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The evolving binary: perspectives on infra- and ultrahumanisation

Bryson, KD; (2017) The evolving binary: perspectives on infra- and ultrahumanisation. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

We often pigeonhole our surroundings into dualistic categories, e.g., nature/culture. Perhaps evolutionary forces favoured dichotomous brains, or dualistic categories may be only social constructs. These lines of thought led to my research question(s): Do juxtaposed mechanisms of dichotomous black-and-white (essentialist) cognitive patterns exist; and, if so, how do such mechanisms affect cultural and scientific concepts of reality? My thesis focusses on four classic modes of othering (Human–Animal, Human–Machine, Male–Female, Heterosexual–Homosexual) oft-cited in biological anthropological studies, aiming to reconstruct the developmental forces that can bring about, stabilise or modify such binaries. My thesis therefore also is situated in discourses of sociology, psychology, animal studies, AI theory and gender/sexuality studies. I explored how rigid – respectively, fluid – the above exemplary alterities were by gathering data on the perceptions of their boundaries as reflected in electronic archives covering 16 years of newspaper reporting in the UK (1995–2010) and then subjecting this data to both a quantitative and qualitative analysis, measuring the fluctuation of ambiguity tolerance. My results strongly indicate similar temporal patterns of ambiguity tolerance across three out of four dichotomies – including a distinct “millennial effect” of intolerance – and a remarkably stable Male–Female dichotomy. This suggests firstly that received understandings of concrete descriptions in evolutionary theory such as “human”, “animal”, “species”, “tool (machine)”, “homosexual” and “heterosexual” may function as cultural concepts considered to be natural kinds, but also are temporally malleable in both popular and academic discourse; and, secondly, that we may have natal (arguably plastic) gender schemata. I show quantitatively and qualitatively that essentialist thinking – as expressed by ambiguity (in)tolerance in socially empowered individuals – functions as an infrahumanisation mechanism to protect one’s perceived ingroup, be that humans, males or heterosexuals. I argue instead for an ultrahumanisation that may allow for less anthropocentrism, less androcentrism and less heterocentrism.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: The evolving binary: perspectives on infra- and ultrahumanisation
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
Additional information: Third party copyright material has been removed from ethesis.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1539918
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