RESEARCH

Why We Struggle with Ambiguity: The Quiddity Question


APRIL 2022

Very happy to announce that I have a book deal for a monograph rooted in my Ph.D. research. The book will be called Why We Struggle with Ambiguity: The Quiddity Question by Kathleen Bryson and Volker Sommer, linked here. It addresses the evolutionary and cultural formation of prejudice towards othered groups, which is ever and sadly topical, eg. the devastation of Ukraine. We also theorise solutions to potentially "hard-wired" biases. It will be published by Ethics Press International, a long-standing press of primarily philosophical books. It will be published hardcover in March 2023. All will be revealed at a later date...

EDUCATION
 

Ph.D. Evolutionary Anthropology (February 2017) - University College London, London, UK                                           

Thesis title: "The evolving binary: Perspectives on infra- and ultrahumanisation"
 

M.A. Independent Film & Video - London College of Printing/University of the Arts, London         

B.A. Anthropology - University of Washington, Seattle, USA - two separate B.A. degrees.

B.A. Swedish University of Washington, Seattle, USA. Winner of Peterson Family Scholarship, awarded to an undergraduate student on the basis of academic achievement and educational objectives in the area of Swedish language and literature or area studies with a Swedish emphasis.                                                                                                                       

ADDITIONAL QUALIFICATIONS     

    

PGCE Biology for Secondary School, Brunel University, UK (current)

Teaching in Higher Education, Associate Fellow, Higher Education Academy, UK

Postgraduate Certificate in Classical Acting, London Academy of Performing Arts, UK                                                       

First-Year Course in Nordic Archaeology/Honours, Stockholm University, Sweden (all studies in Swedish)

Swedish National Exam (Rikstestet), Sweden

EMPLOYMENT

 

Current: Postdoctoral Research Associate - Women's Equality and Inequality Research Programme (WEIR), Faculty of History, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Postdoctoral Research Assistant - Department of Experimental Psychology and Biological Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK (2018-2019)

Humanities Lecturer - ProCredit Bank, Weschnitz, Germany (2016-2018)

Biological Anthropology Tutorial Assistant - Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, UK (2010-2016)

TEACHING

I have taught human evolution and primatology; Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic prehistory; Victorian Period history in the context of evolutionary science; cultural evolution; extraterrestrial bioanthropology and general humanities courses at UCL, the City Literary Institute, Westminster School (all in London, 2010-onwards) and the ProCredit Academy (Frankfurt/Weschnitz, Germany, 2016-2018), as well as filmmaking and screenwriting at the Saturday Academy (Portland, Oregon, 2007-2008).

JUST PUBLISHED 23 DECEMBER 2020: Bryson, Kathleen, Christophe Soligo & Volker Sommer (2020). Interrogating boundaries against animals and machines: Human speciesism in British newspapers. Journal of Posthuman Studies: Philosophy, Technology, Media 4:2 (129–165). READ IT HERE IN PDF FORM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

ACADEMIC BACKGROUND

I received my Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology from University College London (UCL) in 2017, where my first supervisor was Professor Volker Sommer and my second supervisor was Professor Christophe Soligo. My M.A. was in Independent Film and Video from the London College of Printing (now University of the Arts London) (1998), where my supervisor was Professor Liz Wells. My two BA degrees in Anthropology and Swedish were from the University of Washington (1992, Peterson Scholarship Winner).

 

In addition, I studied as an undergraduate at Stockholms Universitet (Nordic Archaeology, Highest Honours [all studies in Swedish]); University of Alaska Anchorage (Anthropology, Dean's List) and Chico State University (Deep History General Studies Thematic Honors Program) and a postgraduate full-time year of Classical Acting at the London Academy of Performing Arts (Postgraduate Certificate, 1995). I hold further qualifications in Teaching in Higher Education (TiHE)/Associate Fellow, Higher Education Academy, UK (2012); the Swedish National Exam/Rikstestet (1990) and shortly will be completing a PGCE Biology for Secondary School teaching programme (Brunel University, 2022).

After receiving my doctorate, I taught deep history, evolutionary theory and space science for a year at a left-wing Enlightenment-based bankers’ academy in a German forest, followed by a postdoctoral position at Queen Mary University of London studying social identity theory in the context of older adults attending an amazing entertainment social club called The Posh Club. Currently I hold a postdoctoral position in the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford studying women's equality and inequality. I also teach or have taught biological anthropology at UCL, City Literary Institute and the Westminster School (all in London, UK), and no-budget filmmaking at the Saturday Academy in Portland, Oregon.

I specialise in studies of ambiguity tolerance in humans and other great apes, in particular evolutionary theory applied to ingroup/outgroup distinctions in the context of social identity theory. My research interests include essentialism, ingroups/outgroups in an evolutionary context, hybridity, cyborg studies, androcentrism, bisexuality in humans and other great apes, human-animal studies, primatology, infrahumanisation (the idea that the ingroup you belong to is always more "human" than any outgroup, a concept connected to social identity theory) and dehumanisation (including racial, sex-based and age-based prejudice). The title of my Ph.D. thesis was “The evolving binary: Perspectives on infra- and ultrahumanisation”. It focused on essentialism and ambiguity (in)tolerance towards perceived-as-liminal categories amongst four well-known dichotomies (human—animal, human—machine, heterosexual—homosexual, male—female). I hypothesised a potential social mechanism that might be used to counter infrahumanisation that I coined as “ultrahumanisation”. My book Why We Struggle with Ambiguity: The Quiddity Question, co-written with Volker Sommer and rooted in my doctoral research, will be published by Ethics Press International in March 2023.

I had a scientific article newly accepted for Society & Animals, for which I am the sole author. It is called "Apes unlike us: Human-ingroup protection against encroaching simianity in UK newspapers" and will be published later in 2022, and similarly for an article entitled "ET might not look like us, but ET will act like us: An evolutionary ecology of science fiction filmic othering" that will be published in the Routledge book Extraterrestrial Anthropology (eds. Jeevendrampillai & Parkhurst).

My most recent journal article is "Interrogating boundaries against animals and machines: Human speciesism in British newspapers" (Bryson, Soligo & Sommer, 2020). It was published in the Journal of Posthuman Studies: Philosophy, Technology, Media in December 2020.

Another recent publication is “Ambiguity tolerance toward nonbinary sexuality concepts: Evidence from British newspapers” (I am the first author, followed by Christophe Soligo and Volker Sommer), published by the Journal of Bisexuality (Taylor & Francis) January 2019. You can read the abstract here.

In addition to Why We Struggle with Ambiguity: The Quiddity Question (details above), I have written a book analysis of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, in the style of “Cliff Notes” that was published by Routledge on 2016. It was co-written with Nadejda Josesphine Msindai (also an evolutionary anthropologist).

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CONFERENCES & PRESENTATIONS

2021 Radical Anthropology Group, hosted by Department of Anthropology, London, UK – "An Evolutionary Ecology of Science Fiction", oral presentation at UCL Autumn 2021)

2020 UCL Biological Anthropology Seminar Series, Department of Anthropology, London, UK – "Infrahumanisation and speciesism applied to categorically ambiguous cognitive concepts: Apes, cyborgs, bisexuals", oral presentation (January 2020)

2019 Evolutionary Psychology Pre-Conference/Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Annual Convention, Portland, Oregon, USA, UK – “Ambiguity and evolutionary theory: Towards a new gradualist paradigm?”, poster presentation (Spring 2019)

 

2017 Radical Anthropology Group, London, UK – “Bisexuality and ambiguity tolerance in humans and other apes”, oral presentation (Autumn 2017)

 

2016 Figuring Animals: Images and Imaginaries in Anglophone Literary and Media Texts, Mid-Sweden University, Sundsvall, Sweden – “Print media and ambiguity tolerance in humans”, oral presentation (15-16 August 2016)

2015 "What Separates Humans from Animals?" 3-person panel debate hosted by UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist

Society, UCLU Buddhist Society and UCLU Catholic Society, with Kathleen Bryson, the Venerable Upananda and Fr Hugh MacKenzie. UCL, London, UK – “The Human Animal”, oral presentation (27 October 2015)

 

2014 Humanity and Animality in 20th/21st Century Culture: Narratives, Theories, Histories, UCL, London, UK – “Ambiguity and evolutionary theory: Towards a new gradualist paradigm?”, oral presentation (Summer 2014)

 

2014 Primate Society of Great Britain Spring Meeting (PSGB), Oxford, UK – “Ambiguity and evolutionary theory: Towards

a new gradualist paradigm?”, poster presentation (Spring 2014)

 

2013 London Evolutionary Research Network Annual Conference (LERN), London, UK – “Liminality and evolutionary

theory: Towards a new gradualist paradigm?”, podium presentation (November 2013)

2013 Würzburg Summer School for Cultural and Literary Animal Studies, Würzburg, Germany – 7-day seminar series, full

scholarship recipient (September 2013)

2012 Minding Animals: Building Bridges Between Science, the Humanities and Ethics, Utrecht, the Netherlands –

“Categorising evolution: Natural, cultural and political perspectives”, oral presentation (July 2012)

2012 UCL-Max Planck Society Conference, South Cloisters, UCL – “Categorising evolution: Are we already living on The

Planet of the Apes?”, poster (June 2012)

2012 American Association of Physical Anthropologists 81st Annual Conference (AAPA), Portland, Oregon, USA –

"Categorising evolution: Are we already living on The Planet of the Apes?", poster (April 2012)

ACADEMIC AFFILIATIONS

ACADEMIC WRITING

MONOGRAPH: Bryson, Kathleen & Volker Sommer (2023). Why We Struggle with Ambiguity: The Quiddity Question (book, print). To be published by Ethics Press International March 2023.

Bryson, Kathleen (2022). Apes unlike us: Human-ingroup protection against encroaching simianity in UK newspapers. Society & Animals (Accepted 29.11.2020).

Bryson, Kathleen (2022). ET might not look like us, but ET will act like us: An evolutionary ecology of science fiction filmic othering. In: David Jeevendrampillai & Aaron Parkhurst (eds), Extraterrestrial Anthropology (forthcoming, 2022). London, UK: Routledge

Bryson, Kathleen, Christophe Soligo & Volker Sommer (2020). Interrogating boundaries against animals and machines: Human speciesism in British newspapers. Journal of Posthuman Studies: Philosophy, Technology, Media/Penn State. https://doi.org/10.5325/jpoststud.4.2.0129

 

Bryson, Kathleen, Christophe Soligo & Volker Sommer (2019). Ambiguity tolerance towards non-binary sexuality concepts: Evidence from British newspapers. Journal of Bisexuality/Taylor & Francis. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299716.2018.1495591

 

MONOGRAPH: Bryson, Kathleen & Nadejda Msindai (2017). An Analysis of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (book, print and digital). Published by Routledge September 2017, peer-reviewed monograph co-written with Nadejda Msindai.

2017   University College London, London, UK PhD Anthropology September 2010 — February 2017

Doctoral thesis title: “The evolving binary: Perspectives on infra- and ultrahumanisation”

Supervisors: Professor Volker Sommer and Dr. Christophe Soligo

Examiners: Professor Gary Marvin and Dr. Camilla Power

Abstract: We often pigeonhole our surroundings into dualistic categories, e.g., nature/culture. Perhaps evolutionary forces favoured dichotomous brains, or dualistic categories may be only social constructs. Do juxtaposed mechanisms of dichotomous black-and-white (essentialist) cognitive patterns exist; and, if so, how do such mechanisms affect cultural and scientific concepts of reality? My thesis focussed on four classic modes of othering (Human–Animal, Human–Machine, Male–Female, Heterosexual–Homosexual) oft-cited in biological anthropological studies, aiming to reconstruct the developmental forces that can bring about, stabilise or modify such binaries. My thesis therefore also was situated in discourses of media theory, AI studies, sociology, psychology, animal studies and gender/sexuality studies. I explored how rigid – respectively, fluid – the above exemplary alterities were by gathering data on the perceptions of their boundaries as reflected in electronic archives covering 16 years of newspaper reporting in the UK (1995–2010) and then subjecting this data to both a quantitative and qualitative analysis, measuring the fluctuation of ambiguity tolerance. My results strongly indicate similar temporal patterns of ambiguity tolerance across three out of four dichotomies – including a distinct “millennial effect” of intolerance in these three seemingly unrelated alterities – and a remarkably stable Male–Female dichotomy. This suggests firstly that received understandings of concrete descriptions such as “human”, “animal”, “species”, “machine”, “homosexual” and “heterosexual” may function as cultural concepts considered to be natural kinds, but also are temporally malleable in both popular and academic discourse; and, secondly, that we may have natal (arguably plastic) gender schemata. I show quantitatively and qualitatively that essentialist thinking – as expressed by ambiguity (in)tolerance in socially empowered individuals – functions as an infrahumanisation mechanism to protect one’s perceived ingroup, be that humans, males or heterosexuals, resulting instead in an othering of perceived-as-adjacent hybrid categories such as great apes, females, so-called gender-nonconforming people, “dangerous” cyborgs, transgender people and bisexuals. I argue instead for an ultrahumanisation that may allow for less anthropocentrism, less androcentrism and less heterocentrism.

2013 “Schrödinger's Ape: Evolving Human-Animal Liminality in Modern Britain”, article, Anthropolitan magazine

2012 Grand Prize: UCL Graduate Research Poster Competition, University College London,  Schools of Arts & Humanities, Laws, Social & Historical Sciences for "Categorising evolution: Are we already living on The Planet of the Apes?".

 

2011 “Primate Society of Great Britain Conference Talk Summaries”, PSGB Conference Liverpool 2011, Spring 2011 issue of Primate Eye by the Primate Society of Great Britain.

 

1997 “(In) Tolerable Structures: Gender Fluidity, The Internet & The Mutable Category”, Second-Year M.A. Dissertation, London College of Printing/University of the Arts, London. MA Independent Film & Video Theory 1998

Abstract: I examined here the phenomenon of existing inside structures into which one does not fit. The dissertation investigates how structures are made tolerable by those who do not fit the structure’s prescription through a concept I call the mutable category, through which one morphs the prescriptions and labels dictated by the structure. In this context, ideas of flow and rigidity are discussed through the examination of a series of binary structures and boundary trajectories with contemporary Western culture. A very specific aim in this examination is to highlight that many traits considered biological "essences" in our society are in fact culturally ascribed. A result of these social prescriptions is the prevalence of unbalanced categorically dichotomised structures, where often one-half of a dichotomy is more normalised than the other. I look at the Internet as an interactive new media tool (or set of tools) through which to facilitate the morphing of heavily structured categories. I refer to observations of the Internet connecting it with so-called “feminine” qualities such as fluidity, uncontrollability, covertness, diffuseness. I make the point that “masculinity” and “femininity” are not biological essences of either sex, but rather that they are acculturated traits imposed by gender codification; this is filtered through a discussion of the Internet as a system where, theoretically, one’s gender designation is not immediately available. In relation to this discussion of Internet gender and other points, I suggest the application of the mutable category as a tool through which to see how things can fit and not fit in simultaneously.

 

1996   “Sucked inside: Subjective realism as a mode of spectator identity”, First-Year M.A. Dissertation, London College of Printing/University of the Arts, London. MA Independent Film & Video Theory 1998.

I qualitatively explored the phenomenon of character subjective realism – experienced as viewer surrealism – in the films Clockers (Spike Lee, 1995) and Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994).

1992 University of Washington, Seattle, USA. BA Anthropology 1992. Essay title: “The case for Neanderthal hybridism”

1992 University of Washington, Seattle, USA. BA Swedish 1992. Senior essay title: “Seasonality in the works of Tove Jansson”