…may not be what you think. It actually distances itself from euphoric accounts of mind-uploading, enhancement, geoengineering and the supersession of humans by artifical intelligence – all visions of posthuman futures propagated and often uncritically embraced by what one might call “popular” posthumanism or, strictly speaking, transhumanism.
Critical posthumanism (CPH), on the other hand, is about analysing the emergence of the popular figure of the posthuman and its social, political, aesthetic, ethical, pedagogical and technological implications. Apart from its popular “cyborgian”, either apocalyptic or techno-utopian, dimension, CPH poses serious philosophical questions like: what does it mean to be human? What is the role of technology within evolution and hominisation? Is a postanthropocentric world picture possible, desirable or even necessary?
These questions are prompted by the contemporary crisis that is shaking traditional anthropocentric or humanist values: the erosion of the idea of human nature and humanity, the legitimation of human exceptionalism, the (ecological and biological) effects of human acitivity on the planet (cf. the rise of the notions of the Anthropocene and loss of biodiversity), overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, climate change, globalisation and migration, terrorism and religious fundamentalism, the proliferation of WMDs, traditional and posthuman warfare, the future of energy supply, social justice and the redistribution of wealth, the emergence and convergence of digital media, or the rise of forms of artificial intelligence. In short, all kinds of real and imagined extinction threats (and the line between these is often quite blurry).
While CPH is critical of the hype it is not to be confused with a nostalgia for another human, or a new humanism. Instead, it is part of a new theoretical paradigm emerging from all these challenges to humanism, humanity and the human, and which are causing the erosion of traditional demarcations between humans and nonhumans and are calling for alternative ways of thinking.
CPH thus investigates and contextualises the transformative potential of these developments and relates them to past and existing traditions and ideas, as well as prefigurations and speculations of alternative or emergent scenarios of the human, nonhuman, posthuman, inhuman, ahuman in their entanglements and socialities; it continues to deconstruct anthropocentrism, speciesism and biopolitics; informs new creative practices like bioart and climate fiction; it impacts institutional changes across the life sciences, new media, the digital humanities and the posthumanities; it reflects the ways in which people’s lives are reshaped by the embracing of digital lifestyles, virtualisation and various kinds of prosthesisation; it recognises the originary role technology plays in becoming human or posthuman while also questioning the self-evidence of the technological as such.
In short, CPH is a theoretical approach that Ivan Callus, Manuela Rossini and I – as founders of the Critical Posthumanism Network (CPN) – have been developing for the last 20 years or so. Currently, the CPN’s main activities involve:
- The Genealogy of the Posthuman – a database/online journal with short peer-reviewed critical pieces about all things posthuman
- The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Posthumanism
- Critical Posthumanisms – a series of monographs and edited volumes published by Brill
Here are some more detailed interventions on situating critical posthumanism (N.B.: Draft versions of most of my texts are available on the Publications page):
- Critical Posthumanism – An Overview: The original version of the introduction to the Palgrave Handbook of Critical Posthumanism (forthcoming online and in print in 2022).
- Critical Posthumanism – A Definition: an entry that originally appeared in Rosi Braidotti and Maria Hlavajova, eds. (2018) Posthuman Glossary, London: Bloomsbury, and reproduced for The Genealogy of the Posthuman with permission.
- Posthumanism – A Critical Analysis / Posthumanismus – Eine kritische Einführung: the first monograph providing a critical appreciation of the emerging field.
The original German edition (published in 2009, the same year as Cary Wolfe’s What Is Posthumanism?) was the first book-length study of critical posthumanism. The English translation appeared in 2013 (the same year as Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman).