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Call for Papers: Technology and Art

Call for Papers for the Fourth Issue

Anthropology & Materialism. A Journal of Social Research, an international and multidisciplinary journal dedicated to critical thinking announces a call for papers for its fourth issue Technology and Art to be published in 2018.

The relation between humans and nature as it is presented by current debates on technology (around the concept of the "Anthropocene" for example) may overshadow another key relation: the complicity between capitalism and technology. Every technical innovation is the result of means of production under the control of commercial enterprises and is thus shaped by market principles. This issue tackles the problematic aspects of this complicity and asks how it can be challenged.

Technology is and has often been object of ethical judgments either appraising or criticizing its effects: Cyberspace was welcomed as a liberating force; the World Wide Web celebrated as an open community when it first appeared and soon after blamed for its commercial function; the mobile phone was cherished as a means of democratic organization in the Arab Spring, and at the same time condemned as a means of communication that indirectly enables terrorist attacks; finally, the last presidential campaign in the United States was suspected to be manipulated via Cyber-technology. The problem of the polarization between the democratizing promises of technology (from the side of the technophiles, after Norbert Wiener) and the denunciation of technology as complicit of evil (from the side of the technophobes, after Jacques Ellul) is that it fetishizes technology, reducing its impact on society to a disjunctive ethical position while continuing to obscure the relation between technology and capitalism. Technology is thus separated from its conditions of production and understood as something autonomous from human intervention; in other words, the human labor forces seem definitively alienated from the capitalist mode of production which employs them. Marshall McLuhan’s famous formula “the medium is the message” is symptomatic of such a hypostasis of technology.

Is it possible to think technology beyond this polarization? Does a critical approach have to be thought in ethical terms? Or, rather, in political terms? Opposite to fetishizing approaches, the idea that technique is just a means without any meaning in itself (technology being as good or as bad as how humans use it) underestimates the transformative capacity of technological inventions. Long before McLuhan, Walter Benjamin already claimed a comparable point of view pointing out that the technical reproducibility revolutionized the character of the work of art. But beyond McLuhan, the German philosopher linked the production of technology back to its conditions of production, rearranging radically the relations between technology, capitalism, nature and art and showing the distance between the capitalist mode of production and the human practice of technological inventions as such. Another scholar worth mentioning here is Marcuse’s disciple Andrew Feenberg, who further developed a non-essentializing and non-fetishizing theory of technology in the context of modern society.

Following these approaches, it is today maybe the most important task for artists to challenge the marriage between capitalism and technology in order to liberate the emancipatory and playful dimensions of technique and imagine new sorts of social relations. Artists could question technology’s seemingly natural conditions of production under capitalism and release it from its threatening oppression of nature. With art, technology can become a game with nature, our game, revealing technology as a human faculty. Esther Leslie argues: “The human is a lie. Existence is technoid; that is to say, an understanding of technical life is the starting point for social theory.” Taking her at her word, technology is not only a human faculty but a human condition. This makes it even more important to undo its relation with capitalism.

This CFP invites scholars to reflect on the way art (or artistic practices) deals with the problematic nexus between technology, nature and capitalism in the present. In line with the multidisciplinary scope of the Journal, this issue aims to publish fresh theoretical (sociological, anthropological, political and aesthetical) approaches on the relationship between technology and art, and its role in capitalist societies. This can be addressed in a rather general theoretical way, in an analysis of a specific technological development, or else in the case study of a political event or a piece of (electronic) art. The following questions may be tackled by the contributors: in which ways does the opposition of technology on the one hand and nature and art on the other conceal its intimate relation with the capitalist mode of production? How can the role of technology be analyzed without falling into the pitfalls of fetishizing technology (technophilia/technophobia)? Should we consider technology in ethical or political terms? How can we conceive technology as a liberating force? How can we conceive a society which is not threatened by its own technological inventions (surveillance systems, arms, etc.)? Could artistic production somehow undo the unholy alliance of technology/science and capitalism? 

Those interested in publishing in the fourth issue of the Journal should send their articles to before 28/02/2018 to be then peer-reviewed. Articles should be written following the Author Guidelines:

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