Mike Ryder, Literature and Philosophy Research, Lancaster, May 2017

My research explores the relationship between literature and philosophy, with a particular focus on American science fiction published during the Vietnam War, and emerging theories of biopolitics grounded in the same period. This means I read authors such as Heinlein, Le Guin and Dick alongside philosophers such as Foucault, Deleuze and Agamben (writing much later) to explore the intersections and extrapolations born from examining these two distinctive fields side-by-side.

I am especially interested in the relationship between literature, philosophy and technology – in particular, the tension between the human and the machine. Computer technology came to public attention during the Second World War and reached its apogee with the famous ENIAC machine demonstrated to the public in 1946. Described in the press as a ‘giant brain’, ENIAC was one of the first electronic general-purpose computers, and helped pave the way for new disciplines such as cybernetics and cognitive psychology, in which the academy began to think of the human brain as a form of computer, or machine.

These theories reached new heights during the Vietnam War, in a period I have described as the ‘Vietnam Imaginary’. As computer technology found new and deadly uses on the field of battle, it also increasingly found its way into people’s homes. This ambivalent and often troubled relationship is reflected in the science fiction literature of the period and feeds back into academic and social discourse surrounding the relationship between the human and the machine. As the State seeks to ‘roboticise’ subjects through monitoring and surveillance, we must ask: How and why are humans transformed into compliant robot subjects? Are robots truly the ideal citizens? Is the AI the ultimate destination for the biopolitical sovereign State?

To find out more about this project and my other related interests, browse my research blogs. You can also see my researcher profile on the Lancaster University website.

[Updated January 2018]