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Josef Barla

I studied Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Vienna. My research interests include Philosphy of Technology, Feminist Epistemology, History and Philosophy of Technoscience, Critical Race Studies, and Theories of Embodiment and the Body. My primary area of research interest lies at the intersection of the Philosophy and Politics of Technology, New Materialisms, and the Philosophy of the Body. I am particularly interested in developing philosophical methods for examining the ethical and political implications of new technologies (especially, biometrical identification technologies and genetic testing), and how these technologies reshape our understanding of the body as well as what it means to be human. Within this context, my research traces the technoscientific processes through which specific materialities and meanings, in their entanglement, are enacted simultaneously. To this end, I employ a process-oriented and relational understanding of both technology and the body.



PhD Project:

Diffracting the Rays of Technoscience:
Science, Technology, and the Mechanics of Materializing Marked Bodies

My dissertation project investigates how specific materialities and, with them, ontologies are enacted through technologies and technoscientific practices. Through a reading of Bruno Latour’s philosophy of technology and being simultaneously informed by considerations of the Strong Programme of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (Barnes 1974; Bloor 1976) and Gilbert Simondon’s (1958) work, I argue for an understanding of technology as a process rather than a substance or a mere artifact. Employing the optical metaphor of diffraction as methodological tool, I subsequently outline an understanding of the material body as the intra-active effect of a field of forces, allowing it not only to be understood as always already entangled with technologies but also as anything but a mute, passive object.
Within the concept of the apparatus of bodily production, I tie these philosophical considerations together. Understanding apparatuses of bodily production, following the epistemology of the quantum physicist and philosopher Karen Barad (2007), as material-discursive practices that help constituting specific phenomena, of which they simultaneously form a part, I develop an analytical method for techno-philosophical investigations of the processes through which specifically reconfigured bodies—that is, bodies marked by race, ethnicity, dis/ability, and gender—come to matter in both senses of the word. Such a concept of the apparatus of bodily production functions on two levels. On the one level, it refers to specific sites where biological, technological, social, economic, and political forces intra-act and in doing so mutually materialize a specific phenomenon. On the other level, it functions as an analytical tool for techno-philosophical analyses of technologies and bodies in their multiple entanglements. In the following, I use this method for a theorization of two phenomena: the spirometer—a medical instrument that was invented in the 1850s by the British surgeon John Hutchinson—and the Human Provenance Pilot Project—a project initiated by the UK Border Agency in 2009, involving DNA and isotope testing of asylum seekers to determine their supposed “true country of origin”.
Analyzing the techno-biopolitical history of the spirometer, I demonstrate how it not only produced the entity it was measuring, that is, vital capacity, but also the corresponding bodies in their very materialities, marking black bodies, due to their supposed lower vitality, as inferior by nature. Similarly, in the case of the Human Provenance Pilot Project, I illustrate how, from a philosophical perspective, the project has not so much revealed supposed truths about the bodies under investigation but rather reconfigured them by intertwining technology and technoscientific practices with biology, race, ethnicity, and nationality, determining—but at the same time also materializing—what counts as an authentic Somali body, and with it the bodies that were allowed to pass through the borders and those which were not. Against this backdrop, I argue that such an approach allows not only to understand that technology and politics cannot be separated from each other but also to trace the practices and processes through which specific reconfigurings of material bodies occur in their entanglement with particular technologies, as well as their ethical and political consequences.



Email: josef.barla [at] univie.ac.at
Phone: + 43 (0) 1 4277 - 49469

Univ. Prof. Dr. Birgit Sauer

Institut für Politikwissenschaft
Universitätsstr. 7
A-1010 Vienna
University of Vienna | Universitätsring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43-1-4277-0