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Dr. Irena Hayter (University of Leeds): Presentation on "Twenty Degrees of Freedom, or Why Do Roboticists Dream of Synthetic Women?" at Freie Universität Berlin

Dr. Irena Hayter (University of Leeds) gives presentation at Freie Universität Berlin: "Twenty Degrees of Freedom, or Why Do Roboticists Dream of Synthetic Women?" (January 17, 2019, 4.00 pm).

News from Jan 17, 2019

"Twenty Degrees of Freedom, or Why Do Roboticists Dream of Synthetic Women?"

Popular media and robotics literature routinely explain Japan’s acceptance of robots with a uniquely robophilic worldview formed by Shinto animism and Buddhist ideas of transmigration. In order to problematize such ahistorical culturalist assumptions, I approach gendered humanoid robots in Japan through the fantasy construct of the artificial woman, a figure that is transnational as well as radically modern. My analysis is situated in two very distinct historical moments – the interwar years and the present – and the material and discursive forces that shaped them. In both Japan and the West, the 1920s and 1930s were marked by technological advances in reproducibility and automation, by a Taylorist rationalisation of human bodies and by blurred boundaries between life and simulation. The interwar years saw Japan’s first ‘robot boom’ and a proliferation of cultural images of artificial humans, but they were also a time of unprecedented female mobility, in all literal and figurative registers of the term. I argue that the female android was a symbolic-ideological structure mediating fears and anxieties about gender and technocratic modernity that are strikingly similar to our own. Through the work of contemporary artists who engage with Japanese humanoid robots, I scrutinize the psychic and ideological investments that continue to sustain the fantasy of the man-made artificial woman. 

Dr Irena Hayter is Lecturer in Japanese Studies at the University of Leeds. Her work on modernism, gender and the cultural politics of the interwar years in Japan has appeared in positions: asia critiqueBunron – Zeitschrift für literaturwissenschaftliche Japanforschung, and Japan Forum, amongst others.

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