The Posthumanist Subject

Spring 2013 - Wednesday 5:15-8:05 pm - bldg: 50-52E
Stanford University, Anthro 336A - French 320 - CREEES [3-5 units]

Ewa Domanska


This course will challenge both the theory of the individualized liberal subject, while preserving some of its characteristics (such autopoesis, agency, free will, resistance to oppressive power, etc.) and the post m odernist theory of the subject as socially constructed, split, and frag m ented. Weak subjectivity works to the disadvantage of post-colonial and post-socialist communities and resistance movements in general. So the course will analyze authors, writers, and texts that seek to empower subjects and communities in order to develop a more inclusive and participatory model of democracy, community, and subjectivity. As a means to this end, the course will develop a concept of the subject within a posthumanist framework. Here the subject will be considered outside the m odels of traditional humanism, on the one hand, and the technological (cyborg) constructions, on the other, but as connected inti m ately with the human-nonhuman collectivity (companion species theory). New animism will be considered as an alternative platform for the conceptualization of a new kind of person and a new kind of community. In the process we will reconsider such notions as autonomy, difference, dignity, essence, substance, sociality, and life itself. Topics of the seminar will include: the poststructuralist debate over the subject, posthumanism as a critical discourse, victim as agent, new animism, nonhuman personhood, plants as persons, object agency, and fractal persons. Readings will include (among others): Jane Bennett, Nurit Bird-David, Rosi Braidotti, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway, Tim Ingold, Bruno Latour, Cary Wolfe.

This course is a research seminar designed to help students work on papers for other classes, theses and individual projects. It will introduce various approaches to the subject and subjectivity and stress an awareness of how to draw on and combine these approaches for analyzing students' own research m aterials. It advocates a bottom-up approach to theory building thus it also teach students how to for m ulate their own interpretative categories and small range theories based on case study analysis.



Attendance is m andatory. Students who m iss m ore than three m eetings (except for illness or other serious m atters) will not be graded. Students are expected to read assigned readings carefully and participate in discussions. Each student will sign up to present a text relevant to the the m e of the readings for that week. Class presentations will be li m ited to 10-15 m inutes. A 15 page final paper is required. Its topic will be chosen by the student hi m self/herself. It can draw upon work being done in other classes but m ust utilize the m aterials of this course as well. Grading: participation - 40%; class presentation - 20%; final paper - 40%.



April 3
1. Introduction: overview of the course

April 10
Posthumanism as a Critical Discourse

Cary Wolfe, What is Posthumanism? University of Minnesota Press, 2010 (especially: ix-47).

Andy Miah, “A Critical History of Posthumanism ,” in: Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity, ed. by Gordijn, R. Chadwick. Springer, 2008: 71-94.

Lucinda Cole, Donno Landry, Bruce Boehrer and others, “Speciesism, Identity Politics and Ecocriticism : A Conversation with Humanists and Posthumanists.” The Eighteenth Century , vol. 52, no. 1, 2011: 87-106.

Jeff Wallace, “Literature and Posthumanism .” Literature Compass, vol. 7/8, 2010: 692-701.

  • Ursula K. Heise, “The Posthuman Turn: Rewriting Species in Recent American Literature,” in: The Blackwell Co m panion to American Literature, ed. by Robert Levine and Caroline Levander. Oxford: Blackwell, 2011: 454-468.
  • Critical Posthumanism, ed. by Simon, Bart, Jill Didur and Teresa Heffernan. Special issue of Cultural Critique 53, 2003.
  • Ivan Callus, Stefan Herbrechter, “Critical posthumanism, or, the inventio of a posthumanism without technology.” Subject Matters 3(2), 4(1), 2007: 15–29.
  • Ihab Hassan, “Prometheus as Performer: Toward a Posthumanist Culture?” The Georgia Review, vol. 31, no. 4, Winter 1977: 830-850.
  • Rafael Capurro, “Beyond Humanisms.” Journal of New Frontiers of Spatial Concepts, vol. 4, 2012: 1-12.
  • Stefan Herbrechter, Posthumanism. A Critical Analysis. Bloomsbury Academic, 2013 (forthcoming).

April 17
Poststructuralist querelle du sujet / debate over the subject

Nick Mansfield, Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2000.

Posthumanism, ed. by Neil Badmington. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2000 (chapter 1, 4, 5 and 10).

  • Who Comes After the Subject? ed. by Peter Connor, Eduardo Cadava and Jean-Luc Nancy. New York: Routledge, 1991 (Vincent Descombe, “Apropos of the ‘Critique of the Subject’”; Jacques Derrida, “’Eating Well,’ or the Calculation of the Subject”).
  • Jacques Derrida, “The Ends of Man”. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 30, no. 1, September 1969: 31-57.
April 24 
4. Does the Subject have a Future? 

Ivan Callus, Stefan Herbrechter,“Introduction: Posthumanist subjectivities, or, coming after the subject ... .” Subjectivity, vol. 5, no. 3, 2012: 241–264.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Becoming Animal,” in: The Animals Reader: The Essential Classical and Contemporary Writings, ed. by Linda Kalof and Amy Fitzgerald. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2007: 37-50.

Gerald L. Bruns, "Becoming-Animal (Some Simple Ways)". New Literary History, vol. 38, no. 4, Autumn 2007: 703-720.

Jacques Derrida, “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow),” trans. by David Wills. Critical Inquiry, vol. 28, no. 2. Winter, 2002: 369-418.

May 1
5. Victims as Agents

Walter Johnson, “On Agency.” Journal of Social History, vol. 37, no. 1, Fall 2003: 113-124.

Michel Foucault, „The Subject and Power,” in: The Essential Foucault: Selections fro m the Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, ed. by Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose. New York: New Press, 2003: 126-144.

bell hooks, „Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness,” in: The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader. Intellectual and Political Controversies, ed. by Sandra Harding. New York and London: Routledge, 2004: 153-159.

David Couzens Hoy, Critical Resistance. From Poststructralis m to Post-Critique. Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press, 2005 (Introduction, chapter 2: "Foucault: 'Essays in Refusal'").

Chela Sandoval, “On Cultural Studies: An Apartheid of Theoretical Domains”, in: Sandoval, The Methodology of the Oppressed. London, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000: 66-78.

Judith Butler, Frames of War. When Is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2008: 1-62.

  • Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso 2004 (fragments).
  • Lynne Segal, „After Judith Butler: Identities, Who Needs Them?” Subjectivity, vol. 25, 2008: 381-394.
  • Mark Haugaard and Srewart R. Clegg, “Introduction: Why Power is the Central Concept of the Social Sciences”, in: The Sage Handbook of Power, ed. by Steward R. Clegg, Mark Haugaard. Sage, 2009: 1-24 (Gerhard Göhler „'Power to' and ‘Power over'”. Ibidem : 27-39).

May 8
6. A Post-Secular Vision of Subjectivity

Rosi Braidotti, “In Spite of the Times.The Postsecular Turn in Feminism.” Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 25, no. 6, 2008: 1-24.

Rosi Braidotti, “Powers of Affirmation: Response to Lisa Baraitser, Patrick Hanafin and Clare Hemmings.” Subjectivity, vol. 3, no. 2, 2010: 140–148.

Mike King, “Art and the Postsecular”. Journal of Visual Art Practice, vol. 4, no. 1, 2005: 3-17.

  • Rosi Braidotti, Transpositions. On Nomadic Ethics. Cambridge : Polity Press 2006 (especially: 32-42 and 96-143).
  • Gregor McLennan, “The Postsecular Turn.” Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 27, no. 4, 2010: 3-10.
  • Jürgen Habermas, “Notes on a postsecular society”. New Perspectives Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 4, Fall 2008: 17-29.
  • Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013.

May 15
7. New Animism and Non-Human Personhood

Graham Harvey, Animism. Respecting the Living World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Nurit Bird-David, “‘Animism ' Revisited: Personhood, Environment, and Relational Epistemology.” Current Anthropology, vol. 40, February 1999: 567-591.

Tim Ingold, “Rethinking the Animate, Re-Animating Thought.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, vol. 71, no. 1, March 2006: 9-20.

Ernst Halbmayer, “Debating Animism, Perspectivism, and the Construction of Ontologies” (Berlin, 2012) INDIANA 29.

  • Timothy Chappell, “On the Very Idea of Criteria for Personhood”. Southern Journal of Philosophy, vol. 49, no. 11, 2011: 1–27.
  • Michael Budja, “In Search of Past Identities.” Documenta Praehistorica, vol. xxxviii, 2011: 45-59.
  • Harry Garuba, “On Animism, Modernity/Colonialism, and the African Order of Knowledge: Provisional Reflections.” e-flux, #36, July 2012.

May 22
8. Animism as Relational Ontology - Object Agency
Special guest: Bjørnar Olsen

Special section: “Animating Archaeology: of Subjects, Objects and Alternative Ontologies.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal, vol. 3, 2009 (Benjamin Alberti & Tamara L. Bray, “Introduction”: 337-343; Benjamin Alberti & Yvonne Marshall, “Animating Archaeology: Local Theories and Conceptually Open-ended Methdologies”: 334-356; Alejandro F. Haber, “Animism, Relatedness, Life: Post-Western Perspectives”: 418-430).

Jane Bennett, “The Force of Things. Steps Toward an Ecology of Matter.” Political Theory, vol. 32, no. 3, January 2004: 347-372.

Tim Edensor, “Entangled Agencies, Material Networks and Repair in a Building Assamblage: The Mutable Stone of St Ann 's Church, Manchester.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 36, no. 2, 2011: 238-252.

  • George “Tink” Tinker, “The Stones Shall Cry Out. Consciousness, Rocks, and Indians.” WizacoSa Review, vol. 19, no. 2, Fall 2004: 105-125.
  • Mark Peter Jones, “Posthuman Agency: Between Theoretical Traditions.” Sociological Theory, vol. 14, no. 3, November 1996: 290-309.
  • Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005 (“Introduction”, and „Conclusion”: 1-17 and 247-262).
  • Ian Hodder, “Human-Thing Entanglement: Towards an Integrated Archaeological Perspective.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 17, 2010: 154-177.
  • Material Agency. Towards a Non-Anthropocentric Approach, ed. by Carl Knappett, Lambros Malafouris. Berlin: Springer, 2008.
  • Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality. Oxford: Berg, 2005 .

May 29
9. Plants as Persons

Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology [ECNH], The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants. Moral Considerations of Plants For Their Own Sake, 2008 [plus discussion: Simcha Lev-Yadun, “Bioethics. On the Road to Absurd Land.” Plant Signaling & Behavior , vol. 3, no. 8, August 2008: 612-612; FlorianneKoechlin, “The Dignity of Plants.” Plant Signaling & Behavior, vol. 4, no. 1, January 2009: 78-79.]

Matthew Hall, Plants as Persons. A Philosophical Botany .Albany, NY: Sunny Press, 2011.

  • Daniel Chamovitz, What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.
  • Michael Marder, Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York: Columbia University Press 2013.
  • Ana Tsing, “Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species”. Environmental Humanities, vol. 1, 2012: 141-154.
  • Matthew Hall, “Plant Autonomy and Human-Plant Ethics.” Environmental Ethics, vol. 31, Summer 2009: 169-181.

June 5
10.The Fractal Person
guest lecture:
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Roy Wagner, “The Fractal Person,” in: Big Men and Great Men: Personifications of Power in Melanesia, ed. byMarilyn Strathernand Maurice Godelier. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991: 159-173.

Chris Fowler, The Archaeology of Personhood: An Anthropological Approach. New York: Routledge, 2004 (chapter 2: “Personhood and Identity. Theoretical Frameworks”).

Richard Taylor, “Personal reflections on Jackson Pollock’s fractal paintings.” História, Ciências, Saúde-Manguinhos, vol. 13 (supplement), October 2006: 108-123.

  • Tim Ingold, Lines: A Brief History. London: Routledge, 2007.
  • Michael Heckenberger, The Ecology of Power: Culture, Place and Personhood in the Southern Amazon. Routledge, 2005 (chapter 8: “Houses, Heroes, and History: The Fractal Person”)
  • Benoit B. Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature.  San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1982.

©ed 2013