[-empyre-] Introducing Week 2: Mediated Natures, Speculative Futures and Justice and thank you to Week One
meredithdrum at gmail.com
Wed Oct 11 11:11:21 AEDT 2017
I am writing in response to Benjamin’s post about animal research films, specifically the three rats films. I was pleased that Joyce Wieland’s ended the post. Hers is refreshing and funny - a nice shift after the frustrating, humorless films by Miller and Mowrer. The difference between the albino lab rats, bred over many generations as science products, and the wild, brown rats (staring as political dissidents in Wieland’s piece) bring me to Rosi Braidotti’s use of the terms bios and zoe. The lab rats are clearly bios, animal life that has value within capitalism. While Wieland’s rebellious brown rats are part of zoe, which Braidotti champions as a vital, materialist and affirmative life-force, part of a post-anthropocentric shift. While Wieland is using her rats for allegory, celebrating resistance in humans not in rats, her film does point toward the positivity of zoe.
> On Oct 9, 2017, at 4:52 PM, Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa <baschult at ucsc.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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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