Seminar Three October 14th & 15th 2010 The Open University Distance as a positive principle: posthuman literacies Sian Bayne, School of Education, University of Edinburgh The close entanglement of student writing with the workings of digital technologies suggests that it might be fruitful to explore the insights of critical posthumanism as a way of thinking through the new literacy modes. Posthumanism works with anti-essentialist critiques of the nature of the ‘human’, re-thinking ‘human being’ in terms of its amalgamation with the ‘nonhuman’ – what Hayles (1999) has called ‘a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction’. Such a reading of the nature of the human moves beyond sci-fi notions of the cyborg, to consider what Edwards (2010) has referred to as ‘the constant material entanglement of the human and non-human in the enactment of the world’. While ‘bioconservative’ critiques of posthumanism (for example Fukuyama 2002) focus on the incursions of biotechnology and a re-statement of humanist principles in relation to our understanding of ‘human nature’, others see the posthuman as being a simple re-statement of Cartesian principles (Badminton 2003, Hacking 2007). Still others see it as offering us a chance to make a critical move in terms of the way we think about essentialism and our relation to our technological worlds: A critical posthumanism extends the now well-established critique of the reductive but effective categories of human/animal, nature/culture. But it also…attends to the way in which ideas of the human, nature and culture continue to work even in accounts which suggest their implosion. (Castree and Nash, 2006) How might these ideas extend into an understanding of what it means to teach, or to be digitally literate? Edwards (2010) suggests that it re-positions teaching in terms of ‘responsible experimentation’, and asks us to re-think educational purpose as ‘a gathering of the human and non-human to establish matters of concern’. It would seem that the digital mode is an ideal place in which to experiment with applying such ideas, and to that effect this paper will draw from theories of the posthuman to explore how we might re-think literacy in terms of disaggregation, reaggregation and ‘gathering’. How might course design reflexively and explicitly engage with fragmentation to destabilise and challenge not only notions of a unitary learning self, but also the assessment and literacy practices built on such notions? Theories of the posthuman will be explored and linked with questions of student identity, agency and literacy, using research and practice on the online MSc in E-learning at the University of Edinburgh as a way into formulating how we might engage with a critical posthumanism as teachers and practitioners in higher education. References Badmington, N. (2003) Theorising posthumanism, Cultural Critique, 53, 10–27. Castree, N., and Nash, C. (2006) Posthuman geographies, Social and Cultural Geography, 7: 4, 501-504. Edwards, R. (2010). The end of lifelong learning: A post-human condition? Studies in the Education of Adults, 42/1, 5-17. Fukuyama, F. (2002) Our posthuman future : consequences of the biotechnology revolution . London: Profile. Hacking, I. (2007) Our neo-Cartesian bodies in parts, Critical Enquiry, 34, 78-105. Hayles, N. K. (1999) How we became posthuman : virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.