At the end of June, I organised a workshop at the University of York to explore the intersections of posthumanist thought (broadly construed!), international security and ethics. I was lucky to be joined by a stellar list of scholars from several disciplines, including IR, philosophy, geography, sociology, robotics and political science (see a full list below) and from across the UK, US and Australia. The result was a fascinating set of papers and discussions. I’ve put together a ‘Virtual Workshop’ where you can read posts from the authors and listen to the talks – just as if you were at the workshop itself.
You can access the Virtual Workshop here.
This workshop is the beginning of an ongoing interdisciplinary conversation around these themes, so please get in touch if you’d like to get involved in future events.
About the posthuman security workshop
International security is not solely a matter of securing human lives and bodies. Whether other animals, machines, networks, minerals, water, ecosystems or complex assemblages thereof, a wide range of beings other than humans shape the contexts of (in)security. But how can and should they be accounted for within security discourses? Is there a ‘posthuman’ conception of security – or should there be? And what are the ethical implications of thinking beyond the human in the context of security and ethics?
Pioneering work in the area of ‘posthuman’ thought (broadly construed) offers a starting point for answering these questions. For instance, new materialists, complexity theorists and proponents of object-oriented ontology challenge ontologies that privilege an exclusively human perspective. On the other hand, theorists in areas such as critical ecology and animal studies call on humans to expand their ethical imaginations to include nonhumans. In another sense, work by scholars of global catastrophic risks and human extinction probe the very limits of the notion of security. So far, these lines of thought have developed more or less independently of each other, and have intersected with very different aspects of security studies. How do these approaches ‘speak to each other’, and how do they conflict? Can they (as discourses or as a swarm of diverse critiques) unsettle the anthropocentric basis of security and security ethics?
The ‘Posthuman Security Ethics’ workshop brought together leading proponents of a more-than-human approach to security from across several disciplines. Contributors come from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and theoretical traditions. Each offers a different account of what ‘posthumanism’ means and how it intersects with security.
With the diversity of these approaches in mind, the workshop focused on three main questions:
1) Is there a ‘posthuman security’, or a ‘posthuman security ethics?’ Should there be?
Scholars concerned with a more-than-human approach to security work in very different fields and traditions, from theoretical physics to continental political philosophy. What kinds of debates exist within and amongst these approaches? Is it possible to bring together insights from these various fields, and can/should their claims be reconciled? Or, alternatively, what fruitful gaps and tensions can be found amongst these approaches?
2) Do ontological shifts have ethical implications?
To date, there has been ground-breaking work aimed at developing more-than-human ontologies, and on the extension of ethics to some nonhumans. But, in most cases, these remain separate endeavours: work focused on ethics tends to retain an anthropocentric ontology; and the ethical implications of more-than-human ontologies remain under-developed. How can work in both areas be brought together? How might this transform ideas of security, harm and protection?
3) Future research agendas
What are the priorities for future research at the intersection of posthumanist thought, security studies and ethics? What kind of collaborations (and on what kinds of projects) can best facilitate the development of these agendas?
Chair and organizer: Audra Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, University of York, UK
Anthony Burke, Associate Professor of International and Political Studies, University of New South Wales, Australia
Martin Coward, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, University of Newcastle, UK
Erika Cudworth, Reader in Political Sociology and Critical Animal Studies, University of East London, UK
Stefanie Fishel, Visiting Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, US
Nick Gane, Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick, UK
Jairus Grove, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, US
Stephen Hobden, Senior Lecturer in Law and Social Sciences, University of East London, UK
Carolin Kaltofen, PhD Candidate,University of Aberystwyth, UK
Bradley Lineker, Research Associate/ PhD Candidate, University of York/ King’s College London, UK
Matt McDonald, Senior Lecturer of International Relations, University of Queensland, Australia
Alan Winfield, Professor of Robotics, University of the West of England, UK