Through this blog post I aim to explore enclosures; the enclosure of humans as individuals, as bodies, and as data, as well as the enclosure of lands, resources, and nature in general. I seek to make visible how enclosures define the way we are, the way we understand the world, and the way we relate to others. As a way to move beyond enclosures, I follow Donna Haraway’s, Jasbir Puar’s, and Joshua Scannell’s arguments that our possibilities lie in kinds-as-assemblage, cyborg goddesses and the Chthulucene. Following their work, I want to better understand the role of enclosures, and how to transcend them.
First, I want to share my understanding of enclosures. In Subversive Spiritualities, Frederique Apffel-Marglin describes the role that enclosures took in the creation of the modern concept of nature, of the individual, and of the body as a resource. The enclosed individual characterized a “new ontology in which nature and humans became a calculable homogeneous thing disentangled from sociality and spirituality” (Apffel-Marglin, p.43). Enclosures based the human category on a dichotomous understanding of reality by dividing the human from the non-human and from nature. According to Apffel-Marglin the human, constituted as an individual and as European and male, was granted agency exclusively, while non-humans were seen as not having agency and other-than-humans (defined as spirits, energies, and forces that participate in rituals) were made invisible. Once the human was constructed as an individual, the body was understood as the enclosure of the self. Apffel-Marglin links the emergence of the individual body to market capitalism. She argues that the “ownership of one’s body, the source of labor power, was a prerequisite for the emergence of labor-power as a commodity” (p.37). Thus, the skin became the limit of the body, and the body was what delimited the individual and turned humans into resources and separate beings, erasing the interconnectedness between humans, non-humans, and other-than-humans.
In ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’: Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics, Jasbir Puar argues that following Haraway’s cyborg politics, there is a possibility for intersectionality and assemblage theory to come together, and thus, for the existence of cyborg goddesses among us. Puar’s analysis of the history, limits, and possibilities of intersectionality and assemblage exemplifies how enclosures can be transcended through a more nuanced understanding of human relations. Puar takes seriously Haraway’s claim that the body does not end at the skin (thus, it is not enclosed), and “affective intensities, distributed bodily information, data trails, teletechnology, all commingle in a constantly productive distribution” (Scannell, p.247). Agencement (or assemblage) then serves to destabilize the boundaries of the body and to distribute it beyond the skin (Puar, 2011). In connection to capitalism, for Apfell-Marglin, the violent enclosure of the body is what transformed it into a resource for labor and capital accumulation. In a similar way to the bodies of humans, the enclosure of nature and its understanding as agency-less turned it into natural resources for the production of goods within capitalism. Beyond Apffel-Marglin’s understanding of bodies as resources, for Puar, contemporary societies “produce bodies as information… as dividuals in populations with any array of diverse switchpoints”. Taking assemblage into account, bodies are then not only surveilled based on identities, “but through affective tendencies and statistical probabilities”. And following intersectionality, some bodies “formerly considered useless bodies or bodies of excess”—thus bodies of color, queer bodies or bodies in the Global South—serve as “statistical outliers… consigned to premature death” for whom “discipline and punish may well still be the primary mode of power apparatus.” So using intersectional assemblage as a method allows us to see how the enclosure of bodies as data and resources work. For Puar “one of the big payoffs for thinking through the intertwined relations of intersectionality and assemblages is that it can help us produce more roadmaps of precisely these not quite fully understood relations between discipline and control.”
Understanding the relationship between nature and reality as no longer enclosed and independent would re-shape knowledge production by no longer separating the subject-as-knower from the object-to-be known. Puar’s use of Karen Barad’s posthumanist ontological understanding “questions the boundaries between human and non-human, matter and discourse, and interrogates the practices through which these boundaries are constituted, stabilized, and destabilized.” In Cyborg Manifesto, Haraway argues for play and pleasure in the mix-up and slip up of boundaries and accountability in deciding where the boundaries are placed (Haraway, 1991, p.150). We could truly engage with Karen Barad’s performativity of reality by breaking with the ontological enclosure discussed above, and no longer see representation as the only possibility for knowledge production.
Following Puar, in Both a Cyborg and a Goddess: Deep Managerial Time and Informatic Governance, Joshua Scannell argues that a non-human figure with “the attributes of the cyborg goddess” (p.247) already exists as an organizing principle of an “emerging logic of algorithmic governmentality” (p.248). Scannell tracks Clyde Woods’s understanding of neoliberalism as a continuation of plantation capitalism’s enclosures. For Woods, “capital’s consolidation of land ownership [is] effected under neoliberal regimes through new enclosure policies such as asset stripping, rezoning, and ‘economic redevelopment’… rather than late-capitalist enclosure, state-driven (or at least enabled) projects of capital extraction and land consolidation are framed as ‘economic redevelopment’ or ‘neighborhood improvement’ projects” (Woods cited in Scannell, 2016, p.261). These new algorithmic enclosures in neoliberal times continue to create divisions between humans, non-humans and nature.
Donna Haraway proposes the Chthulucene as a way to engage in assemblages, and make kin beyond species and material enclosures. Haraway defines the Chthulucene as an era of “intense commitment and collaborative work and play with other terrans” in the “past, present, and to come” containing “rich multispecies assemblages that include people” (2015, p.160). Just as Apffel-Marglin (2011), Haraway pushes the understanding of community beyond anthropocentric terms and defines her purpose as expanding the understanding of “making kin” as an assemblage that goes beyond humans (2015, p.160). Through Haraway’s “making kin” emerges the possibility of breaking the ontological enclosures that divide humans, non-humans, and other-than-humans. For Haraway, “it is past time to practice better care of kinds-as-assemblages (not species one at a time)” (2015, p.162). Consequently, following Haraway, my understanding of kinship not only includes relations among humans, but also includes non-humans and other-than-humans. Breaking with binaries breaks with enclosures, breaks with violence, and gives the possibility of a different understanding of the self through communal living. Until we do not dispose of our physical and symbolic enclosures, we will keep perpetuating violence against others and thus, ourselves. Through the breaking of enclosures we can retake our role in the co-creation of matter, our role in mattering (following Karen Barad) while being accountable in the process. Through the breaking of enclosures, we can uptake Haraway’s cyborg politics of creating coalitions through “affinity, not identity” (1991, p.155).
Apffel-Marglin, Frederique. 2011. Subversive spiritualities: How rituals enact the world. New York: Oxford University Press.
Haraway, Donna (1991) “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 149–81. New York: Routledge.
Puar, Jasbir (August 2011) “‘I Would Rather Be a Cyborg than a Goddess’: Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics.” Transversal.
Scannell, Joshua (2016) “Both a Cyborg and a Goddess: Deep Managerial Time and Informatic Governance” in Object-Oriented Feminism. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.