Training is integral to a PhD project. For me this meant applying for leading Posthuman theorist – Professor Rosi Braidotti’s summer school 2022. The prospect was incredibly exciting, Braidotti’s interdisciplinary work is key to the framework and methodology of my research project, to be part of her summer school seemed an opportunity too good to miss.
My supervisors encouraged me to apply. The application process was first come first served and specified a high level of education in order to be considered, which added to the anticipation. It was fantastic to receive a letter of acceptance in May, but it also made me realise the intensity of the event ahead of me. The concentrated length of the course (only one week), the level of the people I would be on the course with, the pressure of not letting the opportunity go to waste, and the amount of preparatory reading we were expected to do, was all quite overwhelming.
These things were worth considering but, in the end, the summer school was so much more. The course was online from Wednesday, 17 August to Thursday, 25 August with a packed programme each day. From 8am, the day consisted of recorded presentations, live Q&As, a group tutorial and an artist workshop (called ‘labs’). The umbrella theme of the summer school was posthuman methods, and so the content was based around conducting research projects in a posthuman way. Each day was curated by a different summer school tutor and the themes varied from ‘Methods To Exit Colonial Humanism’ to ‘Non-representational Methods’, and researchers from a variety of disciplines had been invited to present their projects.
The afternoons were spent in tutorial groups with other summer school participants. I was worried about being in a space with people whose research focussed directly on philosophy, and that I might be left behind, but the participants (a range of artists and philosophers as well as lawyers and teachers) were knowledgeable but incredibly open. This should not have surprised me because a big part of posthuman thinking is to work collaboratively, and actively welcome in new dialogues. During the tutorials we were asked to work together to reflect on the lectures and Q&As in the day, and to use our thinking to collaboratively make a ‘Manifesto for Posthuman Creative Methods’.
After a group discussion, Artist Fiona Hillary set us creative tasks that gave us tools to connect with the world in affirmative, ethical, and thoughtful ways. For example, on one day we were asked to draw organisms whilst paying attention to their details, and contemplate their ecologies in connection with our own. The image for this blog post shows the results of this lab. It shows overlapping line drawings of a leafy seadragon – a creature featured in Fiona’s posthuman artistic research which is centred around Australian waterways – the seadragon is drawn without looking at the page so that the focus is on the organism in front of us (in photographic form). After we had completed the tasks individually, we discussed the labs as a tutor group, reflecting on what we found difficult, easy or had noticed about engaging in the attunement exercises.
It surprised me that Braidotti was so involved in the summer school, and she presented and engaged in lengthy Q&As every day of the summer school. On the last day of the course, she made a passionate speech about the need to approach research with affirmative ethics, that bring people once excluded from conversations, into the dialogue. She is passionate that change can happen within institutions, and she urged all of us to engage in research with a critical but positive outlook. For the closing event, each tutor group presented their manifesto which included videos and creative interventions. All the contributions were received well by the whole group, and it was a heart-warming way to end the week’s intensive programme.
On a practical note, the summer school was expensive to attend, and although it was held online and therefore, I would not need to pay for travel to Utrecht (the University in which it was held), I needed to apply for funding. I was very grateful to be successful in being granted the MMU Research Support Award – it is definitely worth applying for if you have a conference, event or training course you wish to attend. I was sceptical that I would be successful, but the application paid off.
Engaging in this type of training was a fantastic way for me to increase my knowledge of theories beyond my discipline and share research space with people invested in similar methodologies that are underpinning my project. You never know who you might cross paths with and as a result of my attendance, I am now part of a posthuman reading group and have been in touch with the tutors and participants outside of the summer school to exchange ideas and work on collaborations – all of which will only enhance my research and thinking.