Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

English

Major Professor

Debra Jacobs, Ph.D.

Keywords

Gender, Body, Pedagogy, Service learning, Video game

Abstract

The overall question this dissertation asks is: what does it mean to teach posthumans? To answer this question, this dissertation turns toward scholarship on the body in order to understand the virtual and material presence that students develop, it looks to online video gaming communities as alternative classrooms providing effective models of learning, and it investigates the circulation of service learning pedagogies within academic institutions as a marker of the persistence of humanistic values within the framework of a posthuman work environment. The American university in general, and the humanities specifically, is struggling to make sense of its place in a culture shaped by fast capitalism, oppositional politics, boutique multiculturalism, social hierarchies, free markets, technological revolution, international conflict, and a host of other phenomena that challenge the university as a site of traditional humanistic inquiry.

At the same time, these forces highlight the university's more modern roles in the knowledge economy as a credentialing service, gatekeeper, and commercial incubator. Such conditions represent yet another crisis of humanism. The contemporary posthuman world to which universities are beholden is characterized by transgressed boundaries, flexible identities, radical transparency, ubiquitous technology, networked subjectivity, and a loss of confidence in the universal narratives and notions of essential humanity that provided impetus to Western thinking for millennia. Colleges are struggling, whether they know it or not, to exist in, and prepare students for, this posthuman world.

Perhaps the greatest promise of a responsible posthuman education is the potential to produce citizens who are critically technologically literate and able to rethink their relation to political systems, to the environment, to economies, to technologies, to work, and to leisure, without totally abandoning the humanistic values attendant to a liberal education. Part of this education must include enabling students to see social systems as technologies which can be adopted in order to produce different modes of being. Only then can the productive tension between humanism and posthumanism become a part of higher education.

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