Research

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There is a passage in Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future (2003) where he engages with the writings of Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis: “Both writers suggest that nature itself, and in particular human nature, has a special role in defining for us what is right and wrong, just and unjust, important and unimportant” (7). Fukuyama writes in the context of advances in biotechnology that interact with the physical, corporeal human body, and his statement on the role of the human/nature relationship has stayed with me since I first read Our Posthuman Future a decade ago. History and experience have shown us that communities with a history of being on the margins will feel the dehumanizing implications of this technologically-driven re-calibration of our humanity—and its morality—most immediately and intensely. And yet, I also believe in the new and radical possibilities of technology. In a 2007 talk in Exeter, the British filmmaker John Akomfrah raises the specter of digitopic (a portmanteau formed with digital + utopic), describing it as

“these moments when demands for the impossible became the harbingers of new modes, new relations, new systems for manufacturing and accelerating the indexical implications of the moving image.”

While Akomfrah was speaking in direct reference to cinema, I find in the digitopic ways of imagining a more just and equitable world through the possibilities of technology. And so the overarching question that guides my research projects is: How are technologies—specifically, technologies used to study and communicate the body—implicated in our understandings of what it means to be human? My work is part of my contribution in anticipation of that understanding; my current research projects look at technologically-mediated relationships between (gendered and racialised) bodies and (virtual and material) space: the role of the internet in the production of presence and its applications, especially in healthcare; and the use of DNA testing by the United Nations and individual states to determine citizenship and apply the human rights of the right to the family and the state. In my approach, I apply an interdisciplinary approach that is informed by recent debates in media studies, critical race theory, health studies, and feminist geography, and I draw from my experience to design ethical research methodologies that combine journalistic tools with scholarly approaches.

Nehal El-Hadi, writer & researcher.