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A philosophy of “becoming with” as “becoming alongside”

In foundational research, I went through a philosophical shift from “being” (in the sense of Hubert Dreyfus’ reading of Heidegger) towards “becoming”  — as I was writing a finalization of Open Innovation Learning in Chapter 9.  As I reflect more, my view of systems as living can be expressed as “becoming with“, and more precisely “becoming alongside“.

This is influenced not so much directly from philosophy, but from the ecological anthropology of Tim Ingold, as indicated in “Anthropology Beyond Humanity” in 2013.

I conclude with just two proposals.

First, every animate being is fundamentally a going on in the world. Or more to point, to be animate — to be alive — is to become. And as Haraway (2008: 244) stresses, ‘becoming is always becoming with—in a contact zone where the outcome, where who is in the world, is at stake’.

Thus whether we are speaking of human or other animals, they are at any moment what they have become, and what they have become depends on whom they are with. If the Saami have reindeer on the brain, it is because they have grown up with them, just as the reindeer, for their part, have grown up with the sounds and smells of the camp.  [….]

My preference […] would be to think of animate beings in the grammatical form of the verb. Thus ‘to human’ is a verb, as is ‘to baboon’ and ‘to reindeer’. Wherever and whenever we encounter them, humans are humaning, baboons are babooning, reindeer reindeering. Humans, baboons and reindeer do not exist, but humaning, babooning and reindeering occur — they are ways of carrying on (Ingold 2011: 174–175).

Secondly, my ‘anthropology beyond the human’ would be just that: it would be anthropology, not ethnography, and it would be beyond the human, not multispecies.

We have already seen that a relational approach to human and animal becoming refutes the logic of the multispecies. But it also tells us that in our inquiries we join with, and learn from, the human and animal becomings (Ingold 2013a: 6–9) alongside which we carry on our own lives.  [….]

Thus in anthropology we do not make studies of people, or indeed of animals. We study with them (Ingold 2013b: 2–4). The aim of such study is not to seek a retrospective account, looking back on what has come to pass. It is rather to move forward, in real time, along with the multiple and heterogeneous becomings with which we share our world, in an active and ongoing exploration of the possibilities that our common life can open up. And just as in life, becoming continually overtakes being, so in scholarship the scope of anthropology must forever exceed the threshold of humanity.  [Ingold 2013-05, pp. 20-21, editorial paragraphing added]

  • Haraway, D. 2008. When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Ingold, T. 2011. Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Ingold, T. 2013a. Prospect. In T. Ingold and G. Pálsson (eds), Biosocial Becomings: Integrating Social
    and Biological Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ingold, T. 2013b. Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. Abingdon: Routledge.

Thinking of relations between beings as verbs, rather than beings as nouns, gives more a feeling of time, if not motion.

This publication was officially presented as the Edward Westermarck Memorial Lecture at the Finnish Anthropological Society in May 2013.  A less formal reading of the paper was recorded at Macquarie University in October 2013.

Becoming-with doesn’t derive as cleanly from the metaphysics of being and becoming extending back to the ancient Greeks.  It relates alongside ecological anthropology, which can be placed alongside a more general context of ecological epistemology, for which a citable definition in philosophy is relatively recent.

Ecological epistemology (EE) demarcates an area of convergence between contemporary theories whose common core is the recognition of the agency of natural processes, objects, and materials. EE encompasses the knowledge emerging from the assumption of symmetry between things and thought, human and nonhuman beings, and historical and natural processes. The claim of a symmetrical ontology developed in the framework of the new philosophy of materialism has demanded intense work in order to overcome philosophical constructivism that takes knowledge as a mental construct, regardless of its material base. The idealist perspective in this approach takes knowledge as a representation of reality, which is processed through the logical operation of abstraction and detachment from its empirical object. The assumption of symmetry leads to a knowledge no longer “about” but “with” the other human and nonhuman beings. From this perspective, EE avoids diluting culture into nature or assimilating nature into culture but seeks to merge the human and natural histories considering all, nonhumans and humans, coresidents, and “co-citizens” of the same world. [Carvalho, 2016]

Ecological epistemology relates alongside ecological anthropology, that relates alongside the ecological psychology that introduced a theory of affordances.  Here’s footnote 310, from Open Innovation Learning section 9.2, that places Ingold alongside J.J. Gibson, alongside Gregory Bateson and an Ecology of Mind.

Ecological anthropology, as practiced by Tim Ingold, builds on the ecological psychology of J.J. Gibson.

Gibson wanted to know how people come to perceive the environment around them. The majority of psychologists, at least at the time when Gibson was writing, assumed that they did so by constructing representations of the world inside their heads….. The mind, then, was conceived as a kind of data-processing device, akin to a digital computer, and the problem for the psychologist was to figure out how it worked. But Gibson’s approach was quite different. It was to throw out the idea, that has been with us since the time of Descartes, of the mind as a distinct organ that is capable of operating upon the bodily data of sense. Perception, Gibson argued, is not the achievement of a mind in a body, but of the organism as a whole in its environment, and is tantamount to the organism’s own exploratory movement through the world. If mind is anywhere, then, it is not ‘inside the head’ rather than ‘out there’ in the world. To the contrary, it is immanent in the network of sensory pathways that are set up by virtue of the perceiver’s immersion in his or her environment. Reading Gibson, I was reminded of the teaching of that notorious maverick of anthropology, Gregory Bateson. The mind, Bateson had always insisted, is not limited by the skin (Bateson 1973: 429) (Ingold, 2000b, pp. 2–3).

  • Bateson, Gregory. 1972. “Form, Substance, and Difference.” In Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1987 reprint, 454–71. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

These are background contexts for a paradigm of co-responsive movement, in Open Innovation Learning section 9.2.

Co-responsive movement is a joining with, in an ongoing sympathy of living things going along together. Joining with is an “interpenetration of lifelines in the mesh of social life … in a world where things are continually coming into being through processes of growth and movement” in a generative form when contrary forces of tension and friction are pulled tightly into a knot. This is in contrast with “joining up” as assemblies that can “be a readily decomposed as composed”. “Untying the knot … is not a disarticulation or decomposition. It does not break things into pieces. It is rather a casting off, whence lines once bound together go their separate ways”.320

320 Joining up can more formally be called interstitial differentiation. Joining with is exterior articulation, as in agencement traced to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, assemblage used by Manuel DeLanda, or compositionism advanced by Bruno Latour (Ingold, 2017, pp. 13–15).

The fine distinction between “becoming-with” and “becoming-alongside” shows up in a reference to Ingold (2017) in footnote 322 of Open Innovation Learning section 9.2.  While “with” is not exclusively restricted to beings and/or things at a single point in time, “alongside” better suggests parallel sequentiality of those beings with a passage of time.

Co-responding “is the process by which beings or things literally answer to one another over time, for example in the exchange of letters or words in conversation, or of gifts, or indeed in holding hands”321. Members co-responding with each other carry on alongside one another over time, answering contrapuntally.322 A theory of co-responding was foreshadowed in John Dewey’s social view of communication, meaning “the attainment of a certain ‘like-mindedness’, enabling those with different experiences of life, both young and old, to carry on together”.323 This sense of communication is “not about the exchange of information, as communication is often understood today; it is rather about forging a concordance”.

321I prefer the more active labels of co-responsive and co-responding, for which Ingold builds a theory of human correspondence. “I propose the term correspondence to connote their affiliation. Social life, then, is not the articulation but the correspondence of its constituents. [….] The sense in which I do intend the term differs from this precisely as filiation differs from alliance. It is not transverse, cutting across the duration of social life, but longitudinal, going along with it” (Ingold, 2017, p. 14).

322 Whereas articulation associates with “and“, co-responding associates with “with“. “The distinction between the kinds of work done here with these little words ‘and’ and ‘with’ is all-important. The logic of the conjunction is articulatory; that of the preposition differential. The limbs and muscles of the body, the stones and timbers of the cathedral, the voices of choral polyphony or the members of the family: these are not added to but carry on alongside one another. Limbs move, stones settle, timbers bind, voices harmonize, and family members get along through the balance of friction and tension in their affects. They are not ‘and . . . and . . . and’ but ‘with . . . with . . . with’, not additive but contrapuntal. In answering – or responding – to one another, they co-respond” (Ingold, 2017, p. 14).

323 Dewey saw life as coproduced with others, socially. “Since no living being can perpetuate itself indefinitely, or in isolation, every particular life is tasked with bringing other lives into being and with sustaining them for however long it takes for the latter, in turn, to engender further life. The continuity of the life process is therefore not individual but social” (Ingold, 2017, p. 14).

[Open Innovation Learning] can be seen as opening up communications, sharing artifacts in common and learning in a larger community.324 This takes up “an approach that understood how time, movement, and growth were together generative of the forms of living things rather than merely ancillary to their expression”.325

324 Ingold’s proposal of a theory of human correspondence is cited as concordant with pragmatic philosophy and theory of education. “Dewey was particularly struck by the affinity between the words ‘communication’, ‘community’, and ‘common’. This, he insisted, is not just an accident of etymology. It rather points to a fundamental condition for the possibility of social life. ‘Men live in a community’, he wrote, ‘in virtue of the things which they have in common; and communication is the way in which they come to possess things in common’ (Dewey 1966: 4) (Ingold, 2017, p. 14)

325 Tim Ingold cites Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution (1911) as turning point in his research.
“The year was 1983, and I was in the throes of writing a book on the idea of evolution, and on how it had figured in theories of biology, history, and anthropology from the nineteenth century to the present. [….] It turned into a Bergson-inspired critique of the entire legacy of Darwinian historicism in the human sciences” (Ingold, 2014, p. 157).

Little words make a difference.  My philosophy focused on being; then becoming; then becoming-with; and has refined to becoming-alongside.  These are rather fine distinctions.  Scholarly writing drives precision.

References

Carvalho, Isabel. 2016. “Ecological Epistemology (EE).” In Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions, edited by Henri Gooren, 1–3. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-08956-0_19-1

Ingold, Tim. 2000b. “General Introduction.” In The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill, 1–7. Routledge.

Ingold, Timothy. 2013-05. “Anthropology beyond Humanity.” Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 38 (3): 5–23.

Ingold, Tim. 2013-10. Anthropology beyond Humanity. Web Video. Sydney, Australia: Macquarie University. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqMCytCAqUQ

Ingold, Tim. 2014. “A Life in Books.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20 (1): 157–159. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12088.

Ingold, Tim. 2017. “On Human Correspondence.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 23 (1): 9–27. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12541.

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