CRITICAL LIFE STUDIES
Critical life studies (CLS) is an international research field, which is in conversation with and provides a critical response to the explosion of ‘turns’ and ‘studies’ in academia—e.g. the anthropocene, ontological, posthuman, and affective turns, and gender, trans, queer, critical race, postcolonial, and animal studies, which, in resonance with newer feminist onto-epistemological theorizings, promise hope for the future of theory by attempting to dethrone the anthro-ontological notion of the Human. Each intervention contributes significantly to transforming our knowledge by demonstrating the inadequacy of the concept of the Human to account for and respond to ongoing social injustices and global crises, but only few has dared to ask: should we reject humanism tout court and if so, how might this be done? From the perspective of CLS, this oversight is a product of the vestigial humanism lingering in their shared, and often veiled, allegiance to a non-negotiable concept of life itself.
The core concept of critical life studies (CLS) therefore strikes at the heart of the dilemma that contemporary critical theory has been circling around: namely, the negotiation of the human, its residues, a priori configurations, the persistence of humanism in structures of thought, and the figure of life as a constitutive focus for ethical, political, and onto-epistemological questions. Despite attempts to move quickly through humanism to more adequate theoretical concepts, such haste has impeded the analysis of how the humanistic concept ‘life itself’ is preconfigured or immanent within the supposedly new conceptual leap. This research field thus addresses how we may begin to think life critically—outside the orbit and primacy of the human.
CLS is a diagnosis of the state of critical theory today, including academic feminisms, but also a bold, tripartite prescription: 1. to challenge Humanism by acknowledging the urgent need for a radical overhaul of the central proto-figure of life—whilst being alert to its inheritances; 2. to contest presumptions about life as beginning and ending in the organism, as a priority in the generation of meaning, and as a ‘special’ boundary in the constitution of ethico-political worlds; and 3. to use the departure from life as a necessary condition of new thought, obliging an engagement with all that does not have (human) life as its essential referent and center. This prescription is not meant as the horizon of all constitutive meaning, but instead a problematic that opens up a more expansive engagement with critical theory.
CRITICAL DISABILITY STUDIESStrand chair: Margrit Shildrick In recent years Critical Disability Studies has emerged as one of the most exciting areas of exploration in the continuing development of theories of embodiment, raising urgent issues of subjectivity, sexualities, power, and sexual difference to name just a few. After years of neglect, even disavowal, the question of anomalous embodiment and sexuality is at the heart of emergent scholarship forcing a reconsideration of the operative paradigms well beyond the arena of disability. Just as feminism, postcolonial studies and queer theory have all in turn offered a radical challenge to the existing conventions, so Critical Disability Studies is now the locus to watch for anyone concerned with interdisciplinary cutting edge theory. Taking a broadly postmodernist perspective, the research strand would draw on philosophy, literature, history, the social sciences, feminist theory and much more to pull together new ways of thinking about the body in all its forms, and to provide a rich and varied insight into the state of critical disability scholarship.
SEXUAL ETHNOGRAPHY - TRANSFORMING METHODOLOGIESStrand chair: Malena Gustavson Sexual ethnography continues to form methodological challenges to research practices, ethics and analysis with and through the testimonies of lived experiences. Exploring sexuality as ethnography engages a plethora of assemblages of narratives and practices in social relations and political institutions. Being a highly debated and also delicate matter sexual ethnography also generates incitement to continually rethink how to perform and communicate in the field. Feminist ethnographers’ critical engagement of disentangling the link between experience and representation has expanded and transformed theoretical and methodological endeavours in fieldwork as a site for knowledge production. There are elaborated approaches and interventions to participate in the field. Exploratory research practices aligned with feminist critique of othering also emphasizes ethical reflexivity, the researcher’s point of origin, attitudes and techniques of knowing. Framing this strand within the orbit of feminist queer and transnational intersections the methodological discussion will continue and invites to innovative, experimental and critical engagement in sexual ethnography. The strand will engage in questions such as: What are the challenges for a sexual ethnography ethically and analytically? How could we expand the dialogue between researcher and research subjects in the ethnographic processes? Ongoing projects: Sexual feelings (Malena Gustavson) Relevant publications
FEMINIST TECHNOSCIENCE STUDIES: RE-INVENTING TECHNOLOGIES, BIOLOGIES AND MEDICINE"Strand chairs: Cecilia Åsberg, Ulf Mellström, Margrit Shildrick & Nina Lykke This research strand continues and advances the feminist science studies tradition as it has been established and re-established by scholars such as Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, Lucy Suchman, Margrit Shildrick, Stacy Alaimo, Myra Hird, Nina Lykke, Mette Bryld and Lynda Birke at the intersection of advanced cultural theory, feminist materialisms and knowledge production within the natural sciences, medicine or engineering. This field has moved from critiques of science (the woman question in science) to active engagement with “the science question in feminism” (Harding 1986), and taken a quantum leap over the three decennia after Donna Haraway’s famous cyborg manifesto. In this strand we put focus on different kinds of knowledge production, historical and material conditions of existence and bodily ethics in the medical, technical and natural sciences. Key here are transdisciplinary understandings that bridge the modern divide between nature and culture, and its corollary of bifurcations into the so called soft sciences and the so called hard sciences. This strand is marked by a deep-seated feminist commitment to the ways in which gender and intersectionality are entangled with medicine, science and technology. This small, highly influential and highly transgressive field (admixing feminism and technoscience in practice) has in recent years single-handedly reinvented large parts of the feminist conceptual apparatus in gender studies, under portmanteau terms such as for instance - new materialism, agential realism, feminist materialisms, posthumanities, and somatechnics.
LIMINAL LIVES, BODILY ETHICS AND BIO-CURIOUS FEMINIST POSTHUMANITIES"Strand chair: Cecilia Åsberg What is life in the era of the life sciences – when genetic, neurological, chemical concepts and matters proliferate well beyond the confinements of the laboratory in popular culture and shape our sense of selfhood? Who, or what,gets to count as human, humanized, monstrous, or non-human, as natural in the natural sciences, as cultural, sexed orgendered, in humanities, science and in the wider scientific imaginary of today?This research strand will focus the question of gendered biologies, liminal lives and bodily ethics from the multiple interwoven perspectives emerging from the recent feminist reinvention of the messy relations and blurred boundaries of sex/gender, nature/culture, science/humanities. The point of departure is materialist trends in feminist theory, which have focused on embodiment and the materialities of sexed bodies – human and non-human. Against the background of a critique of feminist theories of sexual difference in the humanities and social science that have long been embedded in constructionist paradigms, materialist feminist trends haveattracted the attention of feminist researchers from a broader spectrum of different disciplinary backgrounds, including medicine and biology. However, while theorizing on the relationship between human and non-human animals, technology and biology, sex and gender has figured sexual difference, differentiated subjectivity and embodiment as key feminist concerns, communication across the borders of the different theoretical strands and interdisciplines has been scarcer. Furthermore, it has been difficult to bridge disciplinary barriers between empirically-oriented research, typically carried out by bioscientists, and theoretically-oriented research, carried out by humanities and social sciences scholars, thus preventing a synergetic dialogue. Against the background of these gaps in previous research, the strand will aim at the development of new transdisciplinary research on bio-curious feminist forms of posthumanities, moving cultural feminist theory out of the anthropocentric comfort zone and into a more-than-human humanities. While we map "the human" and its constitutive inside and outside of the the Humanities, we draw in this research strand on feminist science studies roots and recent re-routes in new materialisms, on creative approaches oftechnoscience and culturalstudies, and human-animal studies. However, we focus especially on the relationships, circulating cultural contents and synergetic exchanges between the humanities and the natural sciences, molecular biology, techno- and life sciences – as matters of urgent concern for feminist scholarship.
CANCER CULTURES AS LENS TO INTERSECTIONAL PATIENTHOOD STUDIESStrand chair: Nina Lykke The strand is focusing on three interrelated dimensions. Firstly, the question of cancer as a cultural phenomenon is addressed, taking a starting point in the paradox that, while representations of cancer and cancer patienthood abound in contemporary popular culture, cancer is more seldom the theme of critical cultural studies. A small, but significant tradition for critical cultural studies of cancer, including queer, trans, feminist, and postcolonial ones does, however, exist, and has served as an inspiration for the strand. Secondly, the strand is taking issue with patienthood as an embodied sociocultural positioning and subjectivity. Patienthood (and un/health) is explored as a dimension to be included in intersectional feminist theorizations. It is understood as a dimension which intraacts closely with the issue of dis/abilities, but it is also assumed that more adequate analytical perspectives seem to emerge from a taking into account not only overlaps, but also distinctly separate dynamics and political perspectives. Thirdly, the strand builds on and further develops postconstructionist frameworks, defining (un)healthy bodies as material-semiotic actors entangled in transcorporeal, affective relations made up of networks of culture and biology.