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Being Human: Posthumanism and the 21st Century


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

Module description

In this module we make 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, we encourage 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 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
  • appreciate 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.