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Being Human: Posthumanism and the 21st Century


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Grace Halden
  • Assessment: a 5000-word essay (100%)

Module description

This module offers a textual analysis of some key ideas of what constitutes the human condition in the twenty-first century. Through theory and key fiction texts rooted within a pivotal and rich contextual framework, we will investigate certain conceptions of the posthuman alongside critical study of innovative twentieth and twenty-first century-literature, film and television, and consider their impact on twenty-first-century conceptions of humanness. We will make contact with philosophy, science and law, to explore some of the pressing questions surrounding what makes us human. Rather than reaching a conclusion, this module encourages diversity and creativity of thought. We ask not ‘what is it to be human?’ but rather how key texts are working through these crucial concepts.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Human: Vandana Singh, Of Love and Other Monsters
  • Posthuman: N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman
  • Dehumanisation: Vourvoulias, Sabrina, Ink
  • Androids: Neda Atanasoski and Kalindi Vora, 'Epilogue: On Technological Desire, Or Why There Is No Such Thing as a Feminist AI', in Surrogate Humanity: Race, Robots, and the Politics of Technological Futures; Jonathan Nolan, dir, ‘The Original’, Westworld
  • Cyborg: Donna Haraway, 'Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century'; Jaimie Smith-Windsor, 'The Cyborg Mother',
  • Reproduction: Johanna Eichinger and Tobias Eichinger, 'Procreation Machines: Ectogenesis as Reproductive Enhancement, Proper Medicine or a Step towards Posthumanism?' Bioethics; Mieko Kawakami, Breasts and Eggs
  • Presence: Brian Welsh, dir, ‘The Entire History of You’, Black Mirror; Jean Baudrillard, ‘The Precession of Simulacra' in Simulacra and Simulations
  • Artificial Intelligence: Ted Chiang, Lifecycle of Software Objects
  • Meat: Helena Siipi, 'Dimensions of Naturalness', in Ethics and the Environment; Agustina Bazterrica, Tender is the Flesh
  • Life-Extending Technologies: Michael G. Zey, 'Rejuvenation and Radically Increased Health Spans', in Posthumanism: The Future of Homo Sapiens, ed. Michael Bess and Diana Walsh Pasulka; George Zebrowski, This Life and Later Ones

Learning objectives

By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • identify and discuss key texts from the twentieth and twenty-first century on the subject of posthumanism
  • interpret and analyse critical work in the field of posthumanism with reference to a wider cross-curricular framework including philosophy, science and law
  • demonstrate an appreciation of related key concepts such as transhumanism, futurism and the technology singularity
  • appraise how texts on the posthumanism serve to challenge traditional and philosophical ideas of the ‘human’
  • creatively explore personal ideas of posthumanism through the composition of a short video
  • apply ideas and research as part of a written assessment.