Who's the agent?

Rebecca's picture

I strongly disagree that having agency requires responsibility or consciousness. In my understanding of agency, something has agency just because it is a part of the system and the “cause and effect” explanation of agency supports this. An object has agency if it produces an effect. Everything in a system has an effect on the system and this is why just being present gives an object agency. 

Requiring conciousness or responsibility is extremely limiting and as Flora was saying in class creates a hierarchy which puts humans and other "living" things as top agents.        

eli's picture

Just an observation

An observation about out conversation about agency in class: it was extremely Western. For instance, when we were discussing the tree. The tree, breaking through the side walk, still had no agency because it had no consciouness. It responds to pain, but yet the argument followed that this was just a bundle of nerves. Humans, in the end, are the only ones with agency since they are the ones we can hold responsible for projecting their agency.

I imagine that many Native American, Maori, shinto believers (Japan) and so forth scholars would argue with that. Agency is given to all living and nonliving things, in the sense that everything has a consciousness, and therefore a will to project its consciousness. I'm not arguing for personification; everything is in fact an object with an "essence". In some of the above listed groups, it is just as likely for the trees to be growing a certain way because of their own agency. A volcano can be blamed for blowing up a town, because a volcano is not a "product" of science but also a god or ancestoral spirit.

The point of this is not to go 'hippie' on the class. The point is to demonstrate that if we're keen on keeping an open mind about how to incorporate different gender perspectives into science, it might also be valuable to consider how different cultural models would see the same issue. Granted, we are discussing "science", and "science" is inherently a European cultural concept. But I thought it might be useful to point out this observation, even if we don't explore it.

Anne Dalke's picture

standpoint matters

Liz and I attended the lecture on "standpoint matters," sponsored last Wednesday night by the Philosophy Department. Acknowledging that "archeology is always a little slow,"Alison Wylie (who is a feminist philosopher of science @ the University of Washington) gave a detailed account of the s-l-o-w accretion of feminist methodologies in archeology. She attributed the belated development to two anxieties: a fear of (popular stereotypes of --'70s radical/cultural) feminism, and a perception of objectivity as "value freedom."

Wylie met the latter objection by "reconceptualizing objectivity"; she actually enumerated 5 versions, types O1 through O4+, from a belief in the "really real" through the action of "interpreting epistemic virtues in context." Her finale involved taking "a feminist standpoint in gender archeoogy," and included references to many of the ideas we've been discussing in our class, such as Harraway's "situated knowledges."

So: all that was quite useful. Things got even more interesting during the question and answer period, when I told her about our course's moving on beyond standpoint epistemology to Barad's "agential realism." And then--Samantha, you should have been there!--she said that she had little patience with Barad's dismissal of the "staticness of standpoint," nor with her "far-out ontological theory: the agency of quarks has nothing to do with the sort of political agency that feminists care about." Not wanting to get into a private argument, I let things lay until the q&a ended. But afterwards, I went up to tell her about Liz's explanation of "causal agency"--the idea of cause and effect which connects the action of quarks to the actions of humans. She was impressed.

Me too. Thanks so much for our recent most illuminating discussions--I'm learning a ton from you guys!


(Quark: a character in the Star Trek universe)

rmalfi's picture

You know...

You know that whoever played Quark was also Principal Snyder in Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Oh yeah - that's trivia for you!

Famousstamps's picture

It's Armin Shimerman.. are

It's Armin Shimerman.. are you sure that's Principal Snyder? He's pretty tall... Quark is pretty short.