Part II

Developing a Posthuman Approach: A Framework and Instrument

5. Developing the Intrasubjective Mediating Framework

© 2021 Richard S. Lewis, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0253.05

Simply put, before we can truly achieve media literacy, we need to be self-literate. This involves moving beyond the ‘content’ of who we are and becoming knowledgeable as to what and how we are as a complex system. The ‘what’ can be understood as the structure or cartography of relations that constitute our selves and the ‘how’ is the complex process of our mediated constitution. Both give rise to a system of becoming that is continually emergent and complex. Media technologies are a part of this process and are also affected by—and affect—the other constituting relations in our lives. In order to comprehensively understand and situate media literacy, I develop a two-part posthuman approach that consists of 1) an intrasubjective mediating framework developed in this chapter1 along with 2) a pragmatic instrument that leverages the framework in Chapter 6.

This process of situating is a means of providing context, and as Anthony Wilden (1980) states, ‘if there is one constantly recurring question for a critical and ecosystemic viewpoint, it is the real and material question of context’ (xxix). I first describe the process of how we intra-relate with the world through the transformations caused by the various relations in our lives. I then create a simple structure that brings these constituting relations into six groupings: technological, sociocultural, mind, body, space, and time. And finally, I describe how both structure and process are involved in an interrelating dance of complexity.

The co-constituting technological relation from postphenomenology
—described as I-technology-world (Ihde, 1990)—is leveraged in this chapter to also include groups of relations beyond the technological. The focus is on the continual transformation of the human subject through all of the relations that influence the subject and the subject’s experiences in its lifeworld. Because the focus is on the constitution of the ‘I’ component, the constitution of the ‘world’ component of the equation is only indirectly addressed, not because it is not important, but only because a primary focus on how the world is constituted through this process is outside the scope of this book.

Discussing the complexity of structures and processes, Tim Ingold (2013; see also Grishakova, 2019; Rubin, 1988) points out that there are two different approaches. One approach is to have a complex structure and a simple process. In this scenario, the complex structure determines the process of the system, and the process simply follows the rules dictated by the structure. This creates a situation with little to no free will and follows the structuralist and determinist schools of thought. Instead, I follow Ingold’s recommendation and use a simple structure that relies on complex processes, leading to the emergence of the human becoming.

We are not simply aggregates of all of our relations added together. Instead, our constituting relations interrelate in an emergent dance of complexity. These relations enable and constrain each other in unpredictable ways. By understanding our selves as these complex systems of becoming, we are better able to situate specific relations—such as with media technologies—into the broader whole.

Situating the Intrasubjective Mediating Framework

One way to position an argument in philosophy is by using difference, a negative approach showing what something is by illustrating how it is not like something else. This often follows a reductive approach that uses binary oppositions. Rather than using this negative approach, I use a positive and inclusive approach, looking for similarities to what already exists in various research fields and then bringing them together in a comprehensive and situating framework. The bringing together of many fields of research into one framework helps to leverage what has already been—and is continuing to be—studied in order to better understand the human subject.

For example, Michel Foucault’s (1995) power discourse, Donna Haraway’s (1985) cyborg manifesto, Michel Callon and Bruno Latour’s (1981) actor-network theory, Don Ihde’s (1990) postphenomenology, Rosi Braidotti’s (2013) posthumanism, Martin Heidegger’s (2010) being-in-the-world (Dasein), Karen Barad’s (2007) agential realism, and so on; all of these amodern (as in not modern), relational thinkers have made profound contributions to an understanding of our selves and our place in the world. They have helped overcome much of the subject/object dichotomy and helped describe the human subject in a more relational manner. However, like the proverbial group of blind people describing an elephant by touching different places on its body, they all are correct, but in a limited way, missing a unifying perspective. By approaching the subject through an interdisciplinary lens, there is a better chance of coming to a transdisciplinary understanding of the human subject by creating an inclusive framework that can accommodate many of the ideas that come from various relational disciplines dedicated to understanding the human subject.

While the main fields I have used so far—postphenomenology, media literacy, media ecology, complexity, and posthumanism—bring certain benefits to understanding the human subject, each has certain limitations concerning the creation of a unified framework that can help maintain an inclusive perspective. For instance, postphenomenology contributes well to our pragmatic understanding of the constituting nature of technological relations, but it is technocentric and lacks an approach to leverage the concepts of a culturally constructed ‘body two’ (cf. Ihde, 2002) and sedimentation. Postphenomenology has also been criticized for not being critical enough on the normative and ethical issues surrounding technology (cf. Lemmens, 2017; Scharff, 2006; Thompson, 2006). As for media literacy, it has various approaches that contribute in many beneficial ways, including critical media literacy that brings the influence of critical cultural theory into the dialogue. However, media literacy lacks a focus on the impact of the technological medium. It also lacks an effective approach for understanding the impact of the broader context that the media are used within, as domestication theory demonstrates.

Media ecology, which effectively investigates the impact of the medium itself on the human subject and society. However, media ecology is less able to provide a way to pragmatically understand specific technological relations and how sociocultural aspects such as representation, power, and gender also co-influence the effects of the technological media. And finally, philosophical posthumanism helpfully provides a focus on the complex transformations of the human subject in a non-humanist, non-dualist, and non-anthropocentric manner, but it lacks a pragmatic way of investigating specific relations, including technological, which contribute to the constitution of the human subject.

The posthuman approach I propose creates a solution for these problems without losing the valuable contributions of each field. Holistically, this provides a way to situate media literacy investigations into an all-encompassing framework. By so doing, this allows investigators to keep a broad perspective while facilitating a deep analysis into any of the specific areas.

Critical media literacy opens the field of media literacy to influencing relations beyond media technologies by including the effects of structures of power and privilege embedded within media messages (Kellner & Share, 2005, 2007). My point in this chapter is to demonstrate how media literacy can expand even further by including the effects that time and space as well as body and mind have on our selves and our media relations. Adopting a more inclusive framework for media literacy can help us understand how our media relations affect all the other relations in our lives and vice versa. We are immersed in an environment of complex relations, most of which are in the background of our awareness. The literacy aspect of my framework is the effort to foreground these relations in order for us to become aware of them so we can choose how we might engage with them.

I begin this chapter by discussing the process in which we continue to be affected by the non-neutral transformations that we experience through our relations. I then propose a structure in order to include all of the relations that contribute to our constitution. This helps bring attention beyond the technological to the other groups of relations that also contribute to our constitution. My goal is to help us become more literate about our selves, not necessarily to answer ‘who’ are we—as that is akin to a content question—but rather ‘what’ are we? This approach is similar to Marshall McLuhan’s (1994) aphorism, the medium is the message. How does what we are affect who we are? And, how do our processes and engagement with the world—the how we are—affect how we exist and become in this world? Only by better understanding the what and how of our existence will we then be able to situate media literacy and the various relations that contribute to constituting the human subject, thus enabling the development of a comprehensive perspective. This reduces the tendency towards deterministic claims that focus on only one or two specific factors. By establishing this framework, we can become more aware of what contributes to the constitution of our selves in a holistic and encompassing manner.

Intrasubjective Mediation

To more deeply explore what it means to be constituted—or transformed—by our relations, I introduce the concept of intrasubjective mediation. While constitution and transformation can have slightly different meanings, I will use them both to describe the process of becoming. The concept of intrasubjective mediation helps to identify how the transformations that take place due to our relations both affect and continue to affect how we perceive and engage with the world. As Ihde (2009) points out, ‘Technologies transform our experience of the world and our perceptions and interpretations of our world, and we in turn become transformed in this process. Transformations are non-neutral’ (44). The first sentence in this quote describes the constituting effects of the six groups of relations, and the second sentence gets to the core of intrasubjective mediation.

I define intrasubjective mediation as the process of how the transformations that occur in the human subject through technological, sociocultural, mind, body, time, and space relations mediate—and continue to mediate—how the subject perceives and engages with the world. What intrasubjective mediation enables is the ability to understand how all of our relations continue to contribute to our constitution through the transformations that originally took place. How this relates to the technological relations described by postphenomenology is that every technological relation—be it embodied, hermeneutic, alterity, or background—leaves an intrasubjective transformation that we then perceive and experience the world through.

For example, a GPS enabled mapping app on our smartphone allows us to explore a new city differently than if we did not have this technology. After we become familiar with using the GPS app and have had positive experiences navigating new areas with the app, our confidence in exploring new places can increase. In addition, as we become less concerned with getting lost, we become different travelers. We are travelers transformed. Enabling and constraining still occurs, and we will likely have new concerns, such as our phone’s battery level and finding cellular access spots.

We interact with every relation in our life through an assemblage of our current relations and the accumulation of our transformations caused by the relations we have already experienced. I build upon postphenomenology’s embodied relation in order to conceptualize this process. Intrasubjective mediation creates a language for investigation and a method of inquiry to explore the transformations that happen within the subject due to specific constituting relations and how we continue to engage and perceive the world through these transformations. This moves our initial focus on an individual relation experienced in the present moment and expands our attention and awareness in order to perceive the current interrelating relations as well as the accumulation of all our experiences gathered together.

Why Intra?

At first, the idea of intra-subjective mediation may seem somewhat confusing. After all, what does it mean to be mediated by an aspect within our selves? Why use ‘intra’ instead of simply using ‘subjective mediation?’ I do so because ‘subject’ is often conceived of as singular, equating to the entirety of our selves. ‘Intrasubjective’ points to a more specific internal aspect that contributes to our overall constitution. Our subjective self is not a unified subject, but a multiplicity through which we intra-relate (Lamagna, 2011). Therefore, in order to know our selves more fully, it is helpful to understand these relations and how they contribute to our continually constituted subjectivity. Additionally, the way a subject perceives the world through the intrasubjective relations can vary, depending upon the context of the situation; how the subject is feeling: whether they are stressed or relaxed; what is currently motivating them; their particular upbringing; etc.

The intrasubjective mediating framework developed below creates a way to investigate both the current and continuing impact from relations, which in the case of media technology will help us to become more media literate by understanding the broader effects of media technologies. While my primary focus will continue to be on technological relations, I will situate them within a framework that includes five other groupings of relations. Before describing the specifics of how intrasubjective mediation works through a type of embodied relation, I will first describe all six groupings of relations that make up the framework.

The Intrasubjective Mediating Framework

In order to leverage the concept of intrasubjective mediation, I first develop a general framework before then creating a pragmatic instrument that can be used for media literacy (Chapter 6). To begin discussing the framework, I start with the foundation of our existence—one with no hard boundaries of separation that is instead interrelated and emergent. I gather all of our constituting relations into six groups, which enables us to look deeply into the particular qualities and aspects of each group while remaining cognizant of the other groups.

This chapter builds on the concept that we are multi-relational, that there is never just one relation involved with anything we do in any single moment. There is a tendency to perceive technology and media in a gestalt-like manner—all at once and often as one thing. This can erroneously translate into thinking of media technology as a single relation, instead of multiple relations happening at the same time. For example, I can analyze my relationship with my smartphone. At first, it can feel like one relation, as the object being one ‘thing’. However, the smartphone is not only functionally more than one artifact—camera, phone, GPS, web browser, social media site, etc.—but it is also an assemblage of relations. It is, amongst many other things, a cultural status symbol, a way to reduce distance by creating a virtual space, and an extension of my mind, used for storing memories and information externally. The framework I develop is a way to keep this broader perspective in mind when analyzing specific media and technological relations.

The framework builds upon the I-technology-world formula used to describe technological mediation, which is very effective in analysis on a microperceptual level. However, this formula does not portray the entirety of what is happening to the subject in the constituting moment. There are more than just technological relations that are happening, and postphenomenology acknowledges this by describing a culturally constructed body two (Ihde, 2002). However, postphenomenology has made little progress in creating a method or an instrument to easily implement the sociocultural component in a similar way to the I-technology-world formula that focuses on the microperceptual, let alone investigating the effect of other groupings of relations. The following framework serves this purpose by situating all of our mediating relations into groups for the goal of identification and discovery.

Framework Caveats

George Box (1979) offers a helpful perspective to keep in mind as I begin to describe the framework: ‘All models are wrong but some models are helpful’ (202). Representations are not reality, but they can help provide ways for us to interact and understand reality. The framework is useful as a situating anchor, helping to keep research tethered to the overarching perspective of what comprises the human subject. And yet, there is a tension between creating an inclusive framework and striving not to be reductive. Paul Cilliers (2005) says that the limitations of a framework make ‘it possible to have knowledge (in finite time and space). At the same time, having limits means something is excluded, and we cannot predict the effects of that exclusion’ (264). Keeping this in mind can help us pay attention to not only how we may be enabled, but also how we might be constrained when using this framework. For instance, by portraying the framework as inclusive, I create an expectation of completeness, which ultimately is impossible. To counteract this expectation, I include the group ‘unknown/unknowable’ (cf. Fig. 5.1). It is also possible that there is a better way to organize or name the groups. The publication of this book captures the framework at a certain point in time, and it is quite likely that it will continue to change in the future.

An additional caveat is that the intrasubjective mediating framework (Fig. 5.1) looks anthropocentric. It has the mind/body at the center and is all about identifying the human subject’s relations and even risks reflecting a mind-body split. However, this is absolutely not the intention behind the framework. Instead, it is a starting point to help enable us to understand our entangled interconnectedness and interrelatedness with the world. The framework demonstrates our embedded and embodied reality, our immanent beingness. We start from here in order to understand our interconnectedness and interrelatedness. This is not the view from above approach, nor a way to explore objective beingness. This is our subjectiveness with which we interrelate and are interconnected with the world. By using this framework as a starting point, we can increase our awareness of how we are constituted by the entirety of our relations. Only then will we be in a good place to critically judge the specific relations in our lives and decide how we may want to engage with them.

The Framework’s Cartography

Before going into the details of each group, I explain the structural configuration of Figure 5.1. First, I identify the six groups: technological, sociocultural, mind, body, space, and time. This framework is dedicated to understanding the human subject, and places the mind and body in the middle, reflecting the central role they play. They are placed together with the co-constituting symbol to indicate the continual becoming of the human subject. Often these two groupings are considered the fundamental aspect of what we simply ‘are’. The lower portion of the configuration captures time and space, which in physics are the first four dimensions of reality. This foundational pair is like the warp of a weaving, the structure upon which our reality—and the human subject itself—is constituted. The upper portion contains the technological and sociocultural relations that are human constructions.

Fig. 5.1 The Framework of Intrasubjective Mediating Relations. Image by author (2021), CC BY 4.0.

The figure represents a way to look for and identify various groupings of relations, all of which contribute to constituting the subject. The boundaries between the groupings are porous, as the relations are entangled. These groupings simply gather relations with shared similarities. All relations within each group can interact directly or indirectly with relations from other groups. The subject is not so much constructed by these relations, but constituted through their totality in a dynamic manner; a constant becoming. These relations interrelate and influence each other, like waves that sometimes cancel each other and sometimes increase each other’s effects. The focus for now is on the structure rather than the specific content, though I will attempt to explore examples within each group. I create a placeholder for ‘unknown and unknowable’ relations in order to build into the framework the idea that we do not, and cannot, know all of the relations that are affecting us. Later, in Chapter 6, I will leverage this ‘simple’ structure into a pragmatic instrument.

Technology and Sociocultural

I begin by grouping the relations that can arguably be called the most human-constructed: technological and sociocultural relations. I place them on the top of Fig. 5.1 since they are not too difficult to foreground. For all of the groups I frame them in the I-___-world formula in order to emphasize how each grouping of relations mediates and co-constructs our selves and the world.

Technological Relations: I-Technology-World

The concept of technological mediation from postphenomenology—the I-technology-world relation—is the primary building block for the framework. In chapter three, I described in detail the aspects of the technological relations, including the four types of relations identified in postphenomenology. Rather than restate all of the details concerning technological relations—such as non-neutrality, multistability, and sedimentation—I will add to those ideas by describing a way to group technologies into three different genres: simple, complicated, and complex. Doing so can help us understand that all technologies are not the same, that the three groups have unique qualities that differentiate them and their broader effects on society and people.

Simple and complicated technologies have been a subject of Ursula Franklin (2004), though she describes them as holistic and prescriptive respectively. Franklin focuses on the cultural aspects of technology, describing technology as a system. She states that it ‘entails far more than its individual material components. Technology involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset’ (1). Franklin discusses technologies as a practice, focusing on how the technological process is being done more than what the process is actually creating.

Holistic technologies are often ‘associated with the notion of craft. Artisans, be they potters, weavers, metal-smiths, or cooks, control the process of their own work from beginning to finish’ (6). In these relations, the technology is fairly simple, and the skill in creating or producing or using the technology is mostly dependent upon the user. Franklin focuses closely on the interconnection between culture and technologies, how the craft process of creating technologies influences the type of culture that develops around it.

The second type of technology uses a prescriptive process, which Franklin (2004) describes as ‘based on a quite different division of labour. Here, the making or doing of something is broken down into clearly identifiable steps’ (7). There is a division of labor, where different people take on specific and controlled roles. While the industrial revolution exemplifies this process, Franklin describes how the process was already being used in China in 1200 BC for casting bronze. The division of labor moves the overall control from the worker to the person in charge. The worker must follow a prescribed plan in order for the technological production to work properly. ‘Prescriptive technologies constitute a major social invention. In political terms, prescriptive technologies are designs for compliance […where] external control and internal compliance are seen as normal and necessary’ (7–8).

While prescriptive technologies are exceedingly effective and efficient, they have a dramatic impact upon the culture, where ‘we are ever more conditioned to accept orthodoxy as normal, and to accept that there is only one way of doing “it”’ (8). This type of technology can be considered complicated, especially when compared with holistic craft technologies. This is where most contemporary ICTs can be found, though some aspects of ICTs are now moving into a third type: complex technologies.

Complex technologies can be understood as another paradigmatic shift. While prescriptive technologies move the control and responsibility from a single person in holistic technologies to an external control, complex technologies move much of that control more to the technology itself. These are technologies such as machine learning, where humans no longer control the specific inner workings of algorithms and predictability gives way to probability. The technology programs itself, and we can no longer pinpoint exactly how a specific output is reached.

Each of these subgroupings of technology brings different benefits and constraints to both individuals and cultures through their mediation. Their differences can be linked to different constituting effects on the human subject. All three retain the qualities of the technological relations discussed in Chapter 3: non-neutrality, multistability, and sedimentation. Having already covered these, I now move on to the second foregrounded group of relations: sociocultural.

Sociocultural Relations: I-Sociocultural-World

Some of the co-constituting sociocultural relations that mediate between our selves and the world have already been discussed: postphenomenology’s concept of body two; critical media literacy; and critical posthumanism. This group consists of the sociocultural relations that influence human subjects. Creating a place for these types of relations allows them to be analyzed and acknowledged as having an effect on how we are constituted moment by moment. This group is messy, wide-ranging, and very difficult to reign in to a neat tidy ‘category’. However, I am not looking to categorize. My goal is to simply encourage investigation in order to reveal the sociocultural relations that have a constituting effect on us. Subgroups, such as power, gender, race, and language, that are a part of the sociocultural group tend to be entangled, and I do not believe it is necessary to fully separate them. I do not go into a great deal of specificity expanding on the many potential subgroups because I believe that the social science and cultural studies fields have already made a lot of progress in this regard. This grouping simply allows a place in the framework for these fields of study to be included. To exemplify this group briefly, I discuss postphenomenology’s sociocultural concepts, as well as those from critical cultural studies.

Sociocultural Concepts in Postphenomenology. Postphenomenology has two concepts for cultural influences: macroperception and body two. However, it does not leverage these concepts into a method or instrument for exploring their influence on the human subject in a similar way to how it instrumentalizes technological relations through its I-technology-world formula. Additionally, the use of macroperception is focused on ‘the ways in which cultures embed technologies’ (Ihde, 1990: 124), but not on how cultures mediate human subjects microperceptively.

Microperception is focused on the embodied and embedded perspective of the human, which gives rise to the four types of I-technology-world relations in postphenomenology. However, as I have pointed out, Ihde (1990) states that there is no ‘microperception (sensory-bodily) without its location within a field of macroperception and no macroperception without its microperceptual foci’ (29). Ihde devotes a significant section of his Lifeworld book to the concept of macroperception (1990, cf. chapter 6), describing how technologies and our microperceptions are necessarily entangled within the broader sociocultural landscape. In practice, however, it is challenging to pragmatically incorporate the concept of macroperception into specific research on technologies. While microperception is tightly linked with the I-technology-world mediation theory, macroperception and body two have more often been used as general concepts.

Robert Scharff (2006) criticizes Ihde’s usual separation of micro and macroperception, saying, ‘from what sort of perspective does he [Ihde] make the distinction between perceptual “embodiment” and cultural “context,” put their discussions in separate chapters, and often discuss one without reference to the other?’ (137). Lasse Blond and Kasper Schiølin (2018) ‘suggest that postphenomenology has placed too much emphasis on technology, leaving the mediated human “I” and the world in the dark’ (152). The framework developed here is an attempt to include how the sociocultural relations contribute to our own constitution.

Leveraging co-constituting sociocultural relations helps us to understand the transformative effects of culture on our microperceptions. This is a solution for the criticisms just discussed from Scharff and as well Blond and Schiølin. It is a way to bring body one (the microperceptual body) and body two (the culturally constructed body) from postphenomenology together and focus on how sociocultural relations constitute the human subject in a similar manner to technological relations. In Chapter 6 I will demonstrate the constituting effects of sociocultural relations that I experienced while taking a museum selfie. This sociocultural component is a strong influencing force on the individual, one that is sedimented over a lifetime. Developing this specific relation can help us better analyze its influence on the human subject. We can modify Ihde’s (1990) original technological mediating formula in order to identify these constituting sociocultural relations: I-sociocultural-world. Like technological relations, sociocultural relations are co-constituting and multistable. How the sociocultural relations constitute the individual is not only unique to each individual, but is changeable (multistable) within the individual.

Sociocultural Concepts in Cultural Studies. Sociocultural elements influence people’s practices and experiences. Tony Bennett (1998) offers elements of a definition for cultural studies, describing how there are diverse forms of power in relation to culture that should be examined, including gender, class, race, colonialism and imperialism. According to Bennett, ‘The ambition of cultural studies is to develop ways of theorizing relations of culture and power that will prove capable of being utilized by relevant social agents to bring about changes within the operation of those relations of culture and power’ (28).

Building upon Bennett’s (1998) work, Chris Barker and Emma Jane (2016) review some of the key concepts within cultural studies, creating a list that includes, in part, language, representation, materialism, political economy, power, subjectivity and identity, class, and race. Barker and Jane stress that cultural studies is non-reductionist, meaning situations cannot be reduced down to a single causal category or concept. Emily Grabham et al. (2009) describe one of the ways in which cultural studies leverages the concept of non-reductionism through intersectionality, which focuses on the intersection of several inequalities people experience ‘that are rooted through one another, and which cannot be untangled to reveal a single cause’ (1). Additionally, Leslie McCall (2009) points out that complexity, ‘arises when the subject of analysis expands to include multiple dimensions of social life and categories of analysis’ (49).

The framework I develop can lead to an increased awareness of this complexity and intersectionality of constituting relations. From the many potential subgroups available within sociocultural relations, I will briefly highlight normativity as an example of identifying sociocultural constituting relations. In Chapter 6, I use two other subgroups as examples in my exploration of analyzing my experience taking a museum selfie—language and politics.

Using normative relations, we can analyze how sociocultural relations influence by both enabling and constraining us. The concept of normativity can be understood by looking at two different scenarios where I would be different when taking museums selfies. In the first scenario, other people are also taking selfies and the museum itself encourages, or at least does not restrict, the taking of selfies with the museum objects. In this situation, I feel fairly comfortable taking a museum selfie. In the second scenario, nobody else is taking selfies. When I do try to take one, people in the area give me what I perceive to be unpleasant looks. Without explicitly asking if this was their intention, these reactions from the people around me are a way of communicating that taking selfies is not acceptable museum behavior. In this second scenario, I perceive my proximal social group as negatively judging me, and this has an inhibiting effect on my desire to take any further selfies.

These two scenarios demonstrate the importance of going beyond only the technological relation, as the constituting effects in the scenario have very little to do with any technological relation. I am being mediated and constituted culturally before I get to the point of the technological relation. Within these sociocultural relations, we can investigate the various ways that our culture mediates us as we relate with and through technology. This can include studying power dynamics, economics, language, ethics, and the normative values that arise when we look into sociocultural issues. I will now move on to explain Body and Mind relations.

Body and Mind

Both the body and mind can be considered core groupings of relations that comprise our human subjectivity. Often, these two groups are considered who or what we are, not necessarily as relations, but simply as ‘us’. However, by considering the body and mind as part of a larger framework of constituting relations, we can analyze their relations using the mediating formula. The primary goal is not to answer the question of what the mind and body are specifically, but to create a structural approach that includes and organizes all the relations that constitute both body and mind in order to better understand the human becoming.

Body Relations: I-Body-World

We—each individual human subject—are greatly mediated by our bodies. The body provides the condition of possibility for relations by materially being-in-the-world. The materiality of our bodies—the chemistry and bodily systems—contributes to constituting our human becomingness. The physical bodily aspect—that many transhumanists would like to enhance and even one day overcome—is a major component of our subjectivity. Physical changes, such as taking psychological enhancing medication, sickness, hunger, or the loss or change of certain physical abilities, can dramatically change how we exist in our lifeworld.

To illustrate how my body can affect my relating to the world through technology, I use a simplified example of attempting to take a photograph of a bird out in nature. Under normal circumstances it is advantageous for a bird photographer to be patient and slow in their movements. However, if my body desperately needs to empty its bladder, this biological imperative changes my ability to be patient, and my body’s mediation begins to dominate and supersede the technological relation that I have with my camera and my attempt at taking a photograph. I am a much different photographer in this scenario than I am in a similar scenario where I do not need to use the bathroom.

The concept of being mediated by our bodies is not new. Mark Coeckelbergh (2019) writes ‘we project ourselves towards things through the body and its movement. The moving body is a medium’ (17). He continues by expanding postphenomenology’s use of embodiment by stating that it ‘is not just a particular human-technology relation (Ihde, 1990; Verbeek, 2005); it is the very way we exist in the world’ (18). Lance Strate (2017) points out that even ‘face-to-face communication is simply a differently mediated form of communication, and the body is the medium through which much of nonverbal communication takes place’ (103). Strate continues discussing the mediation of the body by saying (2017: 102):

The differences between the structure and functioning of human eyes and the ears are differences that make a difference […]. When we include all of the senses, not just vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste, but also the bodily senses, the kinetic, vestibular, and proprioceptive, it becomes clear that the nervous system, the brain, and the body in its entirety can be included under the category of media, characterized by specific structures that impose certain constraints and provide certain affordances.

Understanding the body as a medium—as something that we are mediated by—allows us to perceive it in a relational, co-constituting manner.

We are embodied beings, and our bodies make a difference in how we think and interact with the world. Bodies are foundational when it comes to many sociocultural relations such as race, gender, and sexuality. Our bodies also make a difference in how other people engage with us (Butler, 1993). Appearance, ability, and perceptual astuteness all have dramatic effects on a subject’s engagement with the world. These aspects exemplify an entanglement of bodily and sociocultural relations.

Another entanglement is the body and mind groupings. While I identify these relations as two different groups, they are only separate in order to identify and gather together specific relations. Strate (2017) countermands the traditional opposition of body and mind: ‘The mind is not the body, but it emerges out of the body, is contained within the body, is dependent upon the body, but may also affect and alter the body’ (114). Research and debate continue on the brain/mind/body entanglement. The physical brain has a tremendous influence on our minds, or the mind can be understood as emerging from the brain and body (Varela et al., 1992).

Mind Relations: I-Mind-World

The human subject is not an isolated, singular being, but always and already in relations, constantly being constituted by the shifting current state of all the relations that affect it. As with the sociocultural relation subgroups, the mind subgroups are not new but are groupings of already existing areas of study. My goal is not to bring new content to these groups and subgroups, but rather to include them in a cartography that can help guide our investigations into our own constituting relations, keeping a perspective of the whole subject as we do.

We ‘cut’ reality into a specific relation by doing and by deciding, using our mind’s imagination, awareness, consciousness, and perception. The ability of our mind to mediate our experience with the lifeworld is exemplified by the well-known experiment of Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris (1999), who conducted a study where people watched a video and were told to count how many times the team in white passed the basketball. As the team was passing around the ball, a woman in a dark gorilla suit walked between the players, turned to the camera, beat her chest, and then continued out of the screen. Only about 50% of the viewers who were concentrating on the number of passes noticed the gorilla. This demonstrates that even though our eyes receive information, our mind’s attention and intention play a significant role in what we actually perceive.

Some of the subgroups of the mind that I note are imagination, awareness or consciousness, and identity. The concept of identity here, while heavily influenced by the sociocultural, focuses on our mind’s role in our agency of creating our self-identity. Not all identity issues are contained within this subgroup, as the sociocultural also contains many of the identity relations. This will be further explained below (see the section ‘Awareness, Agency, and Identity’). Our mind helps us choose what we focus on, and is where we interpret what our bodily senses detect. It is the mind, through awareness, that helps us regain some of the agency lost to the various other relations and structures in our lives.

The following subcategories of the mind are an attempt to show some of the nuances of this aspect of the human subject. These subcategories are not separate from each other, and even their definitions remain contested. Several areas of study are still trying to figure out exactly what constitutes the mind (fields such as cognitive science, psychology, and the philosophy of mind). However, I use ‘the mind’ as a general grouping that contains mind-related relations, of which I will use the concepts of imagination, awareness/consciousness, and identity as subgroups.

Imagination and Technology. Imagination is one of the relational subgroups of the mind. It is a non-neutral relation, dynamic even within an individual, influencing more at certain times and less at other times. By formulating imagination as a relation, it is possible to use the concept to understand how humans are mediated by this element of our selves, allowing us to become more aware of the enabling and constraining effects on both the individual and broader sociological levels. To demonstrate, I will explore how the imagination affects our relations with technologies.

The concept of the multistability of technology discussed in Chapter 3 is only possible through our ability to imagine. It is our imagination that allows us to perceive technologies in multiple stable ways.2 It is also our imagination that allows us—and hundreds of other species—to both identify and create technologies in the first place. Without being able to identify technology, we would not recognize any object in a tool-based or technological manner. Therefore, whoever (or whatever) does not have an ability to imagine technology will not have or be able to perceive technologies. Through imagination, a rock can be perceived as a hammer or a weapon, and a stick can extend the body to reach something. This first aspect of imagination is the condition for the possibility of perceiving an object in such a way as to accomplish a desired task in a technological manner. It also enables the ability to perceive things in multistable ways.

The second aspect of imagination allows for the design and creation of new tools and technologies. Humans are not the only species that have this ability (cf. Beck, 1980). Vicki Bentley-Condit and E. O. Smith (2010) identify 284 species that have demonstrated a clear ability to identify tools; a portion of those species has also clearly demonstrated an ability to create tools. Benjamin Beck (1980) identifies four categories of how certain species actively create tools: detaching, subtracting, adding/combining, and reshaping. This goes beyond the mere identification of an object for tool use, as in picking up a stick.3

Imagination has its own enabling and constraining qualities. By conceiving of this concept as a relation, we can investigate what is enabled when we have a well-developed imagination. More importantly, we can consider what is constrained, since often what is constrained is backgrounded. Our imagination helps us create technological solutions. However, the danger here, as Heidegger points out (1977: 27–28) is that the enframing aspect of technology contributes to obscuring our ability for non-technological solutions to be revealed to us. Thus, our perception becomes obscured and we tend only to envision technological solutions rather than holding a space for non-technological solutions to be revealed.

For instance, in the contemporary Western world,4 solutions for climate change are predominantly technology based (Preston, 2018). By being aware that we have a strong inclination to use our imagination for technological purposes, we can become aware of our predisposition and then actively search for possible non-technological solutions. Michel Puech (2016) points out that technology can nurture a command-and-control attitude, which is helpful for complicated and closed systems—systems that are engineerable—but not as useful for complex living systems. According to Peter Hershock (2003), ‘The better we get at controlling our circumstances, the more we will find ourselves in circumstances open to and requiring control’ (595). This can lead to a runaway use of technology, which reflects what much of Western culture seems now to be experiencing.

Awareness, Agency, and Identity. In addition to imagination, other subgroups of the mind are awareness, agency, and identity—however, these subgroups do not easily stay separate from each other. As we investigate all of these various constituting relations, we might ask if we are simply a self-emergent system reacting to both external and internal relations? If we are on ‘auto pilot’, we are in an autopoietic mode, mindlessly self-becoming without agential intervention from the aware ‘self’. This is where determinist and structuralist arguments seem to be reasonable.

However, through awareness and agency, a human subject does have some influence over their own constitution, but it requires an enactive approach, a participation of the aware self in how we choose to engage within an intricately complex dance. Our attention and intention towards any specific relation engages our agency; allowing us to influence the relation. What we do not pay attention to can become increasingly determining in our lives (i.e., influencing without our being aware). Our awareness acts as our own internal panopticon, a central aspect that can be directed towards any of our many relations, though it is impossible to be aware of all our relations at once.

Without the entanglement of agency and awareness, we would simply be determined systems, not (at least partially) self-governed through our agency, but rather constructed by an assemblage of constituting relations. Our lives are truly a dance of agency (Pickering, 1995, 2005), one where we can be continually led by the assemblages of our relations, or choose to participate in the dance through our own agency. Barad (2007) describes agency as ‘a matter of intra-acting; it is an enactment, not something that someone or something has’ (178).

Another subgroup of the mind is identity, which, as mentioned, is heavily influenced by culture. However, the basic concept of having an identity—a ‘self’ and a ‘me’— is the part of the subject that is referred to here, the ability to identify as a subject. However, as Stuart Hall (2013) notes, ‘Though they seem to invoke an origin in a historical past with which they continue to correspond, actually identities are about questions of using the resources of history, language and culture in the process of becoming rather than being’ (4). In other words, identity is comprised of an aspect of the mind that is deeply entangled with culture.

The relational group ‘mind’ can help us focus on specific constituting relations of the mind and investigate how they enable and constrain us through the I-mind-world mediation formula. For instance, I can look into how my relational identities—as a practicing naturalist and as a nature photographer—can compete with each other. As a naturalist I might not want to disturb the behavior of the birds I am trying to photograph, especially if it is mating season and the bird in front of me is an endangered species. However, as a nature photographer my photos can help bring awareness to protecting this endangered species. These senses of identity compete with each other, and my awareness is split between them, attempting to find an acceptable compromise. Identifying the various relations of the mind and paying attention to how we are constituted by them increases our agency and ability to interact in a more informed way with our lifeworlds.

Space and Time

Having now described the more human-created relations of sociocultural and technological relations, as well as the core relations of mind and body, I now come to the more infrastructural relations of space and time. In physics these are understood as the first four dimension of reality. Space and time are the ultimate background, the tapestry upon which our universe exists. They are contextualizing relations. As John Urry (2005a) suggest, they are ‘“internal” to the processes by which the physical and social worlds themselves operate, helping to constitute their powers’ (4). Both space and time can be considered mediums through which we relate, and I investigate how we are constituted through those relations.

In Chapter 3 I discuss how Harold Innis (2008) studies the space-time bias of mediums of communication. Shaun Moores (2005) also develops an entire book on media studies around time and space, claiming ‘it is necessary to appreciate the complex ways in which media of communication are bound up with wider institutional, technological and political processes in the modern world’ (3). He advocates for understanding ‘media as operating in the wider temporal and spatial arrangements of society, but also as contributing, reciprocally, to the creation, maintenance or transformation of social time and space’ (4). Anthony Giddens (1979) argues the need to realize ‘the time-space relations inherent in the constitution of all social interaction’ (3). In this chapter, I am also advocating that space and time can and should be understood as relations, which impact the human subject’s continual constitution. By naming them, we can analyze the specificity of those relations and bring to the foreground how they contribute to our own constitution in our everyday5 lives.

Space Relations: I-Space-World

We can think of space as a medium within which we exist and to which we relate. Space defines the physical location, the embeddedness and situatedness of our location in the world. This section investigates the proximal effect of our physical surroundings. Space includes the natural world, as well as the human-made world. Space includes the Earth, air, clouds, atmosphere, and the vastness of outer space. Space is a medium and contributes to our own constitution through our relations with it. John Peters (2015) describes how these elements can be understood as mediums, affecting the species that exist within them. However, space is resistant to being understood singularly. It is easily entangled with other groups of relations such as technology and culture.

Using space as a relation tethers us to the physical world. While our minds and imaginations can get overly immersed in exploring the intricacies of sociocultural relations of power or issues surrounding representation and misrepresentation through the lens of social justice, it is the materiality and tangibility of our immediate surrounding that helps ground us in the here and now. The effects of the different mediums of space are clearly evident in communications. For instance, communicating underwater is vastly different than communicating through air (cf. Peters, 2015), which is vastly different than communication in outer space, in the absence of air. All of these particular elemental mediums are gathered in the general grouping of ‘space’. This creates a way to locate and bring spatial relations to the foreground in order to analyze and recognize their influence on our own constitutionality.

Spatial Entanglements with Other Groups. Rather than discussing subgroups of space, I will present several ways that space can combine with some of the other relational groups. The first is the combination of space and mind, where I investigate the spatial effects on perspective. Space can have a profound effect on a person’s mental state. An example of this is what Frank White (2014: 2) refers to as the Overview Effect:

The Overview Effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit, in transit between the Earth and the moon, or from the lunar surface. It refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality that the Earth is in space, a tiny, fragile ball of life, ‘hanging in the void’, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. The experience often transforms astronauts’ perspective on the planet and humanity’s place in the universe. Some common aspects of it are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

White also posits, ‘mental processes and views of life cannot be separated from physical location. Our “worldview” as a conceptual framework depends quite literally on our view of the world from a physical place in the universe’ (1). Space and mind are thus entangled. What is physically surrounding us can profoundly affect our mind and our perception of the world.6

Media and technology have historically had a profound effect on our understanding of space. Technology has a way of reducing space. For instance, it would take a moderately healthy person 2 ½ days to cover the space between Brussels and Paris by walking, while the train can travel the distance between the two cities in about 1 ½ hours, effectively shrinking our perception of the space since it takes less time to travel between them. Technology has also created virtual space, shaking up the idea of space. Current ICTs are changing aspects of proximity by allowing a virtual proximity. For the most part, the most common virtual space uses two of the five traditional senses (vision and hearing). Video conferencing and video calls are quite common. However, though our other senses of smell, touch, and taste have not entered mainstream usage, there are development attempts underway (cf. Harley et al., 2018).

Being limited to the two senses, virtual proximity is not as engaging as actual proximity, where all of our senses can participate. However, virtual space still dramatically influences our contemporary world, and there are many authors who have investigated how this impacts our lifeworld (see Adams & Thompson, 2016; Lewis, 2020; Meyrowitz, 1985; Rauch, 2018; Turkle, 2011; Van Dijck, 2013; Wellner, 2016). However, virtual proximity tends to disembody a subject, which ‘messes with whereness. In cyberspace you are everywhere and somewhere and nowhere, but almost never here in the positivist sense’ (Stone, 1994: 180, italics in original). Virtual space demonstrates how two of the relational groups can combine together into a seemingly singular relation.

While space comprises the human-made (technological) world, it also comprises the natural world. However, the concept of nature is a social construction (Cronon, 1995). It is not possible to experience nature outside of the socioculturally sedimented values and experiences that have built up in our lifetimes. This does not mean that there is not a ‘natural world’, we simply experience this natural world through a sociocultural filter rather than directly. That said, the natural world does mediate and contribute to our constitution. For instance, researchers are exploring the benefits of spending time in nature and how it can increase both our physical and mental health (Faber Taylor & Kuo, 2006; Louv, 2008; Vitalia, 2013).

Spatial and bodily relations are also entangled. We are always somewhere, embedded and embodied physically. Coeckelbergh (2019) draws attention toward how the body moves through space, pointing out that the embodied relation within postphenomenology ‘does not move enough’ (19). A moving body is necessarily moving through both space and time. And, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (2002) explores how a ‘bodily space can be differentiated from an external space’ (115).

Space is also entangled with sociocultural relations. The idea of personal space—the distance between me and another person in a crowded room—can vary by culture. I am affected by how close someone is to me, not only because of the amount of personal space I prefer, but also because of my sociocultural upbringing. Additionally, Erving Goffman (1956) explores the interaction between the performance of self and space, looking into how these issues of public and private spaces affect our behavior. These are all examples of the entanglement of spatial and sociocultural relations.

Recent Foregrounding of Space Relations. I am writing this during the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, which has caused spatial relations between people to become globally foregrounded. The main response to halt the spread of the virus has been through social distancing: working from home, massively reducing global travel, staying around two meters away from other people, and shutting many national borders. All of these measures involve shifting the use of space in order to stop the transmission of the virus until a vaccine (a technological response) can be first created and then disseminated throughout the global population. This is one of the rare times that proximity moves from the background to the foreground. It is likely that this pandemic has shifted nearly every person’s personal awareness and experience of space on the planet.

Time Relations: I-Time-World

Time is the final group of relations. Time brings unique characteristics and can be challenging to pin down and define.7 We are forever in the present, but both the past and future have mediating affects. Up until now I have discussed the groups of relations as they primarily mediate us in the present moment. I-technology-world, I-sociocultural-world, I-mind-world, I-body-world, and I-space-world all represent mediations in the moment of being mediated. But the present moment is affected by both the past and the future. As Barad (2007: 181) describes:

The past matters and so does the future, but the past is never left behind, never finished once and for all, and the future is not what will come to be in an unfolding of the present moment; rather the past and the future are enfolded participants in matter’s iterative becoming.

In this section I investigate time as a relation in order to understand how the past and future transform the way we presently perceive the world. Time is the relation that brings movement to life. Time is a flow—a process or an action—that affords the becomingness of humans. This flow is one directional. Complexity theory views time as being irreversible,8 an arrow of time. As we are transformed by our experiences, we cannot go back to the way we were. We are always in the present, but we are simultaneously mediated by both past and future. Graham Harman (2007) suggests that for Heidegger, ‘time is the ultimate concealed layer of everything’ (48). In Being and Time, Heidegger (2010) counters the concept of presence,9 which is predicated on the Aristotelian concept of time and which situates the present as separate from the historical past and the future that has not yet come to pass (§6 and §26). Instead, Heidegger believes that a more authentic understanding of time is as a unity of past, present, and future, an ‘ecstatic openness’ (Sheehan 2014: 266).

My sense of time, which is influenced by sociocultural relations, influences my interaction with the world in that moment. For instance, I am late leaving for work in the morning, causing me to rush and do everything quickly. I am affected by both the past (maybe I have been late already twice this week and my boss has let her displeasure known) and the future (I am imagining what will happen if I arrive late again). These are direct relations that I am experiencing with the past-present-future duration of time.

Relating to the Future through Potentiality. Asle Kiran’s (2012) investigates one type of direct relation with a future orientation through the concept of potentiality, which he develops with regard to technological relations. Kiran describes how the future potential of technologies mediates our present experiences, stating that we are ‘directed towards the future, and any kind of planning […is] performed because we presuppose that we have certain possibilities to do something with our lives’ (88). He looks beyond ‘technologies in-use’ (78) and broadens the mediating influence of technology, stating: ‘technological shaping of the lifeworld happens in terms of possible technical mediations, not just actual technical mediations’ (79). This potentiality adds a way of leveraging the future as a relation.

Relating to the Past through Sedimentation. Another way of describing relations with time relates less directly to time and instead relates more because of time. This aspect expands upon the concept of sedimentation, which is the idea that our past experiences with a phenomenon influence each subsequent experience of the same phenomenon (Husserl, 1973; Merleau-Ponty, 2002). For example, our experiences with technologies become sedimented within us the more we use them, eventually causing the object to recede into the background of our attention. Sedimentation is often described by focusing on the use of actual technologies, such as using a hammer, driving a car, or a blind person using a cane to detect things while they are walking. However, sedimentation does not have to be an experience with the actual technology. As soon as awareness of a technology enters a person’s lifeworld, sedimentation begins to be developed within the subject. For instance, consumer marketing advertises the latest technological gadget with the hope of transforming people into wanting to buy and incorporate the object into their lives. If the advertising is successful, the consumer will imagine owning the new technological device, already incorporating the idea of the device into their lifeworld.

We interact with the world in the present, but without past and future there would only be the here-and-now relations mediating the subject and world. Even given this predilection, this is not how our lifeworld works. In any present moment, we are connected with both our history and our future. While in some ways the past and future might not exist in the present, they do exist through their connection within our selves and their transformational abilities. Or, as Braidotti (2017) states, ‘To do justice to the complexity of our times, we need to think of the posthuman present as both the record of what we are ceasing to be (the actual) and the seed of what we are in the process of becoming (the virtual)’ (10). This entanglement of past and future acting upon someone in the present is more thoroughly described by intrasubjective mediation.

Adding Intrasubjective Mediation to the Framework

Having described the grouped relations within the framework, I now bring in the concept of intrasubjective mediation. One way to understand intrasubjective mediation (ISM) is by using postphenomenology’s concept of the embodied relation. This is because intrasubjective mediation reflects the non-neutrality of the transformations from our relations that have taken place within the subject, which thus mediate our perceptions of the world as we engage with the world through them. Portraying the intrasubjective mediating relation using the embodied relation formula looks like the following:

(I-ISM) → world

We perceive through our relational transformations as a type of embodied relation. We are mediated through our sedimented transformations and perceive the world (and our current relations) differently because of this perception. Therefore, looking specifically at technological mediation discussed in Chapter 3, the equation can be updated from I-technology-world to: (I-ISM)-technology-world. However, intrasubjective mediation represents the transformations from all of the relations identified by the framework, not just the technological. Figure 5.2 reflects a way to visualize the expanded technological mediation formula that includes intrasubjective mediation.

Fig. 5.2 The Formula for Intrasubjective Mediation with Technology. Image by author (2019), CC BY 4.0.

Intrasubjective mediation does not discount or ignore all of the other mediating relations, but rather is an additional mediating layer to whatever relations we are in at the present moment. A technological example of this is when I use a camera to take nature photographs. The more I use the camera, the more the camera becomes transparent, receding into the background as my sedimentation grows with use. The more that I use the camera, the more my relation with the camera influences my own constitution, transforming my perception of, and relation with, the world. However, even when I am out in nature without my camera, I notice that I perceive and frame nature through the filter of what would make a good photograph. This can be thought of as a ‘technological gaze’ (Lewis, 2020), which both enables me to be more aware of my surroundings—specifically looking for owls, raptors, and other wildlife, as well as noticing the light and interplay of shadows—but it also limits how I perceive the natural world around me. I end up looking for things, not just looking. I do not experience the natural world around me immediately; rather, I experience the natural world as intrasubjectively mediated through a residual aspect of the photograph based upon my previous experiences.

Intrasubjective Mediation versus ‘I’

Intrasubjective mediation acknowledges how all of our relations both constitute us in the moment and continue to transform us, continuously changing how we perceive and engage with the world. These transformations are not separate from the subject; they are the subject. They are the multiplicity of the human becoming. All relations are mediated through intrasubjective mediation. This enables us to better understand the human subject as an assemblage of the transformations that have occurred through their relational experiences, as well as all of the relations they are experiencing in the present moment. This begs the question, Are humans anything besides intrasubjective mediation? What is the ‘I’ that is still preceding the intrasubjective mediation in the above formula?

My belief is that the ‘I’ includes (and is mediated by) the constituting relations in the person’s life and all the relations that the person has experienced, as well as the potentiality that the person can imagine. The consciousness that is ‘I’ is still part of the mind, which is a part of the mediating whole. Therefore, instead of trying to reductively locate some essential aspect of the subject that we can identify, we can move in the opposite direction and open the idea of the subject as inclusive of all of our relations, current and past.10 Human subjects are greater and more connected than the idea of the standalone human. We can therefore unite the ‘I’ with intrasubjective mediation, referring to our selves as intrasubjectively mediated subjects.

One more step in visually demonstrating a comprehensive framework is to take Figure 5.2 and add the other groups of relations to the technological. This is shown in Figure 5.3, which includes all six relational groups plus the concept of intrasubjective mediation. There is no relation of the human subject that is not intended to be a part of the groupings of relations in Figure 5.3, though there might be relations that I have unintentionally missed (or that have not yet been discovered). It is also important to keep in mind that there are unknown and unknowable relations that also affect us. For example, there could be an unknown toxin near the physical location of your home, which detrimentally affects both your body and mind. While this is potentially knowable if identified, you could live with it for many years without ever knowing. There are also the theoretically unknown and unknowable relations.

Fig. 5.3 The Formula for an Inclusive Intrasubjective Mediation. Image by author (2019), CC BY 4.0.

The intrasubjective mediating framework helps demonstrate that these groups of relations mediate our perception and engagement with the world, moving us beyond focusing on a single group of relations in isolation. By understanding intrasubjective mediation as an embodied relation through which we relate to the world, we can visually demonstrate how intrasubjective mediation mediates the relations we have in our lifeworld.

Even if our focus is on the effects of any one particular group of relations, the framework reminds us that those relations are situated and entangled with multiple other groups of concurrent relations. No one group is privileged in its effect on our own becoming at any one moment in time. The framework describes both the present constituting relations, as well as the aspect of how the transformations from those relations continue to mediate all of our relations as we move through time.

However, Figure 5.3 is clearly still built upon postphenomenology’s I-technology-world formula. While I have expanded the first two parts of the formula, the ‘world’ has not received much attention by me,11 or, indeed, by most postphenomenologists. I believe the formula is helpful in analyzing specific relations and how they mediate and constitute us. However, this process is a teasing apart of reality, or the world, as a whole. By keeping a larger perspective, we can approach understanding our own worlds as being made up of all of our relations and interrelations, which I will describe in more detail in the next chapter. This leaves less reason to retain a world ‘placeholder’ after the list of relations. And yet dropping it removes it as an effective formula for understanding our constitution through our interrelations. Therefore, the next step is integrating the framework into a complex interrelational system of the human becoming.

Intrasubjective Mediation: A Dance of Complexity

To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world. (Rushdie, 2006: 145)

The final part of the human becoming process involves the system of our complex interrelationality. It is this interrelational complexity that gives the sense that in order to understand anything, you must understand everything (see Rushdie quote above). Up until now I have looked at either singular or a combination of mediating relations, showing how the subject is transformed by any of the various groups of relations, as well as intrasubjective mediation. However, human subjects cannot be boiled down to a linear causal algorithm, where all that is needed is to add up the various enabling and constraining relations and end up with a predictive model for the human becoming. In order to understand ‘who and what we are actually in the process of becoming’ (Braidotti, 2013: 12), we need to understand how we are becoming. The relational transformations described by intrasubjective mediation are not discrete transformations that can be added together to create a composite of the human subject. Instead, these transformations are entangled and interrelational, producing an emergent human becoming through a complex process.

The Complexity of Interrelating Relations

We are not simply relational or even multi-relational. Rather, we are a system of complex interrelationality, continually being transformed. Each of our relations is open to being influenced (enabled or constrained) by each of our other relations. These interrelations co-constitute each other. Mapping this complex interrelationality helps us to better understand and situate any one constituting relation within this broader, emergent system. This is an effort to re-envision the subject through a cartography-in-progress and should not be thought of as dogmatic. On the contrary, it is a partially new topic introduced into a conversation that has been going on for centuries, modifying the question, ‘who are we?’ to ‘what are we and how are we becoming?’ Complexity theory provides three insights: 1) we are open systems; 2) we are in a state of non-linear equilibrium; and 3) we are emergent.

Complex systems are open systems. Being complex, humans are open systems as well. We bring in matter and energy and also produce waste that leaves our ‘system’ (Capra, 2005). We are connected with, and constituted by, all of the relations in our lives, making us interconnected beings with no hard boundaries of separation. We are not singularly complex, but are assemblages of nested complex systems (Capra, 1996), from our biological bodies to our complex extended minds.

Complexity theory highlights the near impossibility of predicting how any particular relation will influence the overall constitution of a subject. This is because we are in a state of non-linear equilibrium. While we are in a continual state of being constituted, we are often in a generally stable, if non-linear, equilibrium. However, occasionally we experience major life-changing moments (called bifurcations in complexity theory), which can be caused by a very small nudge from any one of our multitude of relations. This continually changing state can be understood through probabilities but eludes any predictability. Because of the interrelationality between all the groups of relations, any relation can affect any other relation. Therefore, rather than perceiving relations as summative (adding up all relations to get a final sum of influence), they should be thought of as being interrelated in a complex evolving web.

The final concept that aids our understanding of our selves as systems is the idea of emergence. In complexity theory, this is generally referred to as autopoiesis. However, as mentioned, Haraway (2016) has a more succinct way of referring to this process: sympoiesis. This term means making-with rather than the self-making concept of autopoiesis. This way of referring to the process of emergence moves away from the idea of the autonomous self and more accurately reflects how we are mutually being constituted with everything around us. This complex entanglement increases our resilience as no one relation determines us. Each relation’s effect on us is enabled and constrained by many of our other relations, all happening in a sympoietic moment that emerges through time. While I began this chapter by introducing the groups of relations separately, the groupings are not meant to keep relations apart, but rather to allow the analysis of similarities and the ability to identify aspects of what contributes to our constitution.

Agency, Education, and Literacy: Understanding Degrees of Influence

Relating back to media literacy, how can the framework enhance our awareness concerning the effects of our media relations? Increasing our awareness allows us greater agency, without which we risk living as beings determined by the technologies in our lives (Puech, 2016: 173). One goal in philosophy of technology is in enhancing our awareness of the effects of technology. As Yoni Van Den Eede (2016) argues, ‘From McLuhan to Heidegger to Ihde to Latour to Feenberg, […] a thread can be said to run, uniting them in one great perceptual project: the spotting of blind spots, and the accompanying attempt of remedying them’ (108). In order to become media-literate, we need to better understand our own complex interrelational becoming, which allows us to situate how our media relations interrelate with our other relations. In other words, this framework provides a cartography that enables us to become self-literate, becoming aware of all of our interrelationality, which then allows us to become more media literate.

What contributes to the amount of influence a particular relation has at any particular moment? While we are being constituted through a complex ecosystem of relations, all influencing each other in small and large ways, they also can be affected by our agency and our awareness, giving us the ability to—at least partially—manipulate the process of our own becoming. We are dynamic assemblages of relations, most of which we pay little or no attention to. However, many of these relations are available to us to become aware of, which allows us the opportunity to have some influence upon them.

Some relations in our lives have a great impact upon us, while others do not. This is often identified only in hindsight, though we cannot be certain that we ever truly know the full extent of the impact of any relation. For example, a person’s ability to earn money derives from many possible influences: the situation they were born into, their upbringing, their immediate location, their level of education, their culture, race, gender, or simply being in the right place at the right time. Some relations are more difficult to change by a subject’s agency. This does not mean, however, that a subject is completely determined. The subject has agency in how they interpret or understand this less flexible relation. This is Foucault’s (Foucault et al., 1987) point about awareness of power: we cannot do much to change the fact that there is a power relation, but we can change how we perceive and relate to the power relation.

Ideally, this new framework will help us better understand and utilize our own agency, similar to the later Foucault. Tamar Sharon (2014: 168) summarizes some of Foucault’s ideas:

Rather, freedom here is the possibility of modifying the impact of power on one’s subjectivity, it is a practice of actively engaging with one’s relationship to power and so a practice of subject constitution. Freedom is not about escaping structures of power but of interacting with them. Because there is no authentic or natural self that can be liberated, freedom lies in the dynamic, aesthetic and experimental self-creation undertaken in the practices of the self.

Sharon’s take on Foucault situates the subject between being completely independent and autonomous in relation to the world and being completely determined by the structures of power that make up that world. This is a very constructive starting point from which to think about how humans can relate to the technological—as well as other—relations that constitute them. This interrelating framework enables us to create a perspective in order to better understand the relations of influence. I prefer to use ‘relations of influence’ rather than ‘relations of power’, as I feel it is a more inclusive and descriptive way to portray these relations and their effects on us. These relations of influence are not just between the thing of influence and the subject, there are also interactions between the various relations.

For example, in my role as a nature photographer I can look for the interrelations that affect my photography: the physical place where I am (the landscape, the weather, the lighting, etc.), as well as my sense of identity (both mind-related and sociocultural). Also, my body (hunger level, brain chemistry, physical ability to manipulate the camera technology, etc.), and my historical experience with both the technology and the place (have I been there before, do I know where I am going or what I am trying to find) all influence me. Additionally, the future intention of what I am trying to accomplish—my imagined potentiality for the final image and my plans for that image, such as selling it, sharing it with my social network, entering it for a competition, etc.—all influence the photograph that I take. This is a very brief list of some of the relations that comprise the interrelationality of my experience taking nature photographs. In the next chapter I will use the framework to analyze the relations and interrelations that I experienced in the moment of taking a museum selfie, developing an instrument in the process that can be generalized and used for media literacy.

Concluding Thoughts

Leveraging the concept of technological mediation and turning the concept into a more inclusive and situating framework helps us to circumvent our attachment to a specific group of relations, such as focusing solely on the technological or the sociocultural. The intrasubjective mediating framework helps deterritorialize the concept of the individual, reterritorializing it into an interrelated human becoming. In summary, there are three parts that make up the systemic intrasubjective mediating framework:

  1. The transformations that occur from the relations in our lives are not neutral, and they continue to mediate us as we perceive and engage with the world through them. This is intrasubjective mediation.
  2. All of the relations in our lives can be gathered into six groups: technology, sociocultural, mind, body, space, and time.
  3. Human subjects can be understood as open and complex systems whose constituting relations are constantly interrelating in non-linear and emergent ways.

There can be a tendency to view how a specific technology influences us in a singular manner. Even with the concept of multistability, we may consider that only one variant is acting upon us at a time, co-constituting our selves and our lifeworlds. This framework enables us to reflexively comprehend specific effects that technologies have, allowing us to more intentionally decide which technologies we invite into our lives and how we use them. We are an inter- and intra-connected complex assemblage moving through space and time, constantly becoming. This framework helps to broaden our understanding that there is a complexity of entangled relations, which constitute us. We experience our being-in-the world as a complex, entangled experience of relations, all influencing us whether we pay attention to them or not. Foregrounded or backgrounded, a multitude of relations exist, and it is impossible to disentangle them.

This new framework enables the ability to identify the multiplicity of relations that all contribute to our human experience of becoming. We can think of the six groups as different mediums through which we become. The framework can help us better understand the constituting factors that contribute to our human becoming across cultures and across time, aiding research in the social sciences by providing a situating cartography. The framework helps researchers move beyond a deterministic view, where subjectivity is determined by a single group or subgroup (be it power, economy, class, gender, nature, nurture, etc.) and beyond an ‘agency’ view, where the subject has full agency and other things like technology and culture are simply neutral.

Variations on Relations

While the framework includes what I consider to be an inclusive and comprehensive organization of the differing relations that affect us, I leave room for the unknown and even unknowable (cf. Fig. 5.1). One of the main goals of postphenomenology and media ecology, as well as several media literacy approaches, is to help us become aware of the ‘ground’ in the figure/ground concept. In other words, to help us to perceive things that influence us but of which we are typically unaware. Adding a placeholder for the unknown/unknowable keeps our awareness open to the limits of what we know and helps compel us to continue seeking new influencing relations.

Additionally, I have been discussing the relations in our lives through a positive lens, meaning relations that we are engaged with. However, not having a relation is, in effect, a relation as well. Judith Butler (1993) critiques Foucault’s notions of discourse and materiality by saying they ‘fail to account for not only what is excluded from the economies of discursive intelligibility that he describes, but what has to be excluded for those economies to function as self-sustaining systems’ (35). In other words, both our relations and our lack of relations—relations we may not have access to for a myriad of reasons—constitute us. We therefore can consider the absence of a relation as still a relation.

What does it mean to be ‘human’ in this age of ubiquitous digital communication? How can we contextualize and situate both the benefits and drawbacks of the transformative effects that ICTs have on humans as subjects? Our communication mediums are transforming more quickly than we as subjects and societies can completely adjust to. These changes transform us in important ways that need to be evaluated alongside of the changing media technologies. In other words, to fully become media literate we need an ability to be self-literate—to understand that a change in media technology causes a transformation in both our selves and our lifeworlds. By better understanding how we are interrelatedly constituted, we will be better able to judge new media and be better equipped to decide if and how we invite them into our lives.

This is the agency that media literacy and this intrasubjective mediating framework can enhance. However, how exactly can media literacy leverage this framework? An instrument is needed to assist with the pragmatic use of the framework in order to better situate the effects of media technologies. In order to develop such an instrument, in Chapter 6 I return to my experience taking a museum selfie and use it to engage with the framework.


1 Parts of this chapter overlap with the chapter I wrote (Lewis, 2020) for the book Perception and the Inhuman Gaze.

2 When Kyle Whyte (2015) theorizes that there are two conceptions of multistability, he names one imaginative multistability (and the other practical multistability).

3 For examples of using postphenomenology to discuss animal tool use, see Ihde and Malafouris (2018) and Wellner (2017b).

4 This refers to the specific macroperception of a culture. Our cultures have an influence on how much we use our technological imagination (cf. Ihde, 1990).

5 Alfred Schütz (cf.; Schütz & Luckmann, 1973) uses spatial arrangements as the foundation to his structure of everyday life, followed by temporal and then social arrangements. See also Laurence Claeys (2007, chapter 6) for a helpful schematic and description of Schütz’s conceptual framework.

6 For another excellent study on the impact of the visual image of Earth from space, see Sheila Jasanoff (2001).

7 See Canales (2016) for a discussion on the debate between Einstein and Bergson concerning time.

8 This concept of time rejects the part of Newtonian mechanics that views time as being reversible.

9 See also Derrida (1982).

10 The future is also included in the present through the concept of potentiality discussed previously.

11 I thank Alberto Romele for first pointing this out to me.

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