Fleckenstein & Mehler, “Mobility Regimes”

Fleckenstein & Mehler “Mobility Regimes and the Constitution of the Nineteenth-Century Posthuman Body” Design, Mediation, and the Posthuman eds. Weiss, Propen, & Reid (2014) (20 pages)

Fleckenstein and Mehler open expand upon Hayles’ concept of the posthuman body to include (1) a broader understanding of technology to include the non- or pre-digital and (2) and mobility “as a criterion of the user-machine fusion” (178).

To begin, they outline Hayles’ understanding of the post-human: “individuals are ‘spliced’ into distributed cognitive system where enacted bodies and represented bodies are fused through a machine interface. Thus, all discrete identities disappear, becoming, instead, posthuman identities networked among the three integrate components of machines, semiosis, and enaction, thus forming a thinking system” (177). Alluding to Bazerman, technology is rhetorical and historical: it presents an interface “with the organic that invites and advocates for certain configurations of human being” (179). They refer to the idea of fit: “if media fit humans, humans adjust themselves in various ways to fit media, knowingly or not” (Gitelman & Pingree 2003 qtd in F&M 180); “Ultimately, this ‘fit’ requires both the incorporation of the body and the technologies, a move that aligns with posthumanity’s emphasis on the configuration of the human as ‘seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines’” (180).

This latter idea, that technologies inscribes and configures the human body includes schemes that configure human mobility which then re-inscribes identity. These configurations are what they refer to mobile regimes: the ways that technologies delineate posthuman identities through the ways those technologies configure the potential for and kinds of mobility possible. They also emphasize that mobile technologies are always grounded in the physical worlds (see: Fishman & Yancey). As such, there exists through these mobile technology a dialectic between language and materiality that also intersects with space and movement. However, they point to how pre-digital technologies can, likewise, operate to configure human mobility.

Fleckenstein and Mehler offer two examples to explore the potential of mobility of pre-digital technologies and situate these mobile technologies in how they configured gender identities in 19th century America. In each example—the Gentleman’s Companion & safety bicycles—they deduce their potential through a framework that observes (1) technology: how the technology emerges within its particular environment and general impact; (2) semiosis: how the technology is defined within discourses on gender identity; and (3) enaction: how the use and experience of the technology both in terms of its semiosis and technology—how its enaction configures and inscribes the body through its mobile regimes.

The Gentleman’s Companion was a guidebook that mapped and annotated (anonymously) the prostitutes of Lower Manhattan. As the authors write, the guidebook demonstrates “a distributed cognitive network or an intelligent weaving across technology, semiosis, and enaction that gives birth to the posthuman as it initiates movement” (181-2). As a technology, there was a general movement in the 19th century to develop taxonomies that operates as knowledge management and interfaces with out we move throughout environemtn. The guidebook, thus, becomes an apparatus to control the “burgeoning information society that was growing around them” (182). “This evolving guidebook machine plugged a reader into a pre-packaged information environemtn: these arrangements of space, ultimately, held consequences for reader’s potential for mobility….guidebooks determines the potentials for mobility since it can ‘open and close roads…[and] both shield and reveal possibilities’” (183). In other words, the guidebooks participates in a mobility regime that determines appropriate and inappropriate movements for men and women.

In this way, by participating in particular mobile regimes, we can also note the way that the guidebook mediates and circulates “prevalent cultural discourses about the 19th century body that link cultural representations of male and female bodies with enacted performances of male and female performances” (183). However, the guidebook often operated on competing mobility regimes: In one sense, it embraced the immobility of women that is often associated with “the cult of the true woman” that renders the woman immobile in her domesticity by noting “havens” where women can be found. But, of course, in another sense, it operates in a mobile regime that saw the woman as mobile both physically and economically. And further, it also allowed men to enact identities of the hypersexual male.

The safety bicycle is a very different kind of technology, not necessarily considered an intelligent or literate machine in a conventional sense, but “it still participates in a distributed network constituting the thinking system” (187). Fleckenstein and Mehler go as far to point out that the bicycle constitutes an entwined technology, one that sees the technology as entwined with “the production of identity that it can no longer meaningfully be separated from the human subject’ (187). As the authors write, the conjunction of bodies with the bicycle prompted a new mobility regime: since the bicycle became so entwined with everyday life, it became a kind of companion that cemented the emerging paradigm of the emancipated woman: “’the long-time growing emancipation of woman’ is inseparable form ‘her perch upon the bicycle’ which typifies her going fast and far’” (189). However, the authors point out that it was the semiotic discourses as well as the discourses surrounding the bicycle that operated to change women’s mobility regime: “the everyday mobility afforded to women riding bicycles as well as the everyday recording of public space via the popular press and popular fiction indicates the degree to which the ‘bicycling woman’ became a gender identity integral to the discourses and images of the American cultural scene” (189).

The authors also emphasize the way that the bicycle was a particular embodied experience that demonstrates the way the posthuman identity is an embodied experience: “to embrace the mobility promised by the bicycle, Willard had to retrain her body, an element that manifests the necessary role of embodiment in a posthuman identity” (190). As they write, “enacting thought requires retraining the body in new mobility regimes…this reschooling was an act of re-embodiment, achieving a ‘new intelligence in the muscles’” (190). Willard, a bike-rider who used the bicycle to retrieve a forgotten freedom of mobility, “disciplined her muscles in this new mobility, and its attendant identity, in precisely the same way she learned her alphabet—through repetition and use” (191).

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