Posthumxnism and the Pandemic

Co-contributors with Jessica Dillard Wright:*
Jane Hopkins Walsh
Brandon Blaine Brown

One of the things that’s coming to light is how the global spread of a microscopic virus is placing the ravages of racism and inequity under the microscope. But the fact is, we don’t all see the same thing! Racism has a way of actually DISTORTING our vision. Intertwined with many other forms of social domination, racism is mercurial, innovative, even viral.” (Benjamin, 2020

Celestial Octopus

Our Celestial Octopus, emblem of the Compost Collaborative, created by nurse-artist Christian Tedjasukmana

As the Compost Collaborative,** a posthumxn rhizome of feminist, queer, nursing joy and terror, we wish to acknowledge some of the deep, enduring, and trenchant lessons of our dystopian present. As friends and scholars, we are deeply connected by a shared passion for a radical posthumxn path for the future of nursing. We first wish to convey our deep love, respect, and solidarity for the nurses who are actively engaged in the dangerous daily work of caring for folks infected with COVID19. Second, we recognize our privilege and positionality as white colonizers with access to medical care, physical goods, and material resources, knowing that power and access are not shared by all, deeply contingent on the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, colonial positionality. Posthumxnism is a critique of and response to humanism and its anthropocentric fixation, one that seeks to scrutinize the humxn and nonhumxn consequences of capitalism (Bradiotti, 2019). In advancing a posthumxn critique for and of nursing in the time of COVID19, we see our work growing out of the emancipatory tradition, centering critical perspectives, feminist analyses, queer inquiry, justice-oriented praxis as we navigate terra incognita (Kagan et al., 2014; Grace & Willis, 2012).

Here we sit, isolated in distant states recognizing that the dystopian imagined future is suddenly a fervent, fevered reality and nursing along with its healthcare comrades are essentially located in the interstices. Our speculative theorizing about the posthumxn present-future of nursing is in continuity with the future-oriented, space-exploring vision of Martha Rogers (1992), though our cosmic view is tempered with the urgency, pragmatism, and the reality of excavating the past while navigating the crises of our present from pandemic to scarcity to racism to climate change to colonialism to extinctions and more. The urgency for a posthumxn path forward has crashed on the doorstep and posthumxnism is ringing the bell. The posthumxn convergence is calling, Braidotti’s (2019) mash-up vision of posthumxnism and the end of life as we know it. This turn is a critical decentering of humxn in the broad landscape of our ecological terrain that subverts anthropocentric humxnism and its white, ableist, colonial, Eurocentric, cisgender, patriarchal biases, bound up in the neoliberal, capitalist world-ecology, as Jason Moore would call it. 

Humxns are a part of – not rulers over – global political economy-cum-world-ecology, underscored currently by the trans-species complexity of COVID19. In advancing posthumxnism, we also wish to respect and amplify ontological views that are foundational within Indigenous ways of knowing. Long erased by settler-colonial nations and scholars, these ontologies fashion a world in which humans exist coequally with the nonhumxn and the nonliving (LaDuke, 2017).

For a speed course in postanthropocentrism and posthumxnism, consider this novel virus, born of a pangolin, a bird, a pig, a lizard, a bat, a monkey. The viral RNA origins are non-humxn, the virus itself nonliving. Witness the impact as the virus quietly infects and swiftly overpowers contemporary humxnity, bringing powerful global enterprises, international trade, healthcare systems, educational structures, and communities to their knees. Here, the boundaries blur between the humxn and the nonhumxn, the posthumxn subject no longer bios but zoe (Braidiotti, 2019). The pandemic also highlights the communitarian imperative of humxn and nonhumxn life on this rock we call home, as we struggle with social distance and mourn the loss of normalcy. Making kin, Haraway’s (2016) concept of reordering multispecies world relations seems especially relevant in the face of this current crisis, underscoring how inextricably intertwined lives are and continue to become. Humxns shelter in place, leaving nonhumxn creatures to reclaim their once and future territories, roads and highways eerily deserted and quiet, free from the imposition of humxn interlopers. Signs of the postanthropos.

As we think of our planetary crisis, we recognize a cosmic unity similar to that advanced by Martha Rogers in her conceptual framework, the “Science of Unitary Human Beings” (1992). But we also recognize a necessary critique of the concept of “unitary,” problematically failing to account for the historical and contemporary power differentials and legacies of oppression between groups of people in the US and around the globe.  Rogers’ (1992) concept of unitary human beings included an irreducible, indivisible union of people and their worlds (p. 28). The concept of “unity,” however, obscures differentials of power that exist between different communities and their world that enforce inequality. 

We see a posthumxn reading of Rogers’ unitary framework in Posthumxnist Rosi Braidotti’s (2019) insistence that “we-are-(all)-in-this-together but we-are-not-one-and-the-same” (p. 52) that accounts for critical perspectives on how power and oppression structure inequality, even as we endure shared experiences. This reflection on our subjective experience is ever more prescient and poignant as United States political decision-making prioritizes economics and return to normal over humxn life, disappointing but far from surprising given our capitalist imperative to extract! Extract! Extract! And extract some more. As scholar Ruha Benjamin points out as governmental powers push to return to normal, the prepandemic normal was not so great for everyone (2020). 

The uneven unfolding of our dystopian crises belies the jingoistic and unitary notion of “we, the people.” “We, the people” will not experience the pandemic in equitable ways, even while viral RNA presumes to be a great equalizer, making no provision for race, gender, creed, color, sexuality, national identity. In truth, COVID19 etches the inequalities between us deeper still. The virus has and will continue to infect both the powerful and the powerless, though with uneven speed and inequitable consequences. The rich and powerful with unlimited access to viral testing with rapid results, symptomatic or no, while most are turned away. As millions lose their jobs, and with it, health insurance, the cracks in the U.S. healthcare “system” extend and grow wider.

The accretional benefits of power, access, economic and educational accumulation, family reserves built and fortified across generations through a legacy of colonial, white, cisgender, able heteropatriarchy buffer the privileged, making social distance and sheltering in place a relative luxury. White-collar workers collect salaries as they work from home facilitated by the endless, spidery connections that link us via technology, further highlighting our interspecies technological cyborg nature (Haraway, 1990). Even with this kind of padded seclusion there is weirdness, alienation, and violence of its own. The imperative to continue to produce belies the severity of the crisis at hand, even while it is bedecked in the privilege of safety from illness conferred by sheltering in place.

These same principles, sheltering in place and social distance, further marginalized those individuals already on the margins. Hourly-wage earners, the billions of global workers like shopkeepers, caterers, restaurant workers, wait staff, ticket takers wonder how they will survive, subjugated by the laws of Cheap Nature, if they do not have enough money for food and rent (Moore, 2016). Or for medical bills. Or a ventilator. The mundane slow violence of life under capitalism is amplified, writ large under times of crisis, as speculative, nightmarish hypotheticals become breathtaking realities, a startling necropolitics of neoliberalism, the biopolitical power to determine who lives and who dies as a function of capitalism (Mbembe, 2019; Nixon, 2011). This doesn’t even begin to account for the racist violence and inequities of mass incarceration and detention, the impossibility of social distancing for individuals within institutions, and the callous disposability this implies for the individuals trapped by incarceration or detention and those charged with their care.

Posthumxnism asks us to consider what we are capable of becoming, together as humxn and nonhumxn for a more just, egalitarian, and equitable future. This is our charge as posthumxn nurses – to imagine AND THEN CREATE a present-future, one that makes space for the plurality of beings and ways of being in the world, building the bridge as we leap. In building this path, we can cultivate zoecentric knowledge that subverts biocentrism, gazing past the anthropocentric, humxnistic, and exclusionary philosophies that privilege extraction and profit over nature, nonhumxns, and dehumxnized humxns.

The present-future requires that we – as nurses and everyone else – embrace methodologies for cross-pollination between, among, alongside, and interconnected with actors from all crevices of our world ecologies: ecological, geological, political, environmental, animal, mineral, pop-culture, art, media and technology. All bets are off: nothing is too weird or too daring, a radical departure from current modes of nursing thought (Braidotti, 2019). The divisions between theory and philosophy come tumbling down as we seek critical reflection, explanations, understanding, connection, fusion. In this apocalyptic present-future, multispecies posthumxn nursing knowledge can be knit, sung, woven, danced, spun, rapped, embroidered, dyed, hummed, planted in a garden, or spray-painted on train cars, the interrelation of humxn and nonhumxn all a part of the process of posthumxn-becoming. And this proposition of posthumxn knowing is congruent with fine threads of nursing thought, as we consider Rogers (1992) ideas of color, humor, sound, Carper’s (1978) aesthetic way of knowing and the emancipatory ways of knowing advanced by Chinn and Kramer (2018). 

In this space-time of pandemic ennui, which coincidentally coincides with the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, what we must nurse is radical solidarity, a recognition that we are all in this together, even though we aren’t all the same (Haiven & Khasnabish, 2014). And the stakes are ominously high, should we fail to embrace this communitarianism. A future for healthcare, for sky, for nurses, for ALL people, for plants, for animals, for insects, for viruses, for bacteria, for trash, for compost, for kids, for terra, for seas, for space – any future at all – demands that we work together, composting the boundaries that separate us. This is not what we as nurses imagined for “our year,” but it is poetic-ironic that this is what we face. Together. 

“Despair is not a project, affirmation is.” (Bradiotti, 2019, p. 3).


**We call ourselves Compost Collaborative, a nod to feminist multispecies ecologist Donna Haraway, who captivated our collective imagination and informs our approaches to decaying boundaries of all kinds in nursing and in life. We are scholastically and tentacularly connected in our collaborative work as nurse-compost-scholars. This post was written by Jessica Dillard-Wright, Jane Hopkins Walsh, and Brandon Blaine Brown. Our collaborative is fungible, however, and our ideas are collective, part of a social process influenced by people, animals, environments, and ideas far and wide.

References

Benjamin, R. (2020, April 15). Black skin, white masks: Racism, vulnerability and Refuting black pathology. Retrieved from https://aas.princeton.edu/news/black-skin-white-masks-racism-vulnerability-refuting-black-pathology

Braidiotti, R. (2019). Posthuman Knowledge. Polity Press.

Carper, B. A. (1978). Fundamental Patterns of Knowing in Nursing. Advances in Nursing Science, 1(1), 13–24.

Chinn, P., & Kramer, M. (2018). Knowledge Development in Nursing: Theory and Process (10th ed.). Elsevier.

Grace, P. J., & Willis, D. G. (2012). Nursing responsibilities and social justice: An analysis in support of disciplinary goals. Nursing Outlook, 60(4), 198-207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.outlook.2011.11.004

Haiven, M., & Khasnabish, A. (2014). The Radical Imagination. Fernwood Publishing.

Haraway, D. (1990). A manifesto for cyborgs: Science, technology, and socialist feminism in the 1980s. In L. Nicholson (Ed.), Feminism/postmodernism (pp. 190–233). Routledge.

Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.

Kagan, P., Smith, M., & Chinn, P. (2014). Introduction. In P. Kagan, M. Smith, & P. Chinn (Eds.), Philosophy and Practices of Emancipatory Nursing: Social Justice as Praxis (pp. 1–20). Routledge.

LaDuke, W. (2017). All our relations: Native struggles for land and life. Haymarket Books.

Mbembe, A. (2019). Necropolitics (M. Tauch, Trans.). Duke University Press.

Moore, J. (2016). The Rise of Cheap Nature. In Anthropocene or capitalocene: Nature, history, and the crisis of capitalism (pp. 78–115). Kairos Books.

Nixon, R. (2011). Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge MA:     Harvard University.

Rogers, M. E. (1992). Nursing science and the space age. Nursing Science Quarterly, 5(1), 27-34.

*About the contributors

Jess Dillard-Wright, MA, MSN, CNM, RN

A regular blogger for Nursology.net, Jess is a nurse-midwife and a PhD candidate at Augusta University. Her dissertation is an intellectual history of nursing and feminism, a history of the present untangling the faults and fissures that characterize the interrelationship between feminism and the profession, focusing specifically on Cassandra Radical Feminist Nurses Network. When she is not thinking about nursing, you’ll find Jess hanging out with her three kids and partner. Together, they like to go to the beach, play silly game(may we humbly suggest Throw Throw Burrito?), read books, and *try* to bake amazing things.

Brandon Brown MSN, RN-BC, CNL,

Brandon is a faculty member and Doctor of Education student at the University of Vermont and is one of the founding members of the Nursing Theory Collective. His research interests center upon the philosophical analysis of nursing theory, practice, and pedagogy through a critical posthuman and post-anthropocentric lens. When Brandon is not doing scholarly work, you can find him spending time with his family hiking, canoeing, and camping.

Jane Hopkins Walsh

Jane is a theory loving, Spanish speaking pediatric nurse practitioner at Boston Children’s Hospital. A Nursing PhD Candidate at Boston College, Jane is an immigrant rights activist who is co-enrolled in a certificate program at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at the Lynch School of Education. Her main areas of interest are global health, im/migrant populations, and community based service delivery models to deliver nursing care for underserved children, emerging adults and families. She was awarded two global grants through Boston Children’s Hospital to coordinate services for children with complex care needs in remote areas of Honduras, and to explore the elevated incidence of chronic kidney disease in Central America with a transnational team. Links to her favorite NGO and volunteer immigrant rights groups can be found at the end of her blog posts on radicalnurses.com

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Posthumxnism and the Pandemic

  1. This was a really complex article, I think the root of it is we can do better as human beings and we need to work harder to make resources more equally available and that starts with helping people realize there are still huge disparities. Thank-you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What an absolutely superb post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and making sense of every aspect of it. Relevant, timely, and of utmost need now more than ever. If I can transmit this message over and over again to nurses near and far I will: “A future for healthcare, for sky, for nurses, for ALL people, for plants, for animals, for insects, for viruses, for bacteria, for trash, for compost, for kids, for terra, for seas, for space – any future at all – demands that we work together, composting the boundaries that separate us.
    As an advocate for planetary health, nursing unity and moving forward with ONE voice, I cannot but thank you all for writing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You make the statement, to choose return to normal or human life but is that really the only 2 choices. The antibody testing is being done in all the neighborhoods and offered by local hospitals and pharmacies. Why during a pandemic would you promote division, resentment towards a race and possibly a gender (see below with your choice of using the word cum). Was life so terrible before this horrible pandemic, that you would even consider we are better off now. Might I remind you of the lowest unemployment and best economy that all races and genders felt tangibly before this pandemic only a few months ago. But the mot salient point, is that we as nurses should think twice before we “critique” our founding theorists on their lack of discernment over the inequalities which actually it could be argued it was worse during their times. The “unity” Rogers speaks of is what unites all of us, something that goes deeper then color, gender or wealth, what makes us truly human is that we can connect in our desires to live a peaceful, creative, fulfilling, meaningful life. You use the word excavate, as if you want to find all the hate, anger, victim hood buried deep within us so that we will always be reminded of our differences and therefore your blog is divisive, with an underlying tone of disgust to the white person, although most likely I will include males as well as you choose to use the word “cum” as a negative, disgusting noun when as nurses we all know it is simply just another bodily fluid.I am a holistic nurse and in order for nursing to go forward, we must not critique our wonderful theorists to say they didn’t really understand unity, we must be open to living peacefully with everyone white, male, black any color, rich or poor. We have to find peace within ourselves otherwise we turn the hate that we are harboring within unto others.

    Like

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