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Fragmenting wholes


Martha Graham and contraction; touch; trauma; relational architectures; fragmentation; politics of technology via gender


Wajcman, Judy “From Women and technology to Gendered Technoscience” in Information, Communication & Society Vol. 10, No. 3, June 2007, pp. 287–298.

Manning, Erin “Engenderings: Gender, Politics, Individuation” in Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty. pp. 84-109. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Judy Wajcman’s “From Women and Technology to Gendered Technoscience” figures an overview of movements in feminist thought that led to the emergence of an interconnected feminism embracing of technology and its potential impacts on women’s agency and liberation. Outlining the trajectory of bias that has historically pit radical feminism as provocatively distinct from liberal feminism, as from socialist feminism, Wajcman states “in reality there were always interconnections” (Wajcman, 288). Nevertheless, bridging off of the perceived differences between these threads of feminist politic, Wajcman targets a common area of concern for feminism in the 90s: scientific and technical institutions, and the professional participation of women. Examining processes and policies that direct how technology is developed and used, she explains, became and has remained useful as a window through which the formation of gender constructs can be understood. “The central premise of feminist technoscience”, Wajcman writes, “…is that people and artefacts co-evolve: the materiality of technology affords or inhibits the doing of particular gender power relations” (295).

Erin Manning engages a delineation in her book Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty. Her chapter four in particular, “Engenderings: Gender, Politics, Individuation”, connects a symbiosis of touch between people to the origins of conceiving a body-politic, particularly in women. Concerned with a comprehension of processes by which materiality and sensory experience relate and push/pull, and working toward the denaturalisation of predominant discourses on gender identity, Manning builds a theory of transformation through transduction of the body: a “politics of touch...about potential energy” (Manning, 102)—a relational experience of becoming...more than being.

Using Tango as analogy, Manning activates the role of touch in the dance to point to the continuum along which both the sensory body, and conception of self-other, flows. She posits the perceived power dynamics of the dance (with a ‘lead’ and ‘follow’) as false, and instead remounts the relation between a pair as a signal of a coevolution and interconnected bond in cultural and psychological self-development. The mechanism of touch, Manning proposes, is an active yet static “material that cannot complete the process of materialization” (87)—“when I reach to touch you, I touch the you that will become in response to my reaching toward” (87).

Inserting Martha Graham at this point (the mother of modern dance technique), I wish to draw some attention to a question that emerges for me, in response to Manning’s process of touch. What about those who cannot, or wish to not be, touched—specially in consideration of circumstances where the sensory touch is unwelcome, blocked, or diverted as a result of illness, violence, or pain?

Graham’s artistic philosophy for her method-bending practice grew from her concepts of sacrifice, contraction, and release, as evident in the movement of the body [See: Martha Graham Technique 1938-1939]. In particular, Graham developed her technique of contraction after seeing the physical manifestation of grief in the body of a woman who had lost her child. I introduce this as a representational means of bending Manning’s proposal further in the direction it already leans, encouraging that not only is a presence of touch between people a process which “involves potentiality at its most fertile (that)… calls forth the link between the incorporeal and the material” (90), but that the relation of touch is a process occurring within, and specifically for those changing in response to trauma.

Manning acknowledges that one of the problems of touch as “a paradigm to a changing notion of politics is that we can touch one another in view of the norms by which we identify one another as individual rather than individuating bodies” (88). For those who withdraw or forgo free interplay with the bodies of others, whose transformations result from a survival instinctively protected and a potentiality guarded and ambiguous, what about their processes of individuation? How are they identified? Manning states, “violence of individuation creates potential energy. Violence here operates as a denominator for instability: systems of individuation are volatile…(where) matter and form interact in an exchange that is not based on individual equality” (98), in other words… the processes are unpredictable out of necessity. But while Manning points to an almost liberatory quality of the provoking sensory-dialogue found ‘in relation’, Graham’s work and that of performers who focus on somatic knowledge and utilize experiential learning, build embodiment which recognizes disjointedness that can incorporate a body-mind flux that is edified from within while augmenting movements in relation to perception. For me, I consider this insatiable cycle as a perfectly fragmenting whole, and conceptualize it as a connected yet refracted version of Manning’s antagonistic process of engendering by individuation.

Brian Massumi, when referring to behaviours inspired through interactive art, refers to “the thinking-feeling of what happens” (Massumi, 6), while Rafael Lozano-Hemmer deems the potentials of this flux as a “relational architecture” (13). To transfer this knowledge into our use of technology, digital communication platforms and the Internet in particular, it is certainly the case that most operate according to functional architectures. Rules exist and methods of communication are incorporated, but not unlike the fragmentary yet fluid nature of processes of interaction, how it is relationally impactful hinges on the politics of the user. Feminist technoscience is socialized where is it recognized, yet for those who engage without acknowledging a gendered lens, Sadie Plant argued that “digital technologies facilitate the blurring of boundaries between humans and machines, and between male and female, enabling their users to choose their disguises and assume alternative identities” (Wajcman, 291).

Both Wajcman and Manning approach the complexities of ‘mutual shaping’ through engagement, an arena of discussion which opens up to connections in sensory research and incorporation of kinesthetic knowledge in learning and empathy. Whether the relations at play are between self-other or self-being, the potentials for empowerment may come through processes that are validating of human susceptibility and vulnerability. This living of a relational-architecture is a process that I think-feel is required to an individuated becoming, no matter how unbalanced it must remain in process, and whether it must be encountered between beings, or remain in one.


Massumi, Brian “The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens: A Semblance of a Conversation”. Montréal: Université de Montréal. 2008.

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