We, the Cyborgs: Challenges for the Future of being Human

Posted by Asha Achuthan at Mar 22, 2012 02:30 PM |
The Cyborg - a cybernetique organism which is a combination of the biological and the technological – has been at the centre of discourse around digital technologies. Especially with wearable computing and ubiquitous access to the digital world, there has been an increased concern that very ways in which we understand questions of life, human body and the presence and role of technologies in our worlds, are changing. In just the last few years, we have seen extraordinary measures – the successful production of synthetic bacteria, artificial intelligence that can be programmed to simulate human conditions like empathy and temperament, and massive mobilisation of people around the world, to fight against the injustices and inequities of their immediate environments.


All of these, in some way or the other, hint at new models of cyborgification which we need to unpack in order to understand a few questions which have been at the helm of all philosophical inquiry and practical design around Internet and Society:

  • How do we understand ourselves as human? What are the technologies that define being human?
  • How do conceptualise the technological beyond prosthetic imaginations? How do we understand technology (especially the digital) as a condition?
  • What are the new challenges we shall face in law, ethics, life and social sciences as we increasingly live in Cyborg societies?
We , the Cyborgs, is a first of its kind research inquiry that locates these questions in a quickly digitising India to see the challenges of being human in the time of technological futures. In her seminal body of work on Cyborgs, Donna Haraway had posited the cyborg as a creature of fiction and ironies; a monster, a trickster, a boundary creature that is irreducible to the existing binaries of human-technology, technology-nature, nature-regulation. In imagining the cyborg as simultaneously fictitious and embodied in practices of care and labour, Haraway was further hinting at a set of questions that have never really entered discourse on cyborgs: Who are we when we become cyborgs? What do we do with the cyborgs we have produced? What are the other kinds of cyborgs? What are the new places them? What are the other ways of understanding cyborgs? Asha Achuthan in her monograph Re:Wiring Bodies, maps these questions along the axes of Presence, Access, Inclusion and Resistance to understand ‘attitudes to technology’. Achuthan talks about a moment of elision where technology is separated from the human body in the space of policy and critique. In those moments of separation, there is the production of a cyborg body that is suddenly vulnerable because it does not have the support of the technological which was an essential part of its bodily experience. How does this body get assimilated in our technology practices? What are the axes of discrimination and inequity that are attributed to these bodies in the process of cyborg making? Who are the actors that play a part in designing these cyborg bodies and selves? In the Indian context, where there has been a legacy of being technosocial subjects and cyborg citizens in the nation’s own technoscience imagination of itself, we need to locate the cyborg in new sites and contexts to see what the regulation of technology and its integration in everyday life.


Building upon her work, We, The Cyborgs, seeks to locate the cyborg in India, on 3 interdisciplinary but connected sites to  examine how bodies, in their interaction with the design and practice of different processes of regulation and control, are in the process of becoming cyborgs. The inquiry locates the cyborg at intersections of Health Care, Planning and Gender, to start unpacking the different futures of the body-technology relationships that have been posited in terms like post-human, techno-social, simulated bodies, bodies as traffic, etc. In the process, it hopes to unravel the questions of methods, frameworks, ethics and practices of bodies in conditions of technology. We, The Cyborgs, aims to bring together a wide range of researchers and practitioners from different disciplinary locations including but not limited to – Art, Anthropology, Law, Planning, Architecture and Design, Gender and Sexuality studies, Cultural Studies, Life Sciences, Medicine, New Media Studies, etc. – to start a debate around some of the key issues around cyborgs and cyborg-making in their fields.


Asha Achuthan

My disciplinary training is in medicine. Some of my questions about science and politics led me to a Women's Studies programme in Jadavpur University, from where I did an M.Phil with a focus on "women and development". I have recently submitted my PhD dissertation, "Feminist Standpoint Theory and the Question of Experience". I am also working as Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, on a project of curriculum revision in the natural and social sciences.