Excavating Radical Futures: Puppets, Robots, And The Fight For Technology
Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
This project argues that traditional puppetry offers a practice-based approach to think through political and ethical issues in technology and communication. Drawing on three summers of ethnographic participant engagement at Bread and Puppet Theater, a historic and internationally famous political puppet theater, the chapters pair traditional puppetry with visual and textual analysis of contemporary technologies like Sophia, sex robots, and the Cyborg Foundation, and the history of cybernetics and science fiction. Examining this history uncovers the implicit and explicit values and assumptions embedded in the objects and technologies themselves, as well as how popular understandings and representations of those objects can reinforce or counter those narratives. These distinct points of origin took puppetry and robotics in diverging directions, from material negotiation to domination. The consequences of this shift have ongoing repercussions for the way that technology is popularly represented, as well as for how political engagement is conceptualized and enacted. The project concludes by returning to puppetry, and to feminist science fiction and Afrofuturism, to offer possibilities for the future and directions for new work.