In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Posthumanism

  • Introduction

Literary and Critical Theory Posthumanism
Pramod K. Nayar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0122


Posthumanism is a mode of thinking about the intersecting human, nonhuman, and technological worlds that has gained theoretical currency in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, especially in the wake of ecological consciousness and environmental campaigns that call into question the role of humans in shaping the fate of the Earth. The interconnectedness of humans with other life forms and the planet has been a commonplace in Asian, African, and Aboriginal thought as embodied in Yoruba, the subcontinent’s tribal myths, folklore, creation stories of the Native Americans, and literatures from these continents. Posthumanism as a school of theory in the West draws on a Eurocentric tradition of humanism and its critique—some of which emerges from critical race theory—and disciplines as diverse as animal studies and social studies of technology. Euro-American posthumanism calls for a reevaluation of traditional humanistic myths, such as the human as the center of the universe, or the instrumental attitude toward other life forms and nonliving matter. A contribution of posthumanist thought has been to decenter the human and to demonstrate how all matter is interlinked, mutually dependent and co-evolved, whether this is the animal forms on Earth or the impact humans have on technology and vice versa. Gender, sexuality and social relations, and families and communities have all been reconfigured through the arrival and incorporation of technology. Posthumanism demolishes the Nature/Culture binary as it has been enshrined in the Euro-American tradition. Technologies and humans, it argues, co-evolve, just as humans and nonhumans do. It also examines the prospects of human enhancement, the expansion of artificial intelligence (AI), and the ethics of these developments as they affect humans, the law, concepts of “personhood,” and the social order. Popular culture, performance arts, and even architectural styles have been known to incorporate posthuman themes. Popular culture, in particular, has made cyborgs, chimeras, human-animal hybrids, and techno-dystopias—dwelling on rampaging artificial intelligence and cyborgs, usually—a commonplace motif. Finally, posthumanist thought treats animals and plants as companion species to humans, and numerous studies now explore “vegetal thinking,” animality, and the entanglements of humans with other life forms as well as nonliving matter. More recent work in posthumanism and the fiction of NK Jemisin and others seeks to link race in history with the history of particular practices that dehumanized humans (such as colonialism and slavery). Introducing race into the debate when speaking of, say, the Anthropocene or technology enables a provincializing of posthumanism.

Contexts and Genealogies

Works in this section explore the contexts—intellectual and cultural as well as technological—of posthumanism as a school of thought. Contexts: Technologies includes essays and books that treat biotechnological developments, genetically modified foods, technological innovations, and automatons. In the Environment and the Anthropocene, works not only examine the link between anthropocentric technologies and ecological collapse, but also propose new ways of thinking through human-nonhuman connections. Grouped under Contexts: Critical Genealogies and Surveys are essays and books that trace the early texts and thought that mark the origins of posthumanism. Two subsections deal with Extinction studies and Conservation and Sustainability themes.

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