Academic journal article New Formations

Modernity, Humans and Animals - Tensions in the Field of the Technical-Industrial Imaginary

Academic journal article New Formations

Modernity, Humans and Animals - Tensions in the Field of the Technical-Industrial Imaginary

Article excerpt

Abstract Thu essay is guided by two themes that concern the complexity of the modern world and the distinction between the human and the non-human. Keeping these themes in mind I will look first at the notion of modernity and the way in which notions of crises and tensions have been deployed, before turning to one set of tensions - the relation between the human and the non-human worlds through an analysis of the developments in the technical-industrial imaginary. In modernity, the regimes that humans put in place in relation to nature, and especially the animal world are constituted, principally, from the perspective of the industrialmng imagination and technical regimes of control. I want to explore thu theme and its crisis potential from the vantage point of both longer and shorter histories of human interactions with the animal world which intersect the hütory of modernity. The longer history includes the animal imbedded as a 'natural' extension to the human world, whilst the shorter one includes the animal as 'non-natural', prosthetic, or coded extension through the industrialization of the sign and the invention, for example, of DNA and genetic technologies. This interpretative move is made in order to throw the anthropological image of technical mastery into relief, as a prelude to critiquing it.

Keywords modernity, humans, animals, nature, science, ontology, Castoriadis, Habermas, Markus

A Militia major is driving along when he sees a militiaman standing with a penguin.

'Take him to the zoo', he orders.

Some time later the same major is driving along when he sees the militiaman still with the penguin.

'What have you been doing?' he asks. ? said take him to the zoo'.

'We've been to the zoo, Comrade major', says the militiaman, 'and the circus. And now we're going to the pictures'.1

I NATURE, ANIMALS, HUMANS - THE TENSION OF THE HUMAN ANTHROPOS IN THE TECHNICAL-INDUSTRIAL IMAGINARY

In modernity humans constitute their relations with nature, including the animal world, from the perspective of an industrialising imagination and technical regimes of control. I want to explore this technical-industrial imaginary and its crisis potential not only from the vantage point of scientific or instrumentalist rationality, in the manner of Horkheimer or Adorno or Foucault, but also from the perspective of humans' interactions with the animal world, which can be used paradigmatically to throw the image of technical mastery into relief. This latter perspective begins with a history longer than modernity that includes the animal imbedded as a 'natural' extension to the human world, and a shorter one that at first only incompletely incorporates non-human animals into a technical-industrial imaginary, yet later fully incorporates them as 'non-natural' beings that are constituted through a self-referencing system of signs. Yet the industrial-technical imaginary with its image of technical mastery does not exhaust the ways we may constitute our relations with non-human animals. In the last two sections of this essay I will discuss ways that this technical mastery is viewed as a problem that can be purportedly managed, before turning to some alternatives to both the technical and managerial relation of humans over non-human animals.2

II A HUMAN HISTORY THAT INCLUDES A NATURAL HISTORY OF ANIMALS

Everyday life, as well as technical specialisation and functional and status divisions in human societies, can be reconstructed for any civilisational history of humankind from the perspective of the domestication of animals and livestock. FYom this perspective, there was not only the grain revolution of the Neolithic period (from 1 0,000 BC onwards, but more conventionally from between 6-5000 years BC), but as importantly revolutions in the shaping of sheep and goats, cattle, pigs, horses, asses and mules through the techniques not only of pastoral containment and new forms of ownership, but also taming, and where possible - for dogs, sheep, cattle, horses - selective breeding. …

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