Posthumanities: The Dark Side of “The Dark Side of the Digital”

Authors: Janneke Adema, Gary Hall


Introduction: In What Is Posthumanism? Cary Wolfe insists “the nature of thought itself must change if it is to be posthumanist.”[1] Our argument, made manifest by this special issue of the Journal of Electronic Publishing, is that it is not only our ways of thinking about the world that must change if they are to be posthumanist, or at least not simply humanist; our ways of being and doing in the world must change too. In particular, we view the challenge to humanism and the human brought about by the emergence of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, bioscience, robotics, preemptive, cognitive, and contextual computing, as providing us with an opportunity to reinvent, radically, the ways in which we work, act, and think as theorists. In this respect, if “posthumanism names a historical moment in which the decentering of the human by its imbrication in technical, medical, informatics, and economic networks is increasingly impossible to ignore,”[2] then it generates an opportunity to raise the kind of questions for the humanities we really should have raised long before now, but haven’t because our humanist ideas, not just of historical change and progression (i.e. from human to posthuman, to what comes after the human),[3] but of the rational, liberal, human subject, and the associated concepts of the author, the journal, and copyright we have inherited with it, continue to have so much power and authority.

Our use of disruption in this context thus goes beyond the usual definitions of the term. This includes those characterizations of technological disruption associated with Clayton Christensen and his colleagues at the Harvard Business School, and with the rhetoric of Silicon Valley. It is not our intention to try to sustain and develop the current system for creating, performing, and circulating humanities research and scholarship, its methodologies, aesthetics, and institutions, by emphasizing the potential of disruptive technologies to generate innovations that are capable of facilitating the production of a new “digital” humanities, or even “posthuman Humanities studies.”[4] As the title of this special issue indicates, rather than helping the humanities refresh themselves with what Joseph Schumpeter describes as waves of “creative destruction” (say, by developing new computational methods for discovering, reading, analyzing, comparing, annotating, and publishing humanities texts), our interest is in affirmatively disrupting the humanities by seeing the threat to humanism and the human associated with the emergence of these new “posthuman” technologies as offering us a chance to experiment with the invention of posthumanities systems for the creation, performance, and circulation of knowledge and research. It is for this reason that we have adopted the term “affirmative disruption” in some of our work: to emphasize this difference. The word affirmative is being used here in the sense in which Roberto Esposito writes of an “affirmative biopolitics” in relation to the thought of Michel Foucault—an affirmative biopolitics being “one that is not defined negatively with respect to the dispositifs of modern power/knowledge but is rather situated along the line of tension that traverses and displaces them.”


Citation: Adema, J, and Hall, G (2016) Posthumanities: The Dark Side of “The Dark Side of the Digital” The Journal of Electronic Publishing. Volume 19, Issue 2: Disrupting the Humanities: Towards Posthumanities




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