Scyborgs, Emergence, and Radical Reimaginings

May 19, 2020

Imagining America and The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative (formerly globalsl) hosted a conversation between Professors Jack Tchen and Wayne Yang on May 6. The dialogue focused on Yang’s book, A Third University is Possible, and its implications for this moment. Tchen began by recognizing the quote that precedes the text: 

Even when they are dangerous

examine the heart of those machines you hate

before you discard them

—Audre Lorde

The full video of the event is linked below. As it kicked off, more than 200 zoom participants acknowledged the land on which they were based – one of several moments that played with a question at the core of Yang’s book. How are we able to adapt colonial structures and technologies  toward decolonizing efforts? The conversation soon turned to reference the ways in which we may be within a transformational moment, as recognized by Arundhati Roy in The Pandemic is a Portal

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

The chat was lively with resource sharing throughout the conversation, and the Roy quote prompted one participant to share a David Korten essay in YES! on the same theme. Korten writes:  

The COVID-19 crisis has imposed immense hardship on billions of people. But that hardship is dwarfed by what lies ahead if we continue on our current path. Now we must step up to prevent the collapse of the regenerative systems by which Earth creates and maintains the conditions we need to exist.

The conversation turned toward liberatory spaces within neoliberal and colonial higher education institutions, and the chat spun with examples of activist classrooms, recognizing community leader knowledges and insights, labor activism in higher education, deep human relationships, and art parties, before turning toward scyborgs. In A Third University, scyborgs are “decolonizing agents of technological subversion.” Yang shared some scyborgs he had ready on his laptop and reflected on the ways in which they are part of greater systems that act together, shifting larger assemblages. 

The chat popped with enthusiasm for fractals and the work of Emergent Strategy author adrienne maree brown, who writes: 

there are examples of emergence everywhere.

birds don’t make a plan to migrate, raising resources to fund their way, packing for scarce times, mapping out their pit stops. they feel a call in their bodies and they must go, and they follow it, responding to each other, each bringing their adaptations.

Imagining such spontaneous organizing, participants considered whether university systems could be hacked by scyborgs, leveraging resources toward the collective good. Multiple participants wondered whether and how scholars of color were being included across this work, prompting several additional recommendations: 

As the conversation neared its close, Imagining America Public Journal Editor Kush Patel shared an apt Adrienne Rich passage, 

My heart is moved by all I cannot save

So much has been destroyed

 I have to cast my lot with those, who, age after age,

Perversely, with no extraordinary Power, reconstitute the world.

— From ”Natural Resources” (1977)

Enjoy the full conversation here.

This webinar was hosted from the Imagining America Teaching and Learning Circle (TLC) webinar platform. The IA TLC is an online learning community that builds peer support and conversations about the opportunities, joys, and challenges of producing public and activist scholarship, and designing and delivering community-engaged courses and projects. 
If you are interested in co-facilitating a future TLC webinar or have a topic you would like us to explore, please email us at

Follow The Collaborative on Twitter @CBGLCollab or visit our newest initiative – an online, open-access toolkit for a civics of interdependence.

  • update-img-new

    Get updates on what's new in the Campus Compact Network