Journal of Posthuman Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2017
Copyright © 2018 The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
FEMINIST POSTHUMANITIES IN
THE ANTHROPOCENE: FORAYS INTO
CECILIA ÅSBERG, LINKÖPING UNIVERSITY
In the new planetary age of the Anthropocene or the Age of Man (as it were),
humanity is cast as a single geological force, a major force of environmental
destruction, and one folding in on itself. e Anthropocene is famously deﬁned
by human-induced climatic, biological, and geological transformations of our
planet, by a profound anthropogenic environmental impact and mass species
extinctions. However, the Anthropocene risk also, as pointed out by a wide
range of feminist philosophers and critical scholars, hides troublesome diﬀer-
ences between humans, and also hides intimate relationships between technology,
humans, and other animals. is totalization of humanity is a parallel risk in
some posthuman theorizing also, and something postdisciplinary scholars of
the critical humanities and feminist philosophers have paid attention to for
decades. In the posthuman context of the Anthropocene, I suggest and point
to postdisciplinary humanities research and theory–practices that pay careful
attention to the feminist theoretical work on our equally postnatural condition
as an experimental remedy.
feminist posthumanities, Anthropocene, postnatural, posthuman critique,
gender studies without gender, posthumanities, environmental humanities,
“Human nature” is not the oxymoron we imagined it to be. Feminist philos-
ophers have long argued the embodied and embedded nature of the knowing
subject and the “situated knowledges” that come from such contextual ways
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of knowing (Haraway 1991). Now, in a yet more deeply existential way, we
come to realize that we are part of a completely cyborgiﬁed world. No lon-
ger can either culture, technology, or humans be imagined as separate from
nature at all. Undersea cables, oceanic plastic continents, conﬂict minerals,
bursting landﬁlls, and heaps of electronic hardware litter the world, especially
third world countries, and seep pollutants into bodies of water, soil, and
ﬂesh. In this new era some call the Anthropocene—the geological “Age of
Mankind” (as it were)—the environment is in us, and we humans are in the
environment. Insomuch as there is no modus of sociability, ever, that is free of
power diﬀerentials, it appears no longer viable to speak of one single humanity
or nature. Especially not in the context of the current ecosocial crisis, where
only minoritarian postdisciplinarities may suﬃciently adhere to the needed
worldliness. Accumulated toxins, mountains of e-waste, acidiﬁcation, pollution,
climate change, accelerated species extinction—along with increased questioning
of naturalized biases in society—call for a better inhabitation of this postnatural
world. Yet a nature–culture divide still persist in our academic institutions and
imaginations. An enlivening and thickening of the humanities—a more- than-
human “posthumanities” that links human cultures with nonhuman natures—is
needed more than ever to bridge this postdisciplinary divide, to move people of
many inclinations to sustainable thought and action, and, most importantly, to
skillfully overcome the social injustices that plague planetary life. In short, we
need the analytical recalibration of feminist posthumanities to tackle our post-
human, and equally postnatural, condition as an open-ended biosocial event.
In this short essay, I hope to follow a slightly defamiliarizing trail to
more-than-human humanities, via environmental or ecological humanities, art,
science, and cyborg studies or technohumanities, through the many titillations
and provocations of feminist scholarship. Let me immediately say that I deploy
the f-word here as a philosophical synthetic, combining (not without problems)
various feminist (or queer, decolonial, crip, or antiracist) strands of theory for
how they pivot around relational and formative processes of power, diﬀerence,
and becomings-with (Haraway 2003; 2008; 2016). Feminist theorizing has a
long hermeneutic tradition beyond the analytical category of gender, and
can now, in its variety, be said to be analytically useful for almost any topic
(Franklin et al. 2000). Entanglements of self and other, body and technology,
cultures with worldly nature, and pasts, presents, and futures emerge here as a
kind of starting point, but the entanglements do not come from an intercon-
nectedness of separate entities to start with but are instead “speciﬁc material
relations of the ongoing diﬀerentiation of the world” (Barad 2010, 265). And
these entanglements, these onto-epistemological processes of “becoming with”
(Haraway 2008, 15), are always also relations of obligations: they do come
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with an ethic and with a demand on us to rethink our analytical practices for
less exclusive results. As I hope to show, feminist posthumanities represent a
much-needed type of integrative humanities, a rickety and imperfect engine of
discovery fueled by advanced (more than feminist) philosophy, environmental
humanities, cultural science and technology studies, and a street-smart type of
postdisciplinarity that keep critique societally relevant (Neimanis et al. 2015).
And it presents a Riot Girl/Tank Girl type of sly smile to moralistic statements
such as “it’s not natural.”
It never was, we never were. Now what?
THE POSTHUMAN IN THE ANTHROPOCENE
In this new planetary age with the hyperbolic name of the Anthropocene,
humanity is cast as a single geological force, a major natural force and one
folding in on itself. is “Geological Age of Mankind” is famously deﬁned
by human-induced climatic, biological, and geological transformations of
our planet (Crutzen and Stormer 2000; Crutzen 2002. e Anthropocene
concept has also by now been famously critiqued for how it hides diﬀerences
of environmental impact and economic power between humans (Chakrabarty
2009; Crist 2013; Castree 2015). In a ﬂurry of recent Anthropocene humanities
and social science research, I dare say that we by totalizing humanity risk all
too ﬁrmly putting a phantasm of human agency at the center stage again by
naming it the Age of Man (Lloyd 1984). Regardless, it is a risk we need to take,
and a risk with complications that we might do well pondering in a posthu-
man context (cf. Haraway 2008; Chakrabarty 2009; Åsberg et al. 2011; Crist
2013; Cielemęcka 2015; Åsberg and Mehrabi 2016; Åsberg and Braidotti 2018).
Instead of a hackneyed, narcissistic, and celebratory focus on the powers of a
universalized human ﬁgure (a risk with posthuman theorizing too), I suggest
as a remedy and parallel diagnostic tool that we deploy a feminist focus on our
postnatural as much as on our posthuman condition. And to do this we need
to dare to engage with the rich and varied plethora of queer, anti-colonial, and
feminist theorizing without recourse to identity politics.
Plentiful understandings of the postnatural, de-essentialized, or disrupted
subject, its (by societal value-systems deemed) unnatural, monstrous, disabled,
diﬀerence-marked, perverse, patented, limited, owned or pwned, yet highly
sociable natures, dwell in these domains of body and technoscience studies. ese
postnatural understandings are not simply transposable to techno-environmental
concerns; they were already intimately constituted and produced for the queer,
disabling, and disempowered situation of societal praxis and cultures implod-
ing into nature. ey were made to ﬁt the destabilization of nature–culture
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dichotomous thinking and practicing, made to destabilize that which gets to
count as “natural.” Foremost they were so for disenfranchised people due to
their interlinking situation of gender, class and degree of respectability, skin
color, nationality, colonial status, age, ability, or sexual orientation. However,
queer or transfeminist understandings within the rich oeuvres of science studies
(i.e., Wilson 2004; Hird 2009; Hird and Roberts 2011) or human animal studies
have pushed and exposed the delimiting cultural values and sexual norms
implicit in the worlds of nonhumans and natural sciences for a long time too
(e.g., Haraway 1989; 1991). As anthropologist Marilyn Strathern asserted in her
1995 article “Future Kinship and the Study of Culture” on how new reproduc-
tive technologies and the possibilities of in vitro fertilization, gamete donation,
and other “technonatural” practices make the time when “a creative future was
projected against a stable natural environment” seem “irretrievably locked in
the past” (Strathern 1992, 424). As been pointed out by Sarah Franklin (and
other feminist science scholars building on the works of Strathern, Haraway,
and Franklin), genomics, the ubiquitous transgenic practices of basic research
in in life science, everyday medical advances, and various biotechnologies have
thoroughly displaced any naturalized biological grounds for sex and reproduction,
race, or gender (Franklin 2006). Instead we learn from the (de-)natural sciences
of cultures’ inﬂuence on bodies from neologisms such as neuroplasticity and
epigenetics. We also learn how discarded pharmaceutical agents transpose across
food chains to disrupt unintended bodily systems of reproduction. is does
not make for a postbiological, but for a postnatural starting point for feminist
and posthuman scholars alike. Arguably, anything but a postnatural a priori
seems impossible today against such a science-, health-, and medicine-infused
backdrop of the Anthropocene.
As the understanding of the human has transformed, so now our posthuman
understandings of nature need to change too, if only to better keep up with
the environmental alterations of our present planetary state. Feminist theory,
representing not one position or standpoint, but a wide and versatile body of
literature, holds precious gifts for such more or less human scholarship and
especially for better understanding our postnatural state of climate change and
ecological transformation. As pioneering ecofeminist philosopher Val Plumwood
succinctly remind us, “We will go onwards in a diﬀerent mode of humanity,
or not at all” (2007, 1). e attention to “matter that matters,” embodied
subjectivities, transcorporeality (Alaimo 2010) and transfers between bodies
of water, soil, and ﬂesh, to our noninnocence, embeddedness, and complicity,
and to the reality-producing dimensions of imagination that propels feminist
theorizing also entails a lively and re-enlivened attention to the conﬂicts and
contradictions of planetary politics—but most importantly, to its ongoingness.
Such an approach is necessary to our continued posthuman/postnatural survival.
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POSTHUMAN: FROM ALL-TOO-HUMAN TO MORE (OR LESS) THAN HUMAN
e posthuman turn occurred, we might say, at the convergence of diﬀerent
strands of scholarship, commitments, art, and activism, broadly deﬁned.
Posthuman thought, in its own variety, presents a cartography of commitments
to the “ongoing deconstruction of humanism” (cf. Badmington 2000). It may
trace back to anti-humanists such as Michel Foucault or Louis Althusser, to
critics of androcentrism such as Genevieve Lloyd or Luce Irigaray, or to critics
of white Eurocentrism such as Franz Fanon, and ﬁnd a parallel in Lyotard’s
rewriting of modernity as the rewriting of the human, or even in Max Weber’s
“dedivinization” of humanity. However, many non-Cartesian philosophies exist
and some may translate posthuman connectivity, vitalism, or other process
ontologies across diﬀerently veneered traditions of thought and praxis that put
people in their worldly and webbed place.
On one hand, posthuman studies seem to deal with the ﬁgure of the posthuman
and its many avatars, as in the ground-breaking feminist ﬁgures of the cyborg
or the technobody from the late 1980s (Haraway 1991). On the other hand, it
deals with posthumanism as a Foucauldian type of social discourse and its many
context-dependent content variations. Posthumanisms thus bring up urgent
conversations on a variety of topics pertaining to the posthuman condition;
on what posthuman existence means for (still foremost) people living under
techno-savvy and media-heavy conditions, under globalization, militarization,
or cognitive capitalism, living with and through body modiﬁcations, reproduc-
tive technologies, biotech markets, exploited lands or climate change-induced
conﬂicts and migrations (as in Syria), or medical advances in the life sciences
that push the boundaries of what we thought our bodies could take.
Some popular posthumanisms reward themselves with desires of a transcen-
dence or overcoming of the limits of the human physical constitution. Such
desires for disembodiment or even immortality, fueled by techno- optimism
and techno-fetishism, render them “transhumanisms” (Herbrechter 2018).
However, more philosophically inclined posthumanisms come with suspicions
too. Are the theoretically inclined posthumanisms trying to “argue themselves
out of the picture” (Herbrechter 2018, 95) at a time (the Anthropocene)
when human accountability for, and reformation of, human actions in
nature are needed the most? e critics of coloniality, residues of colonialist
imperialism or neocolonialism, also point to how posthuman theorizing (and
early poststructuralist anti-humanism) came unfortunately at a time when
women, subalterns, and minority groups (as subhumans) struggled not just
for human status and human rights but also to develop a non-Eurocentric
humanism of their own with the speciﬁc target of countering dehumaniza-
tion of people (Banerji and Paranjape 2016). Clearly, the posthuman has a
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multivalent set of meanings and noninnocent functions, but I think that is
exactly what productively invites us to “stay with the trouble” per Donna
Haraway’s ethico-political dictum.
NOT POSTBIOLOGY, NOR POSTFEMINIST: COMPOST HUMANITIES?
e posthuman as a ﬁguration challenges what we consider human. Already
this aligns posthuman studies with feminist and other social justice move-
ments (also beyond those that insist on an upgrade to liberal human status via
human rights discourse). By now it is a familiar story, the posthuman disorders
dichotomous binaries such as human–machine and human–animal, but let us
not forget that in less localized and more embedding ways it also disrupts the
binary of human–physical world, leaving the concept of nature as much as the
In the introduction to Posthuman Bodies (where I ﬁrst encountered the term
“posthumanities”), feminist and cultural studies scholars Judith Halberstam
and Ira Livingston write, “We have rehearsed the claim that the posthuman
condition is upon us and that lingering nostalgia for a modernist or humanist
philosophy of the self and other, human and alien, normal and queer is merely
the echo of a discursive battle that has already taken place” (1995, 19). As for
Donna Haraway’s combustive precursor ﬁgure of the cyborg, the posthuman is to
Halberstam and Livingstone not merely a conceptual creature but already lived
reality. It signals not simply transformations that are under way in a progressivist
sense, but transformations that might have been there all along. e “post-” is
thus an enchantingly tricky preﬁx and a signiﬁer with multivalent meanings
(some more violent and simplistic than others); the posthuman as that which
comes after the human (in evolutionary or teleologically progressivist sense,
implying the death of Man), or as that which follows upon our conception of
humanity, or, and this is my favorite, that which responds to, meets up with,
and thus also implies the pre-, in-, a-, less than, or more than human, since
these denominations co-constitute each other, relationally.
I take my cues here from the posthuman feminist and physics philosopher
Karen Barad. For her, “posthumanism marks a refusal to take the distinction
between ‘human’ and ‘nonhuman’ for granted, and to found analysis on this
presumably ﬁxed and inherent set of categories” (Barad 2007, 32). Her term for
our worldly ongoingness seems instructive—“posthumanist performativity”—and
as an episteme–ontology it comes with a clear politics for the disadvantaged
and ethical obligations for all of us complicit in worlding operations. For the
pioneering literary scholar of technologies N. Katherine Hayles, the posthuman
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signals a renewed feminist focus on the aﬀordances and problems of embodi-
ment, a touchstone of feminist philosophy:
If my nightmare is a culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their
bodies as fashion accessories rather than the ground of being, my dream
is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of infor-
mation technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited
power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates
ﬁnitude as a condition of human being, and that understands human
life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which
we depend for our continued survival. (Hayles 1999, 5)
Some feminist scholars, closely aligned with trans-activism and body
modiﬁcation research, have recently opted for the somatechnics denomination
rather than the posthuman (Sullivan and Murray 2009), or for the thriving
feminist theorizing within new materialisms (van der Tuin 2011a, 2011b, 2015).
Terminologies and work labels aside, there is a distinctly queer feminist linkage
between such various positions or empirical choices, and a distinct gap between
them and posthuman associates (feminist or conservative) that decries the moral
unnaturalness of bodily changes, self-made or induced by societal norms and/
or environmental incursion.
In the following, I will trace a more partial picture of the relationships between
such queer posthuman studies, as it often has moved by way of bio-curious
feminism and environment justice concerns, science and technology studies (or
more precisely cyborg studies), cultural studies, and postcontinental philosophy.
e critical and creative edge of such thinking, as it meanders and re-meanders
through various diﬀerences that matter, lies in how it questions what gets to
count as more or less than human, and what gets to count as natural, and to the
beneﬁt of whom. With the playful thinking of Haraway’s recent work, might
I preliminary conclude that the type of approach I propagate here is clearly
neither postbiological nor postfeminist, but rather in its bringing together of
approaches, nourishing forms of composting humanities for the Anthropocene?
MORE OR LESS THAN HUMAN AND INTEGRATIVE HUMANITIES
As for the posthuman, it is clear that nothing remains evident or given about the
“human” of humanism and the humanities today (Braidotti 2013; Herbrechter
2013). e human, as a placeholder, stands for something deeply entwined with
social technologies and complicated wording practices such as breeding, soil
degradation and species extinction by monocultural agriculture, deforestation,
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mountaintop removal, glacial melting, landscaping, and all kinds of terraforming
(Haraway 1991; Halberstam and Livingston 1995; Hayles 1999; Tsing 2012). If
humans, as pointed out by posthumanities pioneer and animal theorist Cary
Wolfe (2003), nowadays are more obviously that ever entangled in co-constitutive
relationships with nature and the environment, with science and technology,
and with vulnerable embodiments of both human and nonhuman kinds, we
have also, as a response, in the last decade seen a surge of more-than-human
humanities (cf. Whatmore 2002; Rose et al. 2012; Åsberg and Braidotti 2018).
As the philosopher Rosi Braidotti argues, all these entanglements have serious
implications for the institutional practices of the humanities. ey enliven and
transform them from within. If the humanities at large have proven at their
most eﬀective when, to use Homi Bhaba’s phrase, “the unhomely” stirs (1997,
445)—as when cultural studies, feminist theory, media studies and infrastructures
research, indigenous studies, technoscience studies, human–animal studies,
disability studies, or eco-critique emerged decades ago to disturb the human of
the humanities—it seems prudent to acknowledge the always-already existence
of some forms of posthumanities (Halberstam and Livingston 1995; Wolfe 2003).
Indigenous scholarship stands as an important case in point here, as do in par-
ticular feminist precursors to posthuman Anthropocene studies such as cyborg
studies (Kirkup et al. 1999), posthuman body and alien/monster cinema studies
(Halberstam and Livingston 1995; Graham 2002), feminist medical humanities,
and studies of queer ecologies (Stacey 1997; Bryld and Lykke 2000; Franklin
et al. 2000; Squier 2004; Alaimo 2010; Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson 2010).
Like the way all posthumanisms are not painted with the same brush (Bad-
mington 2000; Wolfe 2010), the urgency of actually dealing with the key issue
in various branches of the posthumanities—namely, how to recalibrate the
humanities to attend to human, subhuman and more than human interests while
accounting for such forceful power diﬀerentials as gender, race, sexuality, bodily
abilities, and other socioeconomic formations—is becoming an increasingly
important task for all critical communities. Indeed, Cary Wolfe, in founding
his famous book series on posthumanities, intended human–animal studies
as a key area of concern for cultural research. At the same time, new areas of
technohumanities and ecophilosophical posthuman feminist scholarship took oﬀ
anew: For example, scholars addressed how supremacist theories of the human,
based on various brands of humanism and anthropocentrism, have actively
prevented research on the multiple “others” of the Western humanities. e
animal question in the humanities, including Wolfe’s works, has since emerged
as a ﬁeld of its own (Weil 2010; Bull et al. 2018) and met up with death and
extinction studies (Heise 2016; Mehrabi 2016). Here, too, ecofeminists and
feminist science studies have been paving the way for decades, with research
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on nature (Merchant 1980; Plumwood 1993), animals and speciesism (Adams
1990; Gaard 1993), capitalism (Gibson-Graham 1996), and the political economy
of well-meaning Western environmentalism (Shiva 1988; Gaard et al. 2013).
Philosopher–historian Michel Foucault once claimed that we need to dethrone
the concept of Man because it gets in the way of thinking with the high degree of
accuracy and complexity required by our historical context (Foucault 1970, 343).
Feminist philosophers, like Genevieve Lloyd, Elisabeth Grosz, Donna Haraway,
Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti and many others, have since long substantiated and
ampliﬁed his claim for feminist theory, and posthuman or nonhuman feminist
theorizing has since thrived in these veins (Hird and Roberts 2011). Put somewhat
simplistically, it has paved the way for feminist theorizing without gender (as its
main or most relevant analytical category) and for humanities work without
the human as its centerpiece. ese eﬀorts I regard as feminist posthumanities,
trying to be worthy of our complicated times in ways that are anti-foundational
and do not move by way of identity politics (whether that identity is human,
woman, animal, or machine) and yet aims to make a real diﬀerence.
FEMINIST POSTHUMANITIES—THE POSTHUMAN BY THE POSTNATURAL
In the context of the ecological crisis, we simply can no longer aﬀord the modern
divide of non- or subhuman and human, nature and culture, and we can
certainly no longer uphold the division of labor where “nature” is left to science
and “culture” to the humanities. C.P. Snow’s famous, but highly insuﬃcient,
criticism of the “Two Cultures,” however inﬂuential, can no longer be allowed
to guide our practices. Even less should it entrench us in critiques of relativism,
political correctness, and all-too-human humanism vis-à-vis positivism, reduc-
tionist scientism, or biological determinisms. is modern divide (Latour 1993)
of culture from nature follows on a long intellectual tradition of Eurocolonial
thinking that separates and asymmetrically orders thought and praxis. It is a
divide that plays out diﬀerently; it bifurcates, meanders, and dovetails into a
subset of other violent hierarchies, such as wild/civilized, or Universal Man
vis-à-vis women, natives, queers, animals, and other Earth Others at large
(Plumwood 1993; Bryld and Lykke 2000). Ontologically, the world we inhabit
is not bifurcated in this simplistic manner, and we have now come to experience
the dark side of its rationalistic aﬀordances and proﬁts. Consequently, we need
ethical research practices and epistemologies that dare step out of disciplinary
comfort zones while they stay true to demands for local accountability, to
our own complicity, to minoritarian ethics, and to a worldly feminist politics
of conviviality. It is thus, I argue, high time to acknowledge the versatility of
multivalent forms of feminist posthumanities.
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Cognizant of shifting terrains in (and under) the contemporary humanities,
feminist posthumanities works transversally to withstand the tectonic shifts of
neoliberal university politics and the gravitational pulls of conservative academia
(to stay on the trodden path), while at the same time both studying and actively
engaging with the earthly transformations that are changing everything living on
an unprecedented scale (Braidotti 2013; Åsberg and Braidotti 2018). Put simply,
it engages with critical and creative pursuits that address our changing relation-
ships between political animals of human, subhuman, and more-than-human
kinds and among or between bodies, technologies, and environments. Feminist
posthumanities generally employ interdisciplinary or postconventional perspec-
tives (Åsberg 2008; Åsberg and Braidotti 2018); oftentimes this is research that
already thrives on the margins or outside of scholarly comfort zones. Here it is
forced to create alliances and think creatively across incompatible worldviews
and methodologies to both fruitful and dead-end results.
If the posthuman (Braidotti 2013) and various posthumanisms stand as terms
and philosophical challenges that aim to redeﬁne the human in the light of
deep-working social, environmental, medical, and technoscientiﬁc transformations
of the twentieth and twenty-ﬁrst centuries, the feminist posthumanities are the
imperfect and postdisciplinary praxis thereof. ey stand for an attempt at a
diﬀerent mode of humanity, and a diﬀerent modus operandi of the humanities.
In experimental ways, feminist posthumanities work to make the contempo-
rary humanities integrated and relevant. ey work through various subsets
of material semiotics—such as new materialisms, feminist science studies, and
various humanisms, posthumanisms, and ontological turns to posthuman ethics.
As an academic trickster ﬁgure, feminist posthumanities can encompass
human–animal studies, plant theory, corporealities, cultural studies, science
and technology studies, medical humanities, studies of media and infrastruc-
tures, digital humanities, educational sciences, child studies, post-Derridean
or post-Foucauldian studies, art and crafts, gender studies, cultural geography,
bioart, citizen science and citizen humanities, vegan philosophy, queer theory
and unnatural sexuality studies, environmental humanities, heritage studies,
and much more, as indicated here.
However, as a collector of all kinds of postdisciplinary responses to the
unruly worldliness that contradicts human supremacy, feminist posthumanities
aim very particularly to discover our rhizomic and multidirectional (Braidotti
1994) entanglements with each other. ey point to a multitude of people,
technoscience, global media, biotics, ecologies, animals, ﬁnance, land, and other
lively matters for consequential but nonteleological purposes of story-telling in
feminist scholarship. e purpose of such feminist scholarship is by no means
to assert the capacities of nonhumans at the expense of the diﬀerently situated
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humans, but to “stay with the trouble” and inquire how we might, with some
grace (Haraway 2008), be able to live together in more-than-human worlds.
Feminist posthumanities provide several entries, or in the words of the
groundbreaking feminist new materialist scholar Iris van der Tuin (2011a), “a
diﬀerent starting point, a diﬀerent metaphysics.” Following such insights, the
feminist posthumanities raise onto–epistemologically important questions.
Epistemologically, they start (in the words of Katherine Hayles) by asking,
“What happens if we begin from the premise not that we know reality because
we are separate from it (traditional objectivity), but that we can know the world
because we are connected with it?” (Hayles 1995, 48). In other words, feminist
posthumanities insist on the localized practices of situated knowledges (Haraway
1991). Feminist theory provides such postdisciplinary natureculture research with
a partial vision that tries to stay clear of the Scylla of bulldozing universalism
and the Charybdis of disempowering relativism in its inconsequential particu-
larity. Epistemologically, it also tries to overcome Eurocentric “epistemologies
of ignorance” (Tuana 2008), which remain deeply embedded in most Western
practices of arts and sciences. Feminist posthuman thought propels itself for-
ward by reiterating recursive gestures, through its stubborn refusal to forget
or “forgetting to forget,” for instance, the time-honored or buried thoughts of
women philosopher physicists (van der Tuin 2011b, 2015), the theory in the ﬂesh
(Moraga and Anzaldua 1981), or the prospective analytical uses of rethinking
“country,” Patchamama, Gaia, Heraclitus, Spinoza, Freud, Derrida, Foucault,
Deleuze, or other “posthuman” thinking platforms avant la lettre.
is historiographical method of rediscovery can perhaps be described
as a “game of cat’s cradle” (Haraway 1994) or as a postdisciplinary modus of
“ diﬀraction” (Haraway 2003; Barad 2007) as it pushes the envelope, or “ unruly
edges” (Tsing 2012), of what I call feminist posthumanities. Imperative to
this methodology is not to speak from a marginalized position, but to stay
in conversations with minoritarian voices or marginalized approaches. Such
minoritarian posthuman historiographies aim also to create a scholarly bricolage,
a patch- and meshwork based on minoritarian yet anything but poor forms of
making-do analytics in open-ended collaborations. is method emphasizes
connectedness and limits to knowledge, it highlights where diﬀerences matter
and where matter makes a diﬀerence.
Feminist posthumanities, with their internal diversity and their patchworked
and mixed genealogies, are a ﬁeld both mature and in its infancy at the same
time. From the vantage point of minoritarian desires, where unmarked
posthumanities as such already have succeeded in major ways, they aim to
reterritorialize minor subjects at a greater scale and speed. In that sense, feminist
posthumanities need now to make clear their aﬃnities to the decolonial
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option (Tlostanova 2017) and to other queer, crip, or decolonial humanities
opportunities. Feminist posthumanities signal most importantly that we need
a qualitative shift of attention. In these days of populism, Trumpism, and new
right-wing movements that directly target feminist research, gender studies, the
humanities, and even whole universities [#westandwith CEU], it has become
increasingly clear that the humanities need to go onward in a feminist mode
of relational aﬃnity and integration, or not at all. As a hybrid spawn of mixed
conditionings, feminist posthumanities embrace the unknown: they thrive on
xenophilia, as all academic research should.
Strange encounters are key to this endeavor, as is a willingness to expose
oneself to the unknown, to alienation. Nothing is natural or given; the grounds
are shifting. Feminist posthumanities can, however, contribute rigorous critical
and creative retoolings of the human sciences from their starting points in the
embodied and embedded worldliness of knowledge. But they certainly do not
stop at the borders of the so-called human sciences. Respectful conversations
across disciplinary borders, conversational processes of “rooting and shifting”
(Yuval-Davis 1997), might ensue at such crossroads. “Feminist posthumanities”
is but one possible name for such border zone encounters, as it rejects both
extreme culturalism and naturalism, inhabiting instead the transdisciplinary
borderlands of the arts and sciences today.
So posthumanities, as the postdisciplinary modus operandi of the posthuman
humanities, stand in such a view as more than the mere operationalization of
more-than-human scholarship (Whatmore 2002). Importantly, posthumanities
work recognizes the role of the nonhuman and the postnatural, the subhuman
and the inhuman for the human of the humanities, as Minnesota University
Press states regarding Cary Wolfe’s book series Posthumanities, mentioned above:
“[instead of] reproducing established forms and methods of disciplinary knowl-
edge, posthumanists confront how changes in society and culture require that
scholars rethink what they do—theoretically, methodologically, and ethically”
Haraway (2008)—who herself has no love for the overdetermined notion of
“the posthuman”—nevertheless ﬁnds the term “posthumanities” useful for
“tracking scholarly conversations” on the changing relationships between what
gets to count as human and nonhuman, culture and nature, technology and
body, Self and Other.
e preﬁx “post-” of posthumanities of course here too does not signal any
kind of intended end of the humanities, but rather a call for their inclusivity
or enrichment and integrative potential. It questions and troubles all kinds of
human exceptionalism (Tsing 2012) and other normative forms of andro- or
anthropo- or Eurocentric chauvinisms. As such, posthumanities, like the nomadic
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transversality of feminist analyses, may well translate and mutate into several
bodies of thought across disciplines, while beneﬁting from, and contributing
to, the analytical approaches developed within the humanities. From situated
knowledge (Haraway 1991) to embodied and embedded starting points such as
Stacy Alaimo’s notion of transcorporeality (Alaimo 2008; 2010) for the porous-
ness and vulnerabilities of life in the Anthropocene, feminist posthumanities
approaches make for rich analyses.
In sum, the humanist assumptions of exceptionalism, distinction, and supremacy
that European culture prides itself on are, as we have come to realize, belied in
experiences and practices of every day and cannot be upheld in the humanities.
As the “human” of the humanities is entangled in intricate and asymmetrical
relations of reciprocity with animals, microbiota, and our environments, such
exceptionalist assumptions of human nature seem increasingly diﬃcult to
sustain (Wolfe 2003). In the Anthropocene, there is no self-contained individual
human being to be held in a position of mastery, no divide between nature and
culture, no “advanced” civilization to master the wild Others, and no universal
humanism to be practiced across the diversity of our species communalities:
there are only sociable yet postnatural natures and power relations that matter
for who gets to live, play, suﬀer, or die in the short or long run.
POSTNATURAL FEMINISM AND ANTHROPOCENE HUMANITIES: CONCLUDING
REMARKS ON HOW NOTHING IS NEW WITH THIS AT THE SAME TIME THAT
EVERYTHING CHANGES WITH THIS
e picture I paint of feminist posthumanities remains especially colored by its
legacy of feminist science studies and its insistence on the bio-curious creativity of
feminist theory, as is evidenced in the works of the queer feminist environmental
humanities pioneer Stacy Alaimo, or in the transformative and alter-worlding
works of Eva Hayward and her collaborations with the feminist biologist Malin
Ah-King. Donna Haraway’s work, especially her ﬁguration of the cyborg, with
its insistence on a relationality that indexes our sense of belonging, stands out
as a particularly fertile origin story for feminist posthumanities.
e postnatural feminist lineages of Haraway’s “witty agent,” “coyote,”
“ cyborg,” “companion species,” “compost,” or trickster nature suggest that nature
itself (as an unrecognizable category to which we as much as our technologies
belong) has agency, is articulate, literate, and proliferative, which puts a com-
pletely new demand on feminist postdisciplinarity and skill sets. Accordingly,
posthumanities as practice also complicates the feminist identity. Already in the
cyborg manifesto, Haraway (1991, 176) explains, “to recognize ‘oneself’ as fully
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implicated in the world, frees us of the need to root politics in identiﬁcation,
vanguard parties, purity, and mothering.” As we always already are reciprocally
becoming with the world, the ethics of entanglement of feminist posthumanities
does entail both responsibilities and opportunities for reworking the material
eﬀects of the past and the future. ere is, however, no redemption from pasts
written in the ﬂesh of the world, as pointed out by Karen Barad. “Our debt to
those who are already dead and those not yet born cannot be disentangled from
who we are” (Barad 2010, 266). If posthumanities are about recognizing and
acknowledging the company of predecessor co-thinkers as much as attending
to postnatural technonature’s own literacies (and ways of inscribing itself in
us), their practitioners may not always be found in the academic world but in
water ponds, at lab benches, or in local community houses. us, they may
demand some strange conversations with other community-builders who were
there all along, but often stay unacknowledged (Åsberg et al. 2015). For sure,
they call for and attend to collaborations across human communities as much
as across nonhuman sociabilities.
Yet feminist posthumanities are still a multiheaded response deﬁned by
their open-endedness, transversality, and inter-, trans-, or postdisciplinarity. In
fact, I aver from the position of someone who started and has followed since
2008 the Posthumanities Hub, a postconventional research group forged by
cross-faculty and other types of collaborations, that feminist posthumanities
today are just one response among many others, but one particularly suited
both to the age-old feminist question and to the Anthropocene context within
the authoritative annals of the humanities and sciences, of “who gets to count
as human, what gets to count as natural, and at the expense of whom?” e
feminist thinking of these postnatural matters matters; it is a transformative
device we may use to think other stories or matters with.
In this essay, I have argued that nature is no longer separable from culture
in this age of the Anthropocene, and we simply cannot aﬀord the luxury of
thinking them apart in posthuman scholarship (Alaimo 2010, 15). Instead, we
must grapple with the larger question of a more-than-posthuman world and
especially deal with the postnatural condition we now also inhabit: what kinds
of ethics and critiques, arts and sciences, politics and methods, can account for
the changes in spatial and temporal scales introduced by climate change, species
extinction, the life sciences, or the emergence of the “politics of Life itself”
(Rose 2001; Franklin et al. 2000)? And how can we produce valuable accounts
and still stay truthful to the speciﬁcity of each particular case and location?
How can we deal with human accountability in the age of anthropogenic
environmental transformations that some call the Anthropocene? Can cultural
critique rise to the challenge of these complexities and to the radical immanence
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FEMINIST POSTHUMANITIES IN THE ANTHROPOCENE | 199
of events unfolding, in the world, in the discourse of the sciences and the arts,
and in theoretical practices? is everyday admixture of science, technology,
health, and environmental concerns with popular culture, embodiment, policy
making, and feminist critique demands seriously integrative approaches to
both human and nonhuman subjectivity and attention to our postnatural as
much as our posthuman condition. I have here suggested that the minoritarian
perspectives and postdisciplinarity provided by feminist posthumanities may
help us advance and complicate posthuman studies. ey might help us in
redesigning our future, past and present imaginings in more inclusive terms.
Here, I have sketched how feminist and other critical scholars have
developed diﬀerent forms of analytical accountability to more-than-human
humanities, the inhuman humanities (Grosz 2011), the posthuman humanities
(Braidotti 2013), or feminist posthumanities (Åsberg 2008). ey do so under
various headings, including material feminisms (Alaimo and Hekman 2007),
neomaterialism (Braidotti 2002), zoontology (Wolfe 2003), the aﬀective turn
(Koivunen 2010), new materialism (Coole and Frost 2010; Dolphijn and van
der Tuin 2012), postconstructionism (Lykke 2010) material ecocriticism (Iovino
and Oppermann 2014), ahuman ethics (MacCormack 2012), inhuman theory
or feminist theorizings of the nonhuman (Hird and Roberts 2011; Henriksen
and Radomska 2015), eco-feminism (Plumwood 1993), interactionism (Tuana
2008), queer ecologies (Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson 2010), posthu-
manist phenomenology (Neimanis 2017), neo-vitalism and vibrant matter
(Braidotti, 2006; Bennet, 2010), queer death studies (Lykke 2015; Radomska
2015; Mehrabi 2016), and critical disability studies and monster theory (Stacey
1997; Shildrick 2002, 2009). Other frames include Irigarayan sexual diﬀerence,
material semiotics after Michel Serres, or cyborg studies after Haraway.
Perhaps worth repeating lastly, the preﬁx “post” of posthumanities does not
signal a terminal crisis or ending, but a generative shift of humanities research
beyond its classical anthropocentrism: a reinvigoration of the ﬁeld geared to
the social, environmental, and scientiﬁc challenges of the third millennium
(Braidotti and Gilroy 2016). e “post” certainly does not imply here a post-
feminist or a postbiological stance (Åsberg 2009), but on the contrary, it signals
a critical and creative framework for performative and generative accounts of
technoscientiﬁc and other naturecultural practices across disciplines and cat-
egories. It involves critical conversations between scholars diﬀerently invested
with feminist or nonfeminist knowledge practices and with diﬀerent emphases.
It thus also entails tensions and, I hope, attempts at inhabiting those tensions
gracefully. Clearly, the “feminist” of feminist posthumanities circumscribes not
one feminist position or standpoint (Franklin et al. 2000) but a multitude of
situated perspectives on the posthuman condition. It is my hope that they will
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200 | CECILIA ÅSBERG
be conducive to transversal alliances and continued conversations. In all its
variety, feminist posthumanities, as here sketched, encircle a postdisciplinary
premise on which to rethink human nature, and consequently in the Anthro-
pocene context practice the humanities, otherwise.
CECILIA ÅSBERG, Professor and Chair of Gender, Nature, Culture at the
interdisciplinary TEMA Department of Linköping University, Sweden, is
the founding director of the postconventional humanities research group and
networks’ platform the Posthumanities Hub, and of the Swedish national program
initiative the Seed Box: An Environmental Humanities Collaboratory. From the
overlapping postdisciplinary areas of cultural studies, science and technology
studies, and gender studies, she develops creative and critical forms of the
feminist posthumanities through publications, networks, outreach-activities,
and PhD training in feminist theory between art and science, human–animal
studies, and medical, digital, and environmental humanities. Recent work
includes A Feminist Companion to the Posthumanities (Springer), edited with
Rosi Braidotti, and a forthcoming special issue on “Toxic Embodiment,” edited
with Olga Cielemecka, for the journal Environmental Humanities.
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_____. 2010. Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Bloomington, IN:
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_____. 2009. “Contact Zones Are Not Necessarily Comfort Zones: Posthumanities in the Gender
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