Surrogate Humanity: Posthuman Networks and the (Racialized) Obsolescence of Labor

Neda Atanasoski, Kalindi Vora


Historical forms of domination and power, encompassed but not limited to social categories and hierarchies of difference, get built into seemingly non-human objects and the infrastructures that link them, thus sanitizing digital media technologies as human-free.  Rather than questioning the epistemological and ontological underpinnings of the human, fantasies about the revolutionary nature of new media and technology developments as posthuman carry forward and re-universalize the historical specificity of the category “human” whose bounds they claim to surpass.  To begin to theorize some of the ways in which the notion of a revolutionary network of humans and things is both racial and racializing, the first part of this article develops a reading of Sylvia Wynter’s theorization of modern “man” as fundamentally constructed through racial-scientific notions of the biological and economic.  We then think Wynter’s notion of homo-oeconomicus alongside Rifkin’s postulation that in fact the infrastructure revolution marks a paradigm shift away from capitalism. Through an analysis of several contemporary platforms (including Alfred and Amazon Mechanical Turk), we address the global-racial erasures and disappearances undergirding techno-utopic fantasies of a post-labor society.  At the same time, as we argue, it is insufficient to merely point out the way in which human racialized and gendered labor underwrites techno-utopic fantasies. Instead, we move to a consideration of the epistemological and material shifts as well as legacies tied to prior post-Enlightenment revolutionary thought, such as that of Franz Fanon, to reconceptualize who or what can count as human.  In conversation with feminist science studies scholarship on the posthuman, we grapple with what it means to think the subject of labor, and the human as subject, outside of the biological-economic imperatives of prior imaginaries.


posthuman; Sylvia Wynter; postcolonial science studies; labor; infrastructure, Amazon's Mechanical Turk

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