Collaborative Futures

Non-Human Collaboration

It is interesting to ask ourselves if humans are the only entities which might have agency in the world. Do you need language and consciousness to participate? In her lecture “Birth of the Kennel,” Donna Haraway has observed that “It isn't humans that produced machines in some unilateral action—the arrow does not move all in one way […] There are very important nodes of energy in non-human agency, non-human actions.” <> 

Even further, Bruno Latour suggests it might be possible to extend social agency, rights and obligations to automatic door closers, sleeping policemen, bacteria, public transport systems, sheep dogs and fences. Taking this view perhaps we might begin to imagine ourselves as operating in collaboration with a sidewalk, an egg-and-cheese sandwich, our stomachs, or the Age of Enlightenment. 

Most of our conversations about collaboration begin with the presumption of a kind of binary opposition between the individual and social agency. Latour solves this problem by suggesting that there are actor-networks—entities with both structure and agency. We ignore the non-human at our own peril, for all manner of non-human things incite, provoke, participate in and author actions in the world.

How might it inform and transform our conversations about collaboration if we imagined ourselves to be collaborating not only with people but with things, forces, networks, intellectual history and bacteria?