[-empyre-] Introducing Week 2: Mediated Natures, Speculative Futures and Justice and thank you to Week One

Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa baschult at ucsc.edu
Tue Oct 10 10:52:06 AEDT 2017

First off: Thank you Margaretha for moderating such a fascinating
discussion! I’ve been really interested in what has been said so far, which
resonates with my own work in generative ways.

I thought I’d take the opportunity of being paired with such an exceptional
group of practitioners working in collaboration with nonhuman animals to
discuss my own research as a kind of alternate- or pre-history of such
work. I study the films produced in scientific contexts and am currently
focusing on the animal research films made by behavioral psychology
throughout the 20th century. These include the primate films made by Robert
Yerkes and the pigeon films made by B.F. Skinner. But for the purposes of
this conversation, I think the most useful works are the laboratory rat
films that were made by psychologists such as Neal E. Miller, O. H. Mowrer,
and John B. Calhoun. Examples of a couple of these films can be viewed here:

“Motivation and Reward in Learning” by Neal E. Miller


“An Experimentally Produced ‘Social Problem’ in Rats” by O. H. Mowrer


These filmmakers used the combination of rats and celluloid to create
models of human behavior and history which played influential roles in
generating educational programs, military policy, and anthropological
theories. In the above examples Miller is claiming to demonstrate how the
process of learning operates in both humans and nonhumans, while Mowrer is
attempting to image how the psychological stratifications of class emerge
in particular experimental settings. These are clearly meant to reflect not
only on rodent behavior but also the rules governing human society. Unique
among these figures are the films of John B. Calhoun, who claimed to not
only simulate human social structures past and present, but also in the
future. Calhoun built massive industrial “utopias” for his lab rats and
then filmed their interactions in these spaces over several generations.
(An image of Calhoun in one of his cities can be viewed here:
http://ru-an.info/Photo/QNews/n28969/1.jpg?dummy=1456779958) Based on these
observations, Calhoun produced a series of dire predictions about the
effects of over crowding in urban spaces, which he claimed would lead to
violence and “deviant” sexual behaviors, and which were deeply rooted in
heterosexist and racist fantasies about the dangers of the city. He
proposed that he could design a city where such moral pitfalls could be
eluded, and spent most of his career designing and re-redesigning new
environments for his rats.

Many of these films, and Calhoun in particular, are ethically and morally
bankrupt examples of thinking alongside/with animals. Calhoun largely
failed to acknowledge any personal responsibility towards either his
animals in the lab or the communities they were meant to model (refusing to
acknowledge what Haraway calls the “shared suffering” of the lab). In this,
he stands as a warning for the dangers of an absolute management without
mourning, of the position of disembodied design while resisting any
connection to the subjects of that design.

At the same time, as Elaine rightly points out, we are not in a position
where we can be seduced into being monopolized by mourning. We have to
build new structures, imagine new possibilities, shape new futures, and to
do so requires engaging in morally muddled collaborations and comparisons
with animals. From this perspective, Calhoun and his peers can perhaps be
seen as interesting examples of people thinking the future alongside animal
partners (even if they weren’t acknowledged as such) which were
structurally central to creating policies in their historical moment.
Without forgetting the dangers and moral hazards of their approach, many of
the behaviorist filmmakers stand out as singular examples of human/animal
collaborations that directly impacted the discourses and policies of major
governmental, educational, and legal institutions. Calhoun was engaging in
a reactionary brand of co-written speculative fiction with his animal
test-subjects, which had lasting effects on his political and cultural
milieu. How might we design our own models for such collaborations? How can
we produce not only visions of the future in which animals continue to
exist, but also create systems that allow animals to participate in the
process of speculation itself? What institutions need to be created for
such speculations to have a lasting impact?

I'll conclude with an interesting alternative and detournement of the rat
research film genre, Joyce Wieland's 1968 "Rat Life and Diet in North
America," which might help in answering some of the above questions:


Looking forward to reading everyone's posts throughout the week!


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