitalism’. While adopting a ‘monistic political ontology’ perspective, she is critical of flat ontologies and actor-network perspectives (such as the one theorized by Bruno Latour). Acknowledging her Critical Theory background she doesn’t join her male generational partners in their nostalgic, apocalyptic ‘rhetoric of the lament’ (such as Slavoj Žižek or Alain Badiou).
What advantages do I see in her detours? While adopting the critical insights of these different theoretical approaches, she acknowledges their limitations and combines them with a Spinozian and Nietzschean taste for joy and affirmation (expanding the Deleuzian reading of these authors). Her denouncing of the white-male-Eurocentric-universal idea of ‘Human’ and of the dualistic-hierarchical-speciesist Anthropos is combined with an ‘affirmative ethics’ that builds on the creative and positive aspect of difference and diversity (beyond dialectics), and the re-building of subjectivity away from the traditional humanist unity of the individual.
The 2020 summer school entitled ‘Posthuman Convergences: Theories and Methodologies’, ‘explored the implications of the posthuman convergence of posthumanism and postanthropocentrism for the constitution of subjectivity, the production of knowledge and the practice of the academic humanities.’ Precisely at the moment when we can testify to the downfall of the humanist view of the human, and when the centrality of the Man (or the Anthropos) has been displaced by the confluence of advanced capitalism, technological development and the disruption of earth systems equilibrium, Braidotti faces without fear the most urgent task of rebuilding and rethinking the role of humanities in a context of, what she calls, ‘theory fatigue’.
Organized mainly after her last book Posthuman Knowledges (2019) and the Posthuman Glossary (2018) that she edited along with Maria Hlavajova, the Summer School was clearly organized to provide the participants with more than a theoretical overview of her posthumanist perspective: the strong practical side of the programme allowed the participants to get in touch with a range of different applications providing a multidisciplinary outline of the methodological potential of Braidotti’s work (e.g. from Posthuman Pedagogy to Literary and Cultural Studies, Digital/Algorithmic Cultures, Legal Theory and Indigenous Epistemologies – and I’m not being exhaustive!).
Among many other insights resulting from the summer school, in what follows I will focus on the role of arts and the humanities in the reorganization of the social imaginary, which has already been an important part of my research.
Precisely to fight the ‘theoretical fatigue’ and the ‘theory of lament’ performed both by scholars within critical theory and more conservative thinkers, Braidotti assigns to the arts and the humanities the role of decolonizing the apocalyptic imagination of West-white-male fragility, in a most needed innovative manner. Her call is on the need to reactivate that sense of ending and anxiety about the future, a sense of melancholia, which is ultimately rooted in white patriarchal mindsets, through a different attitude of affirmation, and opening up for a multitude of alternative possible ways of thinking and doing the task of critique against dominant views. Producing ‘embodied and embedded’ knowledge, in a collaborative and situated manner, and building on what has permanently been pushed to the margins – what Braidotti calls ‘minor science’ and the ‘missing people’ (e.g. indigenous theory, anti-racist and post-colonial theory, xenofeminism) is a huge part of her proposal to overcome the ‘theory fatigue’ syndrome and move away from the ‘collapse landscape’ in an affirmative manner.
The Summer School is just the beginning of the journey, potentially a pivotal turning point I’d venture to say. The ‘posthuman convergence’ might be useful as an important ‘cartographic tool’ to help me map and build bridges with other existing, ongoing discourses and approaches to the posthuman.
Lavínia Pereira is a Postdoc Researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences – University of Lisbon, where she has been conducting research in three main interdisciplinary fields: ‘Age of Humans and Nature’ (AoHN), an interdisciplinary inquiry into the changing humans-nature relationships (HNR) in the ‘Anthropocene’; ‘The Future of University: as if sustainability mattered’, understanding how Higher Education Institutions can be key agents for sustainability transformation; and ‘Technological Urban Imaginaries in social-scientific literature and speculative fiction’, exploring alternative futures towards sustainability and well-being in the city.