Abstract Posthumanism urges us to reconsider what it means to be human. From proclamations about the death of ‘Man’ to investigations into enhanced forms of being, from the advent of the Anthropocene (human-induced planetary change) to new forms of materialism and distributed cognition, posthumanism raises significant questions for applied linguistics in terms of our understandings of language, humans, objects, and agency. After reviewing the broad field of posthumanist thought, this paper investigates—through an overview of a series of recent research projects—the notion of repertoire, to show how this can be better understood by stepping out of the humanist constructs of the individual and the community and looking instead at the notion of distributed language and spatial repertoires. The paper concludes by discussing the implications of posthumanism for applied linguistics, in particular the ways we understand language in relation to people, objects, and place. INTRODUCTION: THE POSTHUMAN CONDITION Posthumanist thought is a fairly broad and, at times, chaotic field. At its heart is the question of what it means to be human: How did humans come to be human? What do such definitions exclude? How may the notion of the human be changing? The posthuman condition, suggests Braidotti (2013: 1–2), ‘introduces a qualitative shift in our thinking about what exactly is the basic unit of common reference for our species, our polity and our relationship to the other inhabitants of this planet’. Posthumanism may refer to a range of concerns, from a questioning of the centrality and exceptionalism of humans as actors on this planet, or the relationship to other inhabitants of the earth, to a reevaluation of the role of objects and space in relation to human thought and action, or the extension of human thinking and capacity through various forms of human enhancement. The question posthumanism presents us with is how and why we have come to think about humans in particular ways, with particular boundaries between humans and other animals, humans and artefacts, humans and nature. Posthumanism, according to Barad (2007: 136), ‘eschews both humanist and structuralist accounts of the subject that position the human as either pure cause or pure effect, and the body as the natural and fixed dividing line between interiority and exteriority’. Posthumanist thought thus questions the boundaries between what is seen as inside and outside, asking where thinking occurs, and what role a supposedly exterior world may play in cognition and language. Posthumanism ‘doesn’t presume the separateness of any-“thing,” let alone the alleged spatial, ontological, and epistemological distinction that sets humans apart’ (Barad 2007: 136). This brings under scrutiny what Latour (2004b) describes as the Great Divides between nature and society, human and non-human. Such thinking suggests important concerns for language, cognition, and the human subject, issues central to applied linguistics. On one level this extends recent applied linguistic considerations of the role of practice (in Bourdieu’s sense as a theory of the practice of language study) (Kramsch 2015: 455) and the need ‘to fully appreciate the challenge represented by poststructuralism’ (McNamara 2015: 475). Adding to Busch’s (2012, 2015) poststructuralist account of temporary and dispersed subjects forged through discursive, bodily, and affective interaction, the posthumanist subject, as understood by Braidotti (2013: 188), is ‘materialist and vitalist, embodied and embedded’. Posthumanist materialism follows a line of thought running from Spinoza to Deleuze rather than Hegel to Marx, suggesting an alternative politics centred less on material infrastructure, political economy, and the demystification projects of ideology critique (which reduce political agency to human agency) and instead on a politics that reorients humans towards their ethical interdependence with the material world (Bennett 2010). Breaking down distinctions between interiority and exteriority allows us to understand subjects, language, and cognition not as properties of individual humans but rather as distributed across people, places, and artefacts. A posthumanist applied linguistics does not assume rational human subjects engaged in mutually comprehensible dialogue; the multimodal and multisensory semiotic practices of the everyday include the dynamic relations between semiotic resources, activities, artefacts, and space. No longer, from this point of view, do we need to think in terms of competence as an individual capacity, of identity as personal, of languages as entities we acquire, or of intercultural communication as uniquely human. Posthumanist thought urges us not just to broaden an understanding of communication but to relocate where social semiotics occurs. Posthumanist thought also brings a different set of ethical and political concerns to the applied linguistic table, issues to do with human relations to the planet and its other inhabitants. As Chakrabarty (2009: 209) has remarked, once the historical and philosophical challenges posed by climate change force us to consider humans as ‘a force of nature in the geological sense’, the relations between humans and history and humans and nature change considerably (Chakrabarty 2015). The challenges posed by human destructiveness, environmental degradation, diminishing resources, and our treatment of animals (Cook 2015) present a range of ethical and political concerns that are deeply interconnected with struggles around neoliberalism, racism, gender equity, forced migration, and many other forms of discrimination and inequality (perpetrated, let us not forget, by humans). The case I make in this paper is neither that all this is new (discussions of ecology, nexus analysis, the poststructuralist subject, and language as a local practice have raised related questions) nor that posthumanist thought offers necessarily the only way forward from the stasis that seems to have befallen applied linguistics over the past decade. Rather, a host of recent developments across applied linguistics and the social sciences can be better understood by looking through a posthumanist lens. Key aspects of this thinking will be reviewed in the next section, through a focus particularly on converging technologies, animal–human relations, the Anthropocene (the geological period where humans have had a major impact on the earth’s ecosystems), and the new materialism. This will be followed by a discussion—through an overview of a series of recent research projects—of the notion of repertoire, suggesting that it can be better understood by stepping out of the humanist ideas of individual and community and looking instead at the notion of distributed language and spatial repertoires. This will be followed by a further discussion of the implications for applied linguistics. POSTHUMANISM: FROM THE DEATH OF MAN TO ENHANCED HUMANS In the same way that different approaches to postmodernism may be categorized as either postmodernity (the real effects of changed lives in late modernity) or postmodernism (the epistemological challenges to modernist thought) (Pennycook 2006), so posthumanism might be considered either in terms of changes to the human condition brought about by environmental and technological change or as challenges to the notion of humanity as a modernist ideal. Posthumanism is an umbrella term responding to the need to rethink what it means to be human in light of both ‘onto-epistemological as well as scientific and bio-technological developments of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries’ (Ferrando 2013: 26). Hard at times to separate, both perspectives suggest the importance of engaging with ‘human’s ontological precariousness’ (Fuller 2011: 72). The ontological question has its locus classicus in Foucault’s (1966: 398; my translation) proclamation at the end of Les Mots et les Choses1 that Man is a recent invention and perhaps one nearing its end. Foucault’s point was that the development of the human or social sciences from the 18th to the 20th centuries rendered humans a collective worthy of scientific study. It was the idealist and positivist programmes of the Enlightenment that produced ‘universal humanity’ as both a scientific object and a political project (Fuller 2011: 70). The human era only evolved during the period of Western modernity and was neither presaged nor followed by periods where the human necessarily had such obsessive salience (Wolfe 2009). Humanity, Douzinas (2007: 51) suggests, ‘is an invention of modernity’. Along with the emergence of this notion of the human came what Latour (1993) terms the ‘modernist settlement’—those broadly agreed divisions between humans and animals, humans and objects, an interior (the mind) and an exterior (society, the environment). Another significant part of the posthumanist argument focuses on the ways that ‘humans are improving their capacity to manipulate and transform the material character of their being’ (Fuller 2011: 109). Here we enter the domain of ‘converging technologies’ that transcend, enhance and prolong life through a range of enhancements to mind and body. While some aspects of this posthumanist (or transhumanist) thought tend towards futuristic cyborg fantasies of integrated humans and machines, this also needs to be understood in terms of more profound social and political changes, nowhere more so than in Haraway’s (1991),Cyborg Manifesto. Haraway’s focus was on a new politics ‘faithful to feminism, socialism and materialism’ (1991: 149) that challenged ‘the tradition of racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the production of culture’ (150). This could be made possible by three boundary breakdowns: between human and animal, animal–human and machine, and physical and non-physical. The cyborg metaphor suggests the possibility of transcending traditional lines of gender, feminism, politics, and identity. ‘The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions to organic wholeness…’ (1991: 150). Alongside the possibility of enhanced humanity, the posthuman condition also suggests a need to rethink the relation between human and non-human animals. At least since Aristotle, as Tomasello (2014) notes, humans have speculated on their relation to animals, a project limited for many centuries by the lack of non-human primates as a point of comparison in Europe, making it easier to posit reason or free will as distinguishing markers. Although a ‘defining trait’ of what it means to be human has been ‘a connection with animals’ going back over millions of years (Shipman 2011: 13), human exceptionalism (emphasizing a distinction between humans and animals) has been the ‘the default view’ (Cook 2015: 591). For Haraway (2008: 4), by contrast, ‘species of all kinds, living and not, are consequent on a subject- and object-shaping dance of encounters’. A related set of concerns emerge with the recognition that humans now play a major role in the evolution of the planet: We have, in other words, entered the era of the Anthropocene, when climate and other environmental changes are clearly no longer just ‘natural’. Latour (2015: 146) notes that the Anthropocene may help us finally reject the ‘separation between Nature and Human that has paralysed science and politics since the dawn of modernism’. The Anthropocene potentially marks the end of the nature/culture divide that has been a central part of the thinking of Western modernity (inhuman nature, human culture). The assumptions of modernity—that nature is external, a resource to be exploited, that humans are separate, self-governing, on an upward spiral of self-improvement to escape the limits of nature—are coming under scrutiny. As Žižek (2010: 330) also notes, the concerns posed by the Anthropocene challenge the focus on knowledge and ‘intellectual labour’ as the prime concerns of our times since ‘materiality is now reasserting itself with a vengeance’ as we struggle over resources and pollution. This return to materialism involves a reconsideration of what matter means, Meillassoux (2008: 121), for example, positing a speculative materialism as a way forward in his critique of humanism, metaphysics, and anti-materialism in Western philosophy. Matter, asserts Barad (2013: 17) ‘is not mere stuff. It is not an inanimate givenness’. Barad’s (2003: 808) posthumanist performativity, bringing together Butler’s (1997) account of performativity and a renewed focus on materiality, ‘calls into question the givenness of the differential categories of “human” and “nonhuman”, examining the practices through which these differential boundaries are stabilized and destabilized’ (2003: 808). This focus on ‘the vital self-organizing and yet non-naturalistic structure of living matter itself’ (Braidotti 2013: 2) suggests the need to rethink the relations between languages, humans, and objects: there is no longer a world ‘out there’ separate from humans and represented in language but rather a dynamic interrelationship between different materialities. Pulling these different strands of posthumanist thought together, several themes emerge. We need to take the ontological precariousness of humanity seriously. Those ideas that have come along with the notion of humanity—humanism, human nature, human rights—have never been as inclusive as suggested (Douzinas 2007; Phillips 2015). The volatile idea of what is meant by ‘human’ is ‘contested and policed with demonic precision’ (Bourke 2011: 5). Such contestation has been of particular importance to those ‘others’ who have often not even been accorded the status of the truly human (the epitome of which is ‘Man’). As Douzinas (2000: 109) points out, following the great announcements of human rights, ‘All assertions of human rights by the groups and classes excluded from citizenship, women, blacks, workers or political and social reformers, were dismissed as selfish attacks against the common good and the democratic will’. A posthumanist position seeks a rethinking of the relationship to all those Others that suffered in the construction of humanity (gods, machines, objects, things, animals, monsters, women, slaves, and so on; Latour 2004b; Haraway 2008) while also shifting the idea of what it means to be human. The notion of what constitutes the human and the divides that are made between human and non-human animals and objects are worthy of reinvestigation, particularly at a time when human destructiveness suggests not only a very real precariousness but also a need to consider the divisions humans have made between culture and nature. Posthumanist thought takes us in the direction of a reconsideration of materialism, an insistence on embodiment, and reassessment of the significance of place. I shall return to the implications for applied linguistics after investigating in greater depth the theme of linguistic repertoires as humanist or posthumanist conceptions. REPERTOIRES: FROM INDIVIDUAL AND SOCIAL TO SPATIAL AND DISTRIBUTED In order to make the discussion here more concrete, I turn in this section to a series of recent studies that suggest that sociolinguistic repertoires need to be understood in terms of spatial distribution, social practices, and material embodiment rather than the individual competence of the sociolinguistic actor who has held centre stage over the past few decades. The notion goes back to the work of Gumperz and others in the 1960s, and was explained as ‘the totality of linguistic forms regularly employed in the course of socially significant interaction’ (Gumperz 1964: 137). The importance of the idea of a linguistic repertoire as a means to describe a plurality of codes within a community is grounded in the sociolinguistic imperative to deal with ‘actual speech instead of with langue’ obliging the researcher ‘to recognize the existence of a plurality of codes or code varieties in the same linguistic community’ (Giglioli 1972: 15). From that point on, the notion of repertoire has been used in numerous ways, re-emerging most recently as part of what has been described as ‘post-Fishmanian’ sociolinguistics (Blommaert et al. 2012: 18), a desire to move away from the sedimented terminology of bilingualism and code-mixing towards a more flexible account of how people deploy different linguistic resources in their everyday practice (Pennycook 2016). The difficulty for the notion of repertoire, however, is that it has constantly hovered between the modernist ideals of the individual and society [‘in here’ or ‘out there’ as Latour (1999) puts it]. Platt and Platt (1975: 36) made a distinction between speech repertoire as ‘the repertoire of linguistic varieties utilized by a speech community which its speakers, as members of the community, may appropriately use’ and verbal repertoire as ‘the linguistic varieties which are at a particular speaker’s disposal’. While this terminology gained little traction, a similar idea reappears in Bernstein’s distinction between repertoire (‘the set of strategies and their analogic potential possessed by any one individual’) and reservoir (‘the total of sets and its potential of the community as a whole’) (Bernstein 2000: 158). Thus while some sociolinguists recognized this tension, a broader consensus seemed to follow Wardaugh’s (1986: 129) suggestion that ‘The concept of “speech repertoire” may be most useful when applied to individuals rather than to groups. We can use it to describe the communicative competence of individual speakers. Each person will then have a distinctive speech repertoire’. This inscription of social language use into a notion of individualized competence takes us back into the head of the humanist subject. More recent sociolinguistic orientations questioning the possibility of the notion of community under current conditions of mobility and fragmentation have similarly had to focus on the individual and their life history as the locus of the repertoire because there is no coherent community to hold the notion of repertoire in place: ‘Repertoires are individual, biographically organized complexes of resources, and they follow the rhythms of actual human lives.’ (Blommaert and Backus 2013: 15). Rymes’ (2014: 9–10) notion of the communicative repertoire as ‘the collection of ways individuals use language and other means of communication (gestures, dress, posture, accessories) to function effectively in the multiple communities in which they participate’ extends the communicative possibilities of what may be contained in a repertoire but centres nonetheless on the individual deployment of a communicative repertoire. While dress and accessories in this version start to open up a broader understanding of what is involved in communicative interaction, it takes a more poststructuralist account to show how the subject itself is a temporary and dispersed entity, a product of the discourses that make it, rather than an individual with linguistic competencies (Busch 2012, 2013). The focus on the bodily and emotional dimension of intersubjective interaction in the ‘lived experience of language’ (Spracherleben) (Busch 2015: 2) does not take individual languages as its starting point, but focuses instead on ‘the experiencing subject with his or her multilayered linguistic repertoire’ (2015: 3). Yet the phenomenological underpinnings of Spracherleben retain a sense of the experiencing subject. The notion of a dispersed subject, of distributed language and learning across a wider set of possibilities than just the individual and society, can be enhanced by thinking in terms of materialist, vitalist, embodied, and embedded subjects and repertoires. In a series of studies designed to shed light on the notion of repertoire in both online and face-to-face interactions,2 it became clear that to see the notion of a linguistic repertoire residing in either the individual or community could not adequately account for the diversity of resources deployed. The Facebook posting of a Mongolian participant (Sultana et al. 2015), for example,—‘Zaa unuudriin gol zorilgo bol “Oppa ajaa ni Gym-yum style” Guriineee kkkkk’ (‘OK, today’s main aim is “Your lady is in the mode of Gym-yum style”. Keep on doing it! Hahaha’)—points to the importance of the posthuman affordances of online, spatial, and material resources. Alongside the selfie of herself at the gym (an artefact with wide semiotic potential), there is the playful reworking of the Korean (Oppan Gangnam style), with its intertextual reference to Gangnam style (Sultana et al. 2013) (modified with ‘gym’ and ‘yum’), adaptation of Korean ‘Oppa’ (older male/brother) and Mongolian ‘ajaa’ (older sister), the onomatopoeic giggling, ‘kkkkk’, popular among Korean and Mongolian online users, and the use of contemporary Mongolian youth slang (‘Guriinee’ – ‘Keep on doing it!’). Rather than trying to identify these translingual (use of items across languages), transmodal (use of sounds, pictures, and texts), and transtextual (reference to varied forms of popular culture) semiotic practices (Pennycook 2007) in terms of an individual or online community repertoire, it becomes more useful to think in terms of a distributed set of online semiotic possibilities. When Ria in Dhaka (Bangladesh) starts a Facebook posting with: ‘ouffffffffffff arrey jala jala jala ei ontore arrey jala jala…’, she is doing a number of things: she uses particular textual means to emphasize her impatience (ouffffffffffff), uses another written sound (arrey) to show she agrees with an earlier comment, and then switches into Bangla song mode (fire, fire, fire, this heart is on fire) with a transtextual reference to a well-known Bangladeshi film and song title (Dovchin et al. 2015). This is then taken up by Aditi: ‘hai hai, pran jaye, pran jaye jaye pran jaye!: P LMAO!: P’ with another written expression of sound (hai hai, expressing surprise or joy), a further takeup of Bangladeshi filmic song (my heart is falling deep in love), followed by a common emoticon (:P) and expression LMAO (laughing my ass off). These examples suggest that the interactants in such online environments are not merely the named people but also the semiotic resources distributed across online and offline networks. While the translingual resources form one part of this online interaction, equally important are the use of sounds, emotive expressions, and engagement with particular genres of popular culture: In the example above, Bangladeshi love songs are taken up, and elsewhere these young adults draw on Hindi film scripts, Korean dramas, popular music such as Gangnam Style, Sumo wrestling, Pepsi commercials, hip hop, and much more. These online environments help us see how the range of resources at their disposal may be drawn from different languages, paralinguistic possibilities, texts, and genres of popular culture. The notion of repertoire can consequently be understood as an emergent and interactant affordance of the online space rather than an individual or communal capacity. While online activity allows for a particular dispersion of resources, such virtual spatial repertoires are not so distant from the spatial repertoires of offline contexts. When we observe the ways in which activities, linguistic resources, and the particularities of place interact in kitchens, restaurants, and markets, it also becomes evident that the notion of repertoire is best understood as spatial and distributed rather than tied to individuals or communities. With its flows of people, linguistic resources, and activities, it is hard to define the kitchen at the Patris Pizza restaurant in Sydney in terms of a speech community (Pennycook and Otsuji 2014a). Nischal, from Nepal, who speaks Nepalese, Bangla, ‘a bit of Gujarati, Punjabi… definitely a lot of Indian’, as well as ‘a bit of Czech and Slovak’, claims that the language of the kitchen is Polish, while the two brothers, Krzysztof and Aleksy, of Polish background, claim it is English. But into this space come other resources: Jaidev, an Indian waiter, drops by to ask for a cigarette from Nischal, an exchange using Hindi and English resources [‘Acha ye last pada hua hai?’ – OK this is the last one? – ‘It’s alright (.) it’s all yours.’]; not unexpectedly, food terms such as mozzarella and formaggio turn up in conversations between the cooks; after Aleksy’s Columbian girlfriend has called him on his mobile, Nischal teases him (‘Hola, como estas?’ – Hi, how are you?). A range of semiotic resources are distributed within and outside this busy workplace, criss-crossed by trajectories of people (cooks, floor staff, phone calls), artefacts (knives, sieves, plates, ingredients), and practices (washing, chopping, cooking, serving). Likewise, the material artefacts and activities in a small bistro in Tokyo—bringing food and plates, squeezing through the small and crowded restaurant, menus, food orders, music, wine bottles—all play a role in the spatial repertoire of Petit Paris (Pennycook and Otsuji 2014a). Within a short period, Nabil moves around the small restaurant floor, negotiating with the chef about the dish, passing between tables, dealing with customers (‘sorry, gomen nasai’ – sorry), serving food (‘hotate no carpaccio’ – scallop carpaccio – ‘voilà, bon appétit’ – here it is, enjoy your meal), before passing on orders for bread (‘pain’) and another plate (‘encore une assiette’), either side of a direction to another member of the floor staff to attend to two new customers who have just arrived (‘two people, and two people onegaishimasu’ – please). As he moves between tables, takes orders, delivers meals, directs staff, and manages the restaurant more generally, Nabil is engaged in a range of tasks which do not map in any discrete, functional fashion onto the linguistic resources he uses. Of importance here, then, are the interrelationships between restaurant multitasking, linguistic resources, and the role that food and material artefacts play in the spatial repertoire. Turning to the context of two busy markets in Sydney (Pennycook and Otsuji 2014b, 2015), we can see how the merchandise itself becomes a central part of the action. As the two brothers Talib and Muhibb negotiate zucchini prices with a customer using English and Lebanese Arabic (‘Tell him arba wa ashreen. I told him. He wants to try and get it for cheaper. Arba wa ashreen’ – Twenty-four), the fact that the zucchini they are trying to sell have turned yellow (‘Hadol misfareen. Misfareen hadol’ – These are yellowing. They’ve gone yellow) requires a renegotiation, especially when the customer of Maltese background recognizes the word for yellow (Isfar…we understand isfar in Lebanese). As in the Tokyo bistro we can see the circulation here of linguistic resources and artefacts, all of which are part of this spatial repertoire. It matters that this exchange is happening early in the morning (it's still dark outside) in a section of a huge open market area where many of the workers are of Lebanese background (though not all – their seven employees are of Turkish, Pakistani, Moroccan, Sudanese-Egyptian, Somalia, and Filipino backgrounds); it matters that the customer can summon up some common terms from a shared crossover between Maltese and Arabic, and it matters that the zucchini have started to turn yellow. As we look across these different sites, it becomes evident that the language practices are embedded within a wider spatial repertoire. When a young man in a smaller market (Pennycook and Otsuji 2014b), who by his account uses Hokkien, Indonesian, Hakka, Cantonese, Mandarin, and English resources, tells us as he husks corn over a large green bin ‘乜都有, 撈埋一齊’ (all sorts of languages are mixed together), we have to consider how these linguistic resources intersect with the spatial organization of other repertoires, while the practices of buying and selling, bartering and negotiating, husking corn, and stacking boxes bring a range of other semiotic practices into play. When a woman selling mangoes at her stall insists to her customer ‘呢呢呢呢…係呀, 係呀.呢個色好食’ (Look, look, look… yeah, yeah. This colour tastes good), the mangoes themselves, their colour, taste, and smell, become part of the action, and indeed we might suggest that these yellow mangoes interpellate the customer as much as anyone or anything else in the market. Yellowing zucchini (down goes the price) and yellowing mangoes (up goes the price), the noise and urgency of market selling, all play crucial roles in how various resources will be used and taken up, and therefore what constitute at any place and time the repertoires from which communication can draw. Rather than being individual, biographical, or something that people possess, repertoires are better considered as an emergent property deriving from the interactions between people, artefacts, and space. They are more akin from this point of view to the notion of assemblages where ‘materiality and mediation are best treated as mutual conditions of possibility and as effects of each other’ (Appadurai 2015: 233). Kell’s (2015: 442) discussion of how ‘things make people happen’, suggests that ‘objects, in and of themselves, have consequences’. Repertoires are the product of social spaces as semiotic resources, objects, and space interact. To imagine that repertoires are somehow an internalized individual competence (Wardaugh 1986) or can be found in a community reservoir (Bernstein 2000) is to overlook the dynamics of objects, places, and linguistic resources. POSTHUMANIST APPLIED LINGUISTICS The notion of spatial repertoires takes us into the terrain of posthumanist thought, with a stronger and more dynamic role for objects and space, focusing on ‘how the composite ecology of human and nonhuman interactions in public space works on sociality and political orientation’ (Amin 2015: 239). From this point of view, there is a strong focus on both practices—those repeated social and material acts that have gained sufficient stability over time to reproduce themselves—and on ‘the vast spillage of things’ which are given equal weight to other actors and become ‘part of hybrid assemblages: concretions, settings and flows’ (Thrift 2007: 9). The move towards ‘performative alternatives to representationalism’, Barad (2007: 135) argues, ‘shifts the focus from questions of correspondence between descriptions and reality (e.g. do they mirror nature or culture?) to matters of practices, doings and actions’. This shift in thinking has major implications for applied linguistics. Posthumanist thinking is closely related to a number of themes that have been emerging over the past decade. There has been a move to expand the semiotic terrain (beyond language more narrowly construed) in relation to material surrounds and space, with an increased focus on place, objects, and semiotics (linguistic landscapes, geosemiotics, nexus analysis), as well as on emergent and distributed accounts of identity and cognition (language ecology, sociocultural theory, poststructuralism). As Van Lier (2000) explains, for example, rather than following nativist, constructivist, or behaviourist assumptions that learning occurs as the brain processes information, an ecological perspective emphasizes the notion of emergence from a range of interactions that occur in the wider environment. Scollon and Scollon’s (2004)nexus analysis focuses on how people, places, discourses, and objects together facilitate action and social change. Integrational linguists have argued something similar for a long time (without necessarily subscribing to a posthumanist perspective). Instead of standard linguistic assumptions—that the linguistic sign is arbitrary, that words have meanings, that grammar has rules, that languages exist, that we need to speak the same language to communicate—Harris (2009) and others have argued for a wider and more distributed version of language (Cowley, 2012), which places communication (broadly understood) at the core and suggests languages are not central to this process. This urges us to rethink what is at stake when we look at language. As applied linguists we like to think we have a broader view of communication than is common in linguistics, but the point here is not merely that language serves communicative purposes but rather that language is part of a much broader set of semiotic possibilities. Likewise, while understanding literacy as situated social practice has greatly enhanced the contextual understanding of literacy practices, it has not yet opened up to a more posthumanist understanding of the role of ‘material artefacts of literacy such as paper, pens, keyboards and mobile devices’ (Gourlay 2015: 485). To the extent that linguistics has often supported the view that language separates us from the animals, it has played a key role in the maintenance of human exceptionalism. Human language is considered unique and unrelated to animal communication (Evans 2014), a necessary proposition for the belief that language is a system separate from broader modes of communication, a system that sprang into being in an evolutionary jump rather than a more commonplace development from animal modes of communication. A central goal of linguistics has long been to uncover the laws that ‘pertain to all human languages, representing the universal properties of language’ that are part of ‘the human biologically endowed language faculty’ (Fromkin and Rodman 1997: 19). Universalism and nativism, as well as such notions as human nature, are the flipside of human exceptionalism: in order to posit a notion of humans as distinct from other animals (or objects), humanism also had to posit a commonality across humans, hence universalism (applying to all but only humans) and nativism (human characteristics are biologically endowed), though the latter is by no means a prerequisite for a belief in the former. It is only more recently that a much deeper understanding of great ape thought and communication (Tomasello 2014) undermines this great divide. Great apes ‘cognitively represent the world in abstract format, they make complex causal and intentional inferences with logical structure, and they seem to know, at least in some sense, what they are doing while they are doing it’ (p. 150). The whole assumption of universalism has also been convincingly shown to be a chimera because ‘languages differ so fundamentally from one another at every level of description (sound, grammar, lexicon, meaning) that it is very hard to find any single structural property they share’ (Evans and Levinson 2009: 429).3 It is now clear that ‘the distinctive qualities of human language’ do not suggest ‘a sharp divide between human language and non-human communicative systems’ (Evans 2014: 258). Posthumanist thought can help us think through a more distributed understanding of the location of semiotic resources and cognition. The notion of extended mind takes us one step towards an alternative understanding of human thought, emphasizing how particular objects and tools—such as a mobile phone—may extend our thinking outside our own heads (Clark 2008). In many ways there is nothing new here: from the development of writing to the use of telescopes and watches, humans have been enhancing their own thinking through new technologies. Mitchell (2003: 38) suggests, however, that it is now possible to see ourselves as mobile cyborgs as new communication technologies change the relations between humans and city spaces, suggesting there is no clear distinction between ‘internal cognitive processes and external computational ones’: We perceive, act, learn, and know, he suggests, ‘through the mechanically, electronically, and otherwise extended bodies and memories that we construct and reconstruct for ourselves’ (p. 38). Rather than Vitruvian man—that da Vinci image of the male human enclosed within the perfect circle that has become the focus of opposition in anti- and post-humanist discourse (Haraway 2008; Braidotti 2013)—Mitchell (2003: 39) suggests we become a ‘spatially extended cyborg’. This is the post-Cartesian world where ‘I link, therefore I am’ (Mitchell 2003: 62). While extended mind thus operates on a spatial scale larger than the individual, distributed cognition expands such insights to look not only at these cognitive affordances in immediate time and space but also broader cognitive ecosystems. As Michaelian and Sutton (2013: 6) explain, cognition may be ‘multiply distributed, both within neural networks and across bodies, artifacts, and social groups’. Distributed cognition, unlike extended mind, is not a kind of cognition, moving out from an assumed centre, but rather the condition of all cognition: ‘Distributed cognition begins with the assumption that all instances of cognition can be seen as emerging from distributed processes’ (Hutchins 2014: 36). Thinking from this point of view is spatial: the humanist conception of thought being locked away in a mind (in there) that is separate from a world (out there), as Latour (1999) puts it, is challenged by framing cognition—and language—as distributed. Neither language use nor language learning occurs solely inside our skulls. An extended mind approach would see them as occurring additionally outside the head, while a distributed cognition approach takes this further by suggesting not only that mind and language stretch outside the head but that they are located across physical space: ‘The emergence of a language is a cognitive process that takes place in an evolving cognitive ecosystem that includes a shared world of objects and events as well as adaptive resources internal to each member of the community’ (Hutchins 2014: 37). In applied linguistic domains, this line of thinking shares a number of affinities with Vygotsky’s (1978) social theories of the mind and what has been termed sociocultural theory (Lantolf and Thorne 2006). From this perspective ‘the human is not approached as an autonomous agent, but is located within an extensive system of relations’ (Ferrando 2013: 32). Thrift (2007: 8) talks of a ‘material schematism in which the world is made up of all kinds of things brought in to relation with one another by many and various spaces though a continuous and largely involuntary process of encounter’. Lest it appear that the human dissolves altogether in this sea of other objects, various arguments have suggested modes of regrouping in the face of strong posthumanist stances. As Thrift (2007) notes, while Actor Network Theory (Latour 2005) provides many important insights—the agency of objects, the notion of distributed and provisional personhood, and the rejection of the idea of ‘a centred human subject establishing an exact dominion over all’ (Thrift 2007: 111)—it is also limited in its focus on networks rather than events (and an inability to deal, therefore, with the unexpected; Pennycook 2012), and on a ‘flattened cohabitation of all things’ at the expense of ‘specifically human capacities of expression, powers of invention, of fabulation’ (p. 111). Appadurai (2015: 233) is likewise concerned that while the notion of actants usefully erodes the centrality of human agency, it may be more useful instead to think in terms of mediants so as to avoid the potential social and political paralysis of analyses where agency is everywhere. It is worth recalling that a posthumanist position does not aim to efface humanity but to rethink the relation between humans and that deemed non-human. Posthumanist thought has major implications for how we think about the subject (the individual, identity, the person). The autonomous and free-willed subject of humanism is clearly no longer under consideration, opening up a way of thinking about the subject that is not caught up in the endless vacillation between structure and agency, neither an effect of the system, nor a property of the individual. Neither does the subject from this perspective need to rest only on anti-foundationalist (non-essentialist) or discursive processes, where the poststructuralist identity-in-struggle subject arguably retains aspects of a humanist subject by assuming internal fragmentation rather than spatial dispersion. While it may be useful to resist the stronger claims around objects as actants, we can nonetheless start to consider the subject in more material terms, as part of a wider distribution of semiotic and material resources, as interpellated by objects, as no longer the guarantor of meaning, as a product rather than a precursor of specific interactions. A posthumanist perspective requires us to rethink claims to both human and linguistic exceptionalism and can also take us beyond the ‘hackneyed debate between scientific realism and social constructivism’ (Barad 2003: 805): ‘That there was once a time when a war could be waged between “relativists”, who claimed that language refers only to itself, and “realists”, who claimed that language may occasionally correspond to a true state of affairs, will appear to our descendants as strange as the idea of fighting over sacred scrolls’ (Latour 1999: 296). Both realists and social constructivists, Barad (2003, 2007) argues, share a belief that scientific knowledge mediates access to the material world, differing on the grounds of that divide between nature (how things really are) and culture (how they are seen). Both positions, she suggests, subscribe to a form of representationalism that the new materialism can help us avoid. The belief that we have better access to representations of things than the things themselves, Barad (2003: 806–7) suggests, is ‘a contingent fact of history and not a logical necessity; that is, it is simply a Cartesian habit of mind’. Like other areas of the social sciences, applied linguistics has found itself caught up in arguments whereby realists claim a reality independent of how it is described, while acknowledging that our descriptions are always mediated by discourse (Sealey 2007), and constructivists acknowledge reality but see it as likewise discursively mediated. New materialist thought can help us rethink the critical and political agenda through ‘the cultivation of a stubbornly realist attitude’ based on a realism dealing with ‘matters of concern, not matters of fact’ (Latour 2004a: 231). For Barad, a preferable approach is not to recycle debates about constructivism and realism but instead to seek a way forward in which our ‘thinking, observing, and theorizing’ are understood as ‘practices of engagement with, and as part of, the world in which we have our being’ (Barad 2007: 133). CONCLUSION To align with current changes to the planet, humanity, theory, and politics, a useful way forward for applied linguistics may be to take posthumanist thinking seriously. This is by no means to discard the concerns of old. At a time when the claws of neoliberalism are undermining the possibilities of thinking in terms of a common good, public ownership, welfare or safeguards against discrimination and inequality, and producing newly mobile classes of the dispossessed (Standing 2014; Holborow 2015), this is not the time to turn our back on more traditional understandings of materiality. As Appadurai (2015) warns, a flattened world of equal objects may leave us without an adequate mode of political action. And yet, as Haraway (1991: 181) suggested long ago, thinking in terms of cyborgs, for example, can offer a new way of thinking about life and politics, a ‘dream not of a common language but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia’ that can take us towards other ways of thinking about humans, culture, nature, and politics. The takeup of questions of enhanced humanity, convergent technologies, climate change, or human–animal relations does not suggest that these should then be the primary focus of study. As Urry (2011: 8) suggests, the challenge posed by climate change is a sociological one once we appreciate that ‘the social and physical/material worlds are utterly intertwined’. The central insights from Cook’s (2015) analysis of different discursive representations of animals also concern the relations between language use and wider social, economic, and ideological change in the domain of human–animal associations and human exceptionalism. Studies of mobile communication (Deumert 2014) may tell us a lot about new modes of communication but may be more significant for what they reveal about distributed language and cognition. So what might a critical posthumanist project look like? Linguistics, which has long played an overly prominent role in applied linguistics, has been castigated for its separation of language and materiality, for being a cornerstone of the misalignment of language and humanity (Latour 2013). A reshaped posthumanist applied linguistics would do well to seize this opportunity to rethink these relations, to reconstruct a way of thinking in which a field that engages seriously with a notion of practice (Kramsch 2015) can contribute greatly to broader questions around language, practice, materiality, and agency. At stake, as Amin (2015: 245) suggests, ‘is the reordering of social identity as a reciprocal exchange between thinking bodies, machines and environments’. This reordering is one that applied linguistics could benefit from considering (Pennycook, forthcoming), as the ways we understand language in relation to people, objects, and place, and the ways we consider a more distributed understanding of language, cognition, and agency, have great implications for a field such as ours. 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Applied Linguistics – Oxford University Press
Published: Aug 1, 2018
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