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Learning how kinds matter: A posthuman rethinking Ian Hacking’s concepts of kinds, dynamic nominalism and the looping effect

Clara O'Shea

The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


Ian Hacking, Kinds, Posthuman, Sociomaterial, Becoming, Learning


What does it mean to learn in a network? What does it mean to be a particular kind of learner? To develop and work towards a particular kind of being? Does every instantiation of a network lead to a different form of being? If networks are, as Jones (2016: 486) says “interactive processes that co-constructively shape persons”, then how contingent are these? How much does the social and material elements of the network contribute to the learner’s understanding of their own personhood?
This paper is an exploration of Ian Hacking’s work on ‘making up people’ (e.g. Hacking 1986, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2004, 2006a, 2006b). Hacking posits that the possibilities for people are bounded, determined by what is imaginable and articulable, what is named and described. This naming of people, or classification, is part of an iterative, dynamic process in which the names and the named emerge simultaneously and in interaction with each other, changing the “space of possibilities for personhood”. In this paper, I link that concept to notions of ‘becoming’ in networked learning and suggest Hacking provides a useful frame to think about how learners come to know about and enact particular ways of being. 
I start by briefly summarising Hacking’s key concepts of kinds, dynamic nominalism and the looping effect, and outline Hacking’s framework. I argue that Hacking is offering a useful onto-epistemology for thinking about 'becoming' as part of a sociocultural network of humans, institutions and social processes. I then briefly describe posthumanism and explore how a posthuman and sociomaterial approach can help round out the important missing element in Hacking’s theory – the materials and technologies that are crucial in understanding any learning assemblage. In bringing together these approaches, seemingly inoperable binaries collapse and ‘becoming’ becomes a matter of constant process and persistent re-workings.  This offers productive ways to think about learning as an emergent entanglement of social, the material and the technological processes that are constantly re-working and re-creating what it means to be ‘made up’.

Full Paper - .pdf


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