Seminar/Webinar: Agency-Body-Technology and the Idle No More Movement

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May 3, 11am – 2pm
Dominican University College, room 221

Open to Academic researchers and graduate students
Format: in-person seminar or webinar (for those living outside of Ottawa)
RSVP: cets@dominicanu.ca by May 1st

Details: The theoretical underpinning of the project: we will use a phenomenological approach to the body (as found in the writings of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Jan Patočka, for example) as well as the extended mind hypothesis and the embodied cognition thesis (championed by Sutton, Gallagher, Dawson, Aizawa, and Metzinger, to name just a few). Both the embodied cognition thesis and the extended mind hypothesis, analytic in their core, intersect with the phenomenological approach and so we get the best of both worlds.

In a nutshell, the idea is that we are not minds/reasons suspended in a vacuum but embodied agents whose cognition is also embodied. As such, our cognitive capacities, memory, for example, are not only influenced by our own bodily constitution but by the bodily constitution of all other bodies (animate and inanimate alike).

The main angle that we intend to take is the obscuring of (moral) agency given that in cyberspace (broadly understood), the body is radically transformed. It is transformed in two ways: first, its temporal and spatial limitations are ‘overcome’ and second, its relationality to others is radically changed. In cyberspace, we have “imaginal relationships” (Watkins 1986, Ronson 2015, Norlock 2017) which can multiply quickly and easily become hard to process, psychologically and morally, and subsequently, become unmanageable (for example, befriending 500 people on FB in a week is an easy feat).

We, as moral agents, act on the assumption that we all have an unconditionally good will (as formulated by Kant). However, in cyberspace, this assumption cannot be taken for granted since it can result in “obliviousness” about the other and who this other is connected to (giving birth to online shaming or trolling; see Norlock 2017). The audience appears to be both invisible and acutely present which could create both cognitive and moral dissonance and confusion.

On the tail of this comes the idea that in cyberspace, given its accessibility and the virtually limitless number of “imaginal relationships” that one can create in a short period of time, power relationships become even more complicated.

The case-study: In light of this, we propose to look at the Canadian Idle No More movement. According to the Wikipedia entry, “Idle No More is an ongoing protest movement, founded in December 2012 by four women: three First Nations women and one non-Native ally. It is a grassroots movement among the Aboriginal peoples in Canada comprising the First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and their non-Aboriginal supporters in Canada, and to a lesser extent, internationally.”

We have decided on the Idle No More movement for three main reasons. First, it is a movement that originated in Canada and caters to the Canadian context which we see as an advantage over movements boasting a more international stage (the Occupy movement, for example). Second, it is a fact that the Aboriginal communities in Canada are among the most powerless and marginalized communities. If our goal is to trace the obscuring of (moral) agency via power relationships in cyberspace, the movement presents us with an ideal opportunity to do precisely that. And third, we believe that a part and parcel of the Aboriginal identity is situatedness (for example, connectedness to the tribe and the land of the tribe). This idea of situatedness is a central notion in both the phenomenology of the body as well as the extended mind hypothesis, and the embodied cognition thesis.

It should be made clear, however, that we do not intend to take Idle No More as a case-study for Aboriginal rights as we feel ill-equipped to do so. Our goal, in contrast, is to explore the reasons behind the lack of success of the movement. On the face of it, Idle No More started as an online platform aiming at disrupting the traditional ways of delivering and distributing power. And yet, unlike movements such as #MeToo, it has not enjoyed even a fraction of the same support or popularity. Quite the opposite, since its foundation in 2012, the movement is not doing well with the number of its supporters dwindling, and its presence in the media – virtually non-existent.