Posthmanism as Research Methodology

Ulmer, Jasmine B. “Posthumanism as research methodology: inquiry in the Anthropocene,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 2017, vol. 30, is. 9, pp. 832-848, DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2017.1336806


While this article does address education more broadly than rhetoric and composition, the principles of posthuman inquiry in education that Ulmer outlines here are instructive for the writing classroom specifically. She argues that a posthuman research methodology “rejects that humans are the only species capable of producing knowledge” (834). The importance of the why in conducting this kind of research cannot be understated. If humans are not the only species capable of producing knowledge, then limiting research only to humans also limits the scope of our understanding, belief, and experience of the world. Ulmer offers five key aspects of posthumanism as a research methodology and distills the principles of posthumanism into an accessible form.

The first aspect she draws from Harding and Haraway and calls “situated and partial.” This aspect of posthumanism relies heavily on feminist standpoint theories to legitimate marginalized voices. In fact, in some ways Ulmer situates posthumanist frameworks as extension of standpoint theories even as she acknowledges the tension between critical methodologies, which are human centered, and posthuman methodologies, which are more than human. The second aspect comes largely from the work of Karen Barad and Stacy Alaimo as material and embodied. Ulmer also connects these aspects to the global pace of posthuman concerns about the environment (hence her discussion of the Anthropocene). Rosi Braidotti and Jane Bennet inform the third aspect through interconnectedness and vitality across human and nonhuman agencies. This aspect of posthumanism also relies on new materialist readings of the world and on acknowledging the liveliness in all things. The fourth aspect of a posthuman research methodology focuses on the how of an interaction rather than the who. This processual ontology does not define or delimit by definition, rather a process ontology continuously describes and becomes. This fourth aspect leads to the final and most in-depth aspect: affirmative. For Ulmer, creative affirmation is a significant key to posthuman inquiry because “by demonstrating how humans might think with other species, phenomenon, and elements, affirmative scholars hope that humans will begin to think differently about themselves” (838). Creative affirmation takes two forms: non-representational and the animation of lifeworlds. Non-representational affirmation works inside and outside of norms, challenges traditional forms of research and is “at once creative, practical, ethical, and wild” (839). This kind of work can be problematic but Ulmer sees it as a valuable enterprise in helping researchers to think without, think with, and think differently. Animating life worlds is a corollary to this kind of non-representational work. “The animation of lifeworlds,” Ulmer goes on to say, “has occurred in imaginative directions, many of which aim to disrupt previously undisturbed human patterns of thought” (840). By becoming more attuned to ecologies and the complexities that exist across these ecologies, researchers find inspiration and new ways of understanding methodology.

Ulmer concludes with future imaginaries as a way to propel posthuman research methodologies into the uncertain future of our planet. As we experience global environment change, especially this year with the COVID-19 event, drawing on these methodologies becomes an opportunity to envision a new future.

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