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Journal of the Theoretical Humanities

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Helen Hester

To cite this article: Helen Hester (2019) SAPIENCE + CARE, Angelaki, 24:1, 67-80

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Published online: 12 Feb 2019.

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journal of the theoretical humanities
volume 24 number 1 february 2019

introduction: post/humanist

P osthumanism can be understood as a pos-

ition that de-prioritizes or rescinds the pri-
vilege of the human in some way – frequently by
attempting to think humanity as one element of
a wider ecology of interdependent forces. This
might be productively framed as a deliberate
blurring of the distinctions at the edges of the
species – that is, around the boundaries
between ourselves and inanimate objects (such
as technological devices) on the one hand, and
between ourselves and non-human organisms helen hester
(everything from other mammals to gut bac-
teria) on the other. Within critical forms of fem-
inist posthumanism, this dismantling of
categorical boundaries tends to be accompanied
by a forceful critique of the anthropocentrism reason and responsibility in
and speciesism that characterizes much of con-
temporary theory and philosophy. Rosi Braidot- posthuman politics
ti’s insistence on “expanding the notion of Life
towards the non-human or zoe,”1 for example,
can in part be seen as a corrective to the histori- agents are embedded is apparent throughout
cal centrality of bios, understood here as “a life 2015’s “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alien-
that is formed, bounded and oriented to what ation” – a manifesto very much alive to the
man might make of himself.”2,3 In this article, entanglement and co-constitution of silicon-
I will be considering how such an encompassing and carbon-based actors. The text makes fre-
notion of posthumanism might inform and quent reference to current technoscientific con-
operate in relation to xenofeminism – a philoso- ditions, from globalized cultures of e-waste, to
phical project confronting the gender politics of the hyperstitional phenomenon of the stock
technonatures. market, to suggestive but embryonic advances
First initiated by Laboria Cuboniks (the in open-source medicine. In so doing, it points
international feminist working group of which to some of the ways in which technological
I am a member), xenofeminism, or XF, pos- alteration might generate radical alterity. At
sesses several broad qualities that might be the same time, “nature” emerges as a recurrent
seen to correspond to the characterization of force in the manifesto – not as an essentializing
posthumanism offered above. For example, an underpinning for gender and eco-politics, nor as
interest in the assemblages within which social an immutable onto-theological force, but as a

ISSN 0969-725X print/ISSN 1469-2899 online/19/010067-14 © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis


technologized space of collective contestation of feminist posthumanism’s stated aims. From a

with the power to fundamentally shape lived xenofeminist perspective, I will argue, qualities
experiences. This is perhaps most forcefully typically associated with arrogant anthropo-
captured in the manifesto’s ultimate call to centrism can themselves be reconceived of as
action: “If nature is unjust, change nature!”4 potentially aligned with a productive posthu-
The subject of XF, then, is neither woman nor man politics of care. In order to develop this
human, if these terms are understood as argument, I will begin from the recent writings
suggesting discrete entities snipped from the of Donna Haraway, arguing that her work also
wider fabric of technomaterial existence. finds itself in a somewhat uneasy relationship
Instead, to the extent that it advances “a non- with posthumanism.
dualistic understanding of nature–culture inter-
action,”5 the XF project invites the reader to see
it as a call to, and for, the posthuman.
posthuman possibilities: rejections
That being said, however, the manifesto also
demonstrates considerable debts to some of the
and reclamations
key tenets of earlier humanist thinking – not There are many obvious resonances between
least in its reliance upon ideas such as reason, Haraway’s body of work and the general under-
rationality, justice, and emancipation. This standings of posthumanism that I have outlined
reliance is telegraphed at numerous points above. A Cyborg Manifesto famously destabi-
throughout the text, from the insistence on lizes the perceived boundary between the
reason as an engine of feminist emancipation, organic and the cybernetic as part of a pre-mil-
to the explicit claim that “Xenofeminism is a lennial socialist technofeminism, emphasizing
rationalism.”6 Given the posthuman trajectory the idea that the “machine is us, our processes,
of our approach to gender politics, readers an aspect of our embodiment,” whilst also envi-
might justifiably question the use of such well- sioning “lived social and bodily realities in
worn concepts. For all its espoused interest in which people are not afraid of their joint
decentring mankind-as-it-stands or in insisting kinship with animals and machines.”9 Her
upon the importance of a fuller range of corpus also performs the widespread posthuma-
factors that make up the complex assemblages nist manoeuvre of simultaneously challenging
of the contemporary world, it appears that XF humanist values whilst de-prioritizing the
still sits on the side of the human – an allegiance human itself by insisting upon its status as one
that we neither name nor interrogate within the actor within an ecology of other forces:
manifesto itself. It is from this tension that the
current article begins. No species, not even our own arrogant one
When and where do humanist tendencies pretending to be good individuals in so-
called modern Western scripts, acts alone:
reassert themselves within the manifesto, and
assemblages of organic species and abiotic
how are readers to navigate this seemingly con-
actors make history, the evolutionary kind
tradictory post/humanism? What are the affor- and the other kinds too.10
dances of throwing one’s lot in with the human
when: (a) various social groups (including However, despite a clear alignment with the
women, queers, and people of colour) have broad tenets of posthumanism, Haraway has
never been granted full access to that category; recently sought to distance her work from this
and (b) when many important feminist theorists critical position.
are pushing in different directions – from Brai- In her most recent book, Staying with the
dotti opting to “run with the bacteria”7 to Hito Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene
Steyerl aligning herself with inanimate objects?8 (2016), Haraway declares that “we are
Crucially, this article seeks to identify whether compost, not posthuman.”11 This claim is con-
and how certain humanist tropes, tools and nected to her rejection of human exceptional-
ideas might better facilitate the accomplishment ism, and is folded into her argument for a new

sapience + care

image of the future in which we “are at stake to posthumanist.”16 After all, critical posthuman-
each other” and in which “human beings are ism has made vigorous (if imperfect) efforts to
with and of the earth, and the biotic and compromise the various perceived categorical
abiotic powers of this earth are the main distinctions between “us and them” – or
story.”12 We are, of course, as Staying with rather, “us-es and them-s.” Isn’t such a position
the Trouble suggests, finite organisms entangled more obviously an ally in the quest for multispe-
with other beings and tending towards the same cies eco-justice than an appropriate object of
kinds of decomposition as other forms of bio- anti-exceptionalist opprobrium?
logical matter. Given how neatly this position The explicit dismissals within Staying with
slots into an existing framework, however, the the Trouble also rather overlook posthuman-
motivation for Haraway’s resistance to posthu- ism’s potential utility for Haraway’s own
manism is somewhat unclear. It appears to be project. She is clearly invested, as she long has
intended, at least in part, as a critique of the been, in the activation of the common imagin-
manner in which certain posthumanist visions ation with regards to planetary survival and dis-
of the future continue to position humans at tributed future flourishings; that is, in our
their heart, in a partially disguised or disavowed collective ability to learn “to narrate – to think
manner. Within such visions, Man continues on – outside the prick tale of Humans in History,
as he has always been (namely, as a locus of when the knowledge of how to murder each
innumerable intersecting privileges) whilst other – and along with each other, uncountable
being made subject to just enough superficial multitudes of the living earth – is not scarce.”17
updates, tweaks, and minimal revisions to pass Rather than viewing the posthuman as a dis-
as something else – something suggestive of guised extension of, or an excuse for, the
his radical transformation.13 These “posthuma- human-as-it-is, I am rather more inclined to
nist” projects can therefore be said to shore up view it as a technology for galvanizing precisely
the image of the human that they ostensibly such alternative narratives. As Braidotti puts it,
seek to depose, whilst continuing to prioritize we might
the species – or at least its “hypothetical wide
‘descendants’”14 – above all other manifes- see the posthuman turn as an amazing oppor-
tations of the material forces of the web of life. tunity to decide together what and who we are
Haraway’s rejection of this designation, then, capable of becoming, and a unique opportu-
nity for humanity to reinvent itself affirma-
can partially be framed as an extension of her
tively, through creativity and empowering
vehement refusal of anthropocentrism, and of
ethical relations, and not only negatively,
her insistence upon including a wider range of through vulnerability and fear. It is a chance
actors within the purview of her political to identify opportunities for resistance and
project. Certainly, this kind of perspective empowerment on a planetary scale.18
emerges frequently in Haraway’s earlier work
– work in which she teases out the co-impli- It is important to remember that collective
cation of companion species, and examines the desire is synthetic, mutable, and open to influ-
dependency of human flourishing upon the ence. This is why utopia is sometimes described
labours of non-human animals, for example. as “the education of desire”19 – because of its
However, whilst I appreciate elements of her capacity to disrupt habitual kinds of aspiration
stance against human exceptionalism – particu- in favour of radically different modes of
larly her nuanced ethical engagements with the wanting.
complexities of laboratory testing and the Utopia, then, can be said to hail desire as much
meat-industrial complex15 – I do not believe as it describes it – and, through this process of
that her principled insistence upon an ecology hailing, to revise it. As we put it in the xenofemi-
of interdependent actors can fully account for nist manifesto, the “task of collective self-
her recent declaration that “[p]hilosophically mastery requires a hyperstitional manipulation
and materially, I am a compostist not a of desire’s puppet-strings”20 – that is, the


ability to generate politically radical visions of This is one reason why a particular attentive-
the future which have the capacity to grip onto ness to humanity may need to be retained – as
our shared imaginaries, to become vectors for a part of a process of assigning and facilitating
common want, and thereby to create the con- “response-ability.”24 I mean this in Haraway’s
ditions required for their own emergence.21 sense of “the capacity to respond”25 – that is,
The posthuman is a useful concept precisely to of the simultaneous obligation and facility to
the extent to which it can facilitate the circulation take action. Throughout her work, Haraway is
of a new imaginary of what the species might keen to re-embed human actants within their
become, beyond the wretched “phallic self- specific contexts and within the assemblages of
image of the same.”22 Unlike compost – which, which they are a part. Such a (posthumanist)
with its associations with decaying matter, may gesture is a necessary move against “the
do little to mobilize productive political affect outrage of human exceptionalism,”26 and a
amongst those who have yet to be turned off deflationary tactic in the face of the anthropo-
from human exceptionalism – the posthuman is arrogance she detects within humanism and
invitational, explicitly suggesting the emergence posthumanism alike. However, attempts to
of trajectories beginning from the here and envision the posthuman need not necessarily
now, but also pushing species-thinking in trans- be grounded in or inextricable from speciesist
formative directions, carving out a space for us hauteur. The philosopher Reza Negarestani
to imagine ourselves as better than we are. argues that a robust and rigorous movement to
How, then, can we best leverage the idea of the revise and reconstruct the human must of neces-
posthuman for emancipatory xenofeminist ends? sity begin “by dissociating human significance
from human glory.”27 It is from this point
that any xenofeminist approach to productively
exceptional response-ability: navigating the tensions between the human and
the posthuman must commence.
posthuman politics Can we recognize the distinctive capacities of
Beyond debates about which totemic image of the human, as an animal among animals,
the future might have greater potential to without also presuming a privileged position
(re-)educate collective political desire, I am in relation to the interconnected network of
interested in the wider implications of Har- bios and zoe? Might this provide one way into
away’s attempts to position posthumanism as a “rethinking our relations to each other, and to
form of human exceptionalism. There is a the other forms of matter […] with which we
tension in her work, I think, between situating share the universe, without renouncing ethical
Homo sapiens as just one, non-hierarchized and political responsibility or the idea of
species among many and, (a) her willingness to human freedom”?28 I am by no means alone in
celebrate the distinctive capacities of other, articulating these questions. It is perhaps to be
non-human species (the navigational and object expected that – as “the Anthropocene”
identificatory talents of pigeons, for example), becomes increasingly popular as a means by
and (b) her acknowledgement of humanity’s which “to name the time we are living in as
genuinely exceptional role in processes of eco- one that identifies humans as responsible for
logical devastation (Man as “the hunter on a harmful planetary transformation”29 – critics
quest to kill and bring back the terrible are turning to ideas of response-ability as a
bounty”23). We may not be exceptional in terms means of interrogating agency and accountabil-
of the circumstances of our creation, or in terms ity, as well as anthropocentrism. Alexis Shot-
of our species’ intrinsic value or significance, I well, for example, appears to be very much in
would argue, but we have certainly proved our- alignment with Negarestani when she argues
selves to be exceptional in our ability to destroy for an approach to naturecultures grounded in
each other and the carbon- and silicon-based practices “of resisting human exceptionalism
actors with which we share our worlds. while at the same time thinking that humans

sapience + care

have responsibilities.”30 There is a similar per- technological artefacts, and non-human organ-
spective at play within Marı ́a Puig de la Bellaca- isms. My understanding of XF’s humanist post-
sa’s recent work, as she explores the role of humanism thus points again to the various
ethics in “the impure business of working for conceptual knots within the project, indicating
a difference within worlds that we would a very clear set of limits to this idea in the
rather not endorse but to which we are not here and now, without assuming these limits
immune.”31 There is an interest within such to be insurmountable in the longer term. To
work in how best to frame, mobilize, and exer- say that “the human” enables particular forms
cise capacities for intervention across the of political agency and facilitates still-useful
social fabric, without also lapsing into a kinds of collective project is not to say that
human exceptionalism facilitative of resource the “the human” must be retained as it stands.
depletion, ecological destruction, and a perni- Our framing of the species, I think, should
cious sense of species entitlement.32 ideally recognize its current strategic usefulness
Of course, whilst the wholesale rejection of (and the ongoing necessity of ensuring the
the species may be a debilitating and therefore maximal inclusiveness of this category) whilst
rather unpragmatic move, to project the also laying the groundwork for and clearing
human, unmodified, indefinitely into the the critical space required to enable its elimin-
future would seem to be similarly unhelpful. ation via transformation. Indeed, we might
Such a move would also be incompatible with view any pathway to the posthuman as travelling
Laboria Cuboniks’s insistence upon the (at via a kind of expanded humanism – something
times technologically facilitated) mutability of that mobilizes a set of nascent (if dormant)
bodies and identities. Perhaps what we need in potentials within the species in order to re-
order to activate ethical and political agency is engineer the forms it might take in the future.
an understanding not so much of the human As an anti-naturalism which sees the body as
as of the agential political subject – a subject a platform, and which insists that nothing in the
who does not precede her constitution or formu- world (“natural” or otherwise) should be con-
lation, but who is created by it. This is a subject sidered an un-remakable given, XF clearly
who is not inert, but live – constantly being con- views the human and its futures as up for
tested for, shaped and reshaped in response to grabs. The manifesto does in fact state that:
collective struggle and contemporary con-
ditions. It is not inconceivable that such a Our lot is cast with technoscience, where
subject might eventually exceed what we now nothing is so sacred that it cannot be reengi-
understand to be the human, or that the qual- neered and transformed so as to widen our
aperture of freedom, extending to gender
ities we now associate with the human might
and the human. To say that nothing is
be more equitably distributed across a wider
sacred, that nothing is transcendent or pro-
set of actors. As such, it may be possible to tected from the will to know, to tinker and
retain a posthuman tendency in our politics, to hack, is to say that nothing is
without occluding the agency and obligations supernatural.33
of existing human political actants.
A posthuman political subject of this kind We must affirm a posthumanism that (like post-
would combine the possibility of individual modernism) never loses sight of its dependence
and collective ethico-political accountability on the term it allegedly surpasses. Around what,
and decision making with an understanding of then, might posthuman agency be built? What
specific communities of humans as particularly qualities might we wish to retain from current
situated stakeholders within a complex assem- understandings of the human, as we search for
blage of actors. That is to say, she would vectors for more emancipatory futures? My sug-
combine response-ability with a commitment gestion is that one possible model might be
to confronting her own embeddedness in and characterized by the idea of “sapience + care”
reliance upon interdependent humans, – a formulation that references our status as


alienated beings with the ability to reason, in position here is inspired by the work of my
conjunction with the unique response-ability friend and Laboria Cuboniks colleague, Diann
that such alienation bestows upon us. Bauer. Bauer argues that as soon as our
species could reason beyond its biological
needs, it could be positioned as alienated.36
sapience + care
Reason granted us some (albeit limited) critical
To so strongly emphasize sapience (and, there- distance from the vicissitudes of instinct and
fore, the role of reason and rationality) within affect, which facilitated a certain capacity for
a critical reframing of posthumanity may seem self-reflection – indeed, which developed into a
unduly narrow, not least because this kind of potential basis for self-sovereignty, understood
exceptionalism has a history of nudging many as the quest for heightened collective under-
actually existing humans beyond the perceived standing as an integral part of the democratic
threshold of the species, and into the realm of project. As Williams and Srnicek put it, “it is
the subhuman. However, I would argue that only through harnessing our ability to under-
such qualities, broadly understood, have the stand ourselves and our world better (our
potential to provide a highly inclusive basis for social, technical, economic, psychological
understanding an emancipatory form of politi- world) that we can come to rule ourselves.”37
cal agency to come. As Lawrence C. Becker With this in mind, we can see that (partial and
remarks, a capacity for practical reasoning “of contingent) alienation from our biology via
a sort that involves conditional inferences, gen- reason demands to be considered as a pro-
eralization, and error-correction routines” is ductive force.
understood to be common across members of Such an alienation is closely bound to sapi-
the species as it stands:34 “Absent catastrophic ence, and provides my first coordinate for a
limitations in our human endowments or cir- vision of the posthuman based upon existing
cumstances […] – limitations of a sort that (but as yet largely unrealized) capabilities
diminish or eliminate agency itself – we come within the human as it stands – capabilities
equipped with, and use, logic circuits at a sub- which are worthy of being extended and incor-
conscious level.”35 Typically, these will porated into the “post.” Sapience, it should be
develop an element of reflexivity that enables stressed, should by no means be understood as
reason to recognize and revise its own principles an exclusively human capacity, even if it is one
and processes on an ongoing basis. The under- of the features that has been used to characterize
pinnings of sapience are positioned here as our species so far. One must imagine sapience
broad capacities already extensively distributed bleeding out at the edges of Homo sapiens,
across the entirety of the human population, thereby unpicking centuries of careful boundary
rather than as elite knowledges jealously work, as it increasingly finds expression within
guarded by white patriarchal philosopher- both silicon- and carbon-based actors (from
experts. apes to AI and beyond). It is perhaps more pro-
If to be an agent requires a minimal ability to ductive to view sapience as something one does
make decisions about appropriate courses of rather than something one has or is, as this
action, then reason and rationality will inevita- works to minimize any friction that might
bly be central to the conceptualization of the emerge in relation to recognizing or appreciat-
posthuman we are developing here – indeed, ing the existence of non-human sapience, and
they must undergird any conception of ethico- holds a conceptual space open for the emergence
political community. What else can sapience of unforeseen sapient behaviours in the future.
add to our discussion of xenofeminist futurity? Despite not being exclusively human,
What elevates it from an inevitable condition however, sapience can still be productively
or baseline for political agency to a central prin- leveraged as part of any attempt to think the
ciple in attempts to hyperstitionally engineer a posthuman as a political agent. Without fore-
transition from human to posthuman? My grounding sapience in this context, action “is

sapience + care

reduced to meaning ‘just do something’, collec- exceptionalism,40 may create the conditions for
tivity can never be methodological or expressed an ethics of parochial self-interest. Such a so-
in terms of a synthesis of different abilities to called ethics would hardly warrant the label
envision and achieve a common task, and “posthuman.” Care, on the other hand,
making commitment through linking action implies a concern for actors who are not necess-
and understanding is untenable.”38 arily in a position to reciprocate – including, for
It may seem that I am reaching into quite example, those of us experiencing the kind of
another sphere of values when I seek to bring “catastrophic limitations in our human endow-
care into conversation with sapience. Indeed, ments or circumstances” that restrict the possi-
“sapience + care” might at first glance suggest bility of agential reasoning.41,42
two opposed modalities, being dragged into an As Puig de la Bellacasa notes:
unlikely synthesis – cold hard rationality along-
side warm soft affect, alienating cognition with the living web of care is not one where every
giving involves taking, nor every taking will
alienated embodiment. Such a position
involve giving. The care that touches me
depends upon obviously insupportable binaries,
today and sustains me might never be given
however, and downplays the complexity of (and back (by me or others) to those who generated
demands associated with) both the key terms in it, who might not even need or want my care.
this formulation. Negarestani suggests that sapi- In turn, the care I give will touch beings who
ence must be understood as “a normative desig- will never give me (back) this care.43
nation which is specified by entitlements and
the responsibilities they bring about.”39 As The insistence on thinking sapience with care –
such, sapience and care are fundamentally as an act of foregrounding too-often neglected
entangled from the get-go – a site of mutually responsibilities over too-often inflated entitle-
constitutive abilities and liabilities, in which ments – may help us to displace the “human-
the capacity to respond is also an ethical obli- exceptionalist, business-as-usual commitments
gation to respond. In other words, having the of so much Anthropocene discourse.”44
ability to engage in complex forms of abstract Indeed, this explicit combination is precisely a
reasoning brings with it a particular kind of tool for theorizing “the ethical necessity for
response-ability – one which reaches beyond response that […] attends human complicity
the immediate realm of the same and into the in the damage done to the critters and biota
xeno. In my view, posthuman agency should with which we share damaged ecosystems.”45
be conceived of as going beyond a duty to Putting sapience at the heart of our conceptions
other sapient beings – including a duty to recog- of political agency, then, is not about devaluing
nize and respect sapience in/of the Other – and non-sapient Others or instrumentalizing the
must include accountability to non-sapient other-than-human, but is instead intended to
forms of life, as well as to the various ecologies foster the proliferation and widespread distri-
that sustain them (and/or us). bution of response-ability. Crucially, it is also
Here, my emphasis upon the intimate about acknowledging that many of the abilities
relationship between sapience and care that such response-ability implies are, at
becomes instructive, in part because of the present, distinctively tied to the potentials of
manner in which it reinserts us into discussions our species.
of interdependencies and assemblages. Sapience
implies being possessed of the capacity to take taking ownership: negotiating
meaningful action via deliberative choice and
ongoing reflexive reasoning – prerequisites for
agency and interdependency
reciprocity in an ethico-political community. Whilst it is certainly important not to neglect
The possibility of such reciprocity, when com- our place within a wider system of intercon-
bined with the sometimes ruthless application nected actants, it is also crucial that we do not
of reason in the name of human imply an ecology of equivalencies. Simply


(re)inserting Homo sapiens (and its imagined previously imperceptible critters and flora”49 –
descendants) into a network of zoe is insuffi- a process that need not be inhospitable to
cient, given that it risks sacrificing a sense of other forms of scientific endeavour. These
response-ability to inflexible anti-exceptional- forms of naturalism speak to distinctively
ism. After a certain point, an insistence upon human affinities, histories, and capacities, and
multispecies, cross-actor interdependency as such are not unproblematic.
makes the process of conceiving of agency, be As Shotwell herself remarks, there is a sense
it individual or collective, increasingly difficult. in which noticing and naming might be seen as
Haraway’s work centres upon: “simply part of Man’s God-given right to name
the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air
symbiotic assemblages, at whatever scale of […], exercising dominion over the natural
space or time, which are more like knots of world – the ultimate in holding the rational,
diverse intra-active relatings in dynamic classifying, mode as mastery and use.”50
complex systems, than like the entities of a
Against this narrative of chauvinistic steward-
biology made up of pre-existing bounded
units (genes, cells, organisms, etc.) in inter- ship, however, she suggests that this “form of
actions that can only be conceived as com- attunement” might be read as a tactic for
petitive or cooperative.46 “resisting human exceptionalism while at the
same time thinking that humans have responsi-
Such a framework is obviously compelling, and bilities.”51 Such arguments have obvious reson-
has enabled Haraway to articulate a complex, ances with the agentic posthuman imaginary I
thorny, and deeply involving feminism oriented am trying to develop here. There is nothing to
towards a more-than-human world. However, stop us from realizing that, despite having
the danger of thinking primarily in these little entitlement to mastery or stewardship
terms is that response-ability may come to be over anything except ourselves, our sapience
understood as so dispersed amongst networks lends us particular possibilities for action. As
that taking ownership (in the sense not only of a result of a capacity for complex and distribu-
arrogant possession but of the assertion and ted cognition, those emerging from within our
acceptance of obligation) becomes impossible. species are likely to be best placed to mitigate
How can we cultivate collective political the manifold negative effects wrought by
agency of a kind proportionate to our current Homo sapiens. As Haraway puts it, “We are
conditions with or through this framework? all responsible to and for shaping conditions
Can it be somehow repositioned to ensure that for multispecies flourishing in the face of terri-
interaction does not necessarily spell inaction? ble histories, but not in the same ways. The
As Alexis Shotwell’s work suggests, there may differences matter – in ecologies, economies,
be ways of framing the accountability of the species, lives.”52 I could not agree more. It
posthuman agent in such a manner as to estab- strikes me that one of the most significant differ-
lish caring and noticing as a process of ences at play is the exceptional capacity of
“placing oneself in community with the humans to interpret, understand, and act.
objects of care,”47 against any legacy of aggran- I should stress, of course, that whilst this
dizing custodianship. She points to the practice vision is dependent upon qualities theoretically
of amateur naturalism – learning to recognize already present within the species, we are
particular forms of bird song or to navigate talking about a new mode of being that is yet
the identifying features of trees – as one possible to come: namely, the posthuman, as a political
model here, commenting upon its utility as a orientation built from identifiable but largely
“method of training people to be attentive to dormant productive qualities in the human.
their environment in a way they weren’t We are exploring something, then, that “is
before.”48 For Shotwell, these processes inhuman in its break with human history as
sharpen our capacity to “attend to things, on much as it is human in its enactment of our
the level of actually being able to perceive current possibilities.”53 In the case of modern

sapience + care

Homo, any capacity for care has tended to lapse simply insufficient for creating the conditions
into custodianship, chauvinistic entitlement, a for collective response-ability. Surely practices
desperation to force the burdens of caring onto of care must go beyond the coincidence of coex-
raced and gendered others, and the quest for istence in order to be politically meaningful?
surplus value, whilst we have refused to collec-
tively absorb the knowledge that we as a
species have obtained with regards to impend- the trouble with care
ing climate crisis. I am not trying to suggest
On a personal note, I find it curious that I have
that, against all evidence, a productive form of
been driven to hang my understanding of post-
sapience + care is already a dominant character-
human agency upon the concept of care – a
istic of humanity, and nor am I implying that it
vision of the future that I have vigorously
is an inevitable direction for the species that will
rejected in other contexts. My less philosophi-
remain exclusive to us. It is a vector through
cally inflected work is anchored specifically in
which to channel an emancipatory vision of
problematizing care as the basis for a new and
the human to be made post – that is, a model
better society, given the ways in which it
for reconceiving of the political subject beyond
allows the work ethic (and work itself) to
current understandings of the human, which
reappear in unacknowledged forms, and on
partially accounts for the centrality of a persist-
account of its tendency to downplay the
ent, residual humanism throughout the xenofe-
myriad frustrations and exhaustions of this
minist manifesto.
(highly gendered) labour. It is one of the
We are reaching here for an account of the
strengths of Puig de la Bellacasa’s work, I
imperative implicit within the posthuman
would argue, that it is never tempted to venerate
vector of “sapience + care.” So, for example,
care even as it recognizes its utility. From the
as a species capable of achieving an abstract
earliest pages, the author stresses that care is
understanding of ecologies, and with an unsur-
“not only ontologically but politically ambiva-
passed insight into complex and intersecting
lent.”55 She remarks that there is something
global systems (including environmental, econ-
compelling about “cultivating indifference as a
omic, infrastructural, and socio-political net-
form of quiet revolt,”56 and notes that:
works), humans have a seemingly matchless
capacity to attend to the environment beyond Too much caring can be consuming. Women
our local situations. This is one of the distinctive especially know how much care can devour
potentials of the species at present. We have their lives, asphyxiate other possible skills.
capacities that might enable us to understand And care can also smother the subtleties of
and act upon the world beyond the sites that attention to the different needs of an
we can immediately perceive through our “other” required for careful relationality. It
can be said then that it can also consume
sense organs, which may help constitute what
the cared for, leading to appropriating the
Bernard Stiegler calls “a new social rationality,
recipients of “our” care instead of relating
productive of motivation, of reasons for living to them.57
together, that is, of taking care of the world
and of those living there.”54 Of course, we are Care, then, is too polysemic a concept to pos-
already implicated in inescapable networks of ition as an absolute and unquestionable ethical
interdependency – in the entanglement of norm or moral good, and must always be under-
people, places, and things – which Puig de la stood in terms of specific forms of situated,
Bellacasa provocatively reframes as part of an embodied practice.
expanded understanding of care. And yet there This understanding of care is important for
is more to be said regarding this key term in our purposes, in that it reminds us that “sapi-
our formulation of posthuman agency. As we ence + care” really means “some practical affor-
have seen, recognizing our own embeddedness dances of sapience plus some emancipatory
in assemblages of loose, mutual reliance is forms of care.” The reduction of this issue to a


sloganistic formulation demands to be seen as, freedoms and restrictions. For our model of
in part, an invitation to fill in the blanks. How posthuman political agency to have any xenofe-
do the two terms of our equation affect each minist potential, it must refuse care as an unre-
other when explicitly theorized in combination? makeable given (particularly one associated with
What can reason and rationality do for us when the naturalized gendered personality) and insist
applied to (or understood alongside) the notion upon rendering it maximally contestable. It is
of care? What specific forms of activity might we only in this way that we can imagine an emanci-
wish to understand as care, and under what con- patory future for care.
ditions, as part of our thinking surrounding the In order to overcome the current gender
posthuman? For me, the process of insisting on relations associated with reproductive labour,
care as one element in a future-oriented politics and thereby to secure an alternative imaginary
based around species self-image is that it expli- of care, we must look to the collective appli-
citly denaturalizes this concept. We see this in cation of the other key term in our posthumanist
Puig de la Bellacasa’s efforts to deliberately formulation. That is to say, such an overcoming
open up the concept to new territories. As she is dependent upon the distributed operations of
puts it, extending the sapience – the productive alienation stemming
from an ability to think beyond local circum-
sites and constituencies in which we think stances and raw sensory data, as part of an
care contributes new modes of attention and engagement in self-reflection and “reformative
problematics. So rather than give up on
assessment.”61 It is important to remember
care because it is enlisted in purposes we
that the process of clearing critical space for
might deplore, we need to have its meanings
debated, unpicked and reenacted.58 neglected perspectives and alternative knowl-
edges cannot take place without the operations
Implicated in conceptions of political agency, of a self-transcending reason able to recognize
care can become contestable in new ways. To that which lies beyond the immediate conditions
channel it in the name of XF, then, must be a of specific, situated consciousnesses. As Peter
move to deepen ambivalences and strengthen Wolfendale notes, left accelerationist positions,
challenges to care as it stands, rather than to including XF, share a “common commitment
project existing cultures of care into the future not only to knowing ourselves and the world
as a kind of welcome inevitability. we live in, but actively using this knowledge
To even include care within a speculative phi- to cultivate our agency and engage with the
losophical and political project of this kind is to world’s problems.”62 Such comments helpfully
render it alien – to no longer assume its foreground the connection between sapience
dynamics or operations to be self-evident (that and response-ability, alienation and agency,
is to say, apolitical). “Sapience + care” seeks to and point to one key basis for solidarity build-
hyperstitiously enfold response-ability within ing. Indeed, we must stress once again that sapi-
our conception of what the species might (and ence and care are necessarily implicated in each
should) become and, in the process, to put the other; care can be understood as “a (knowledge)
reinterpretation and redistribution of care at politics of inhabiting the potentials of neglected
the centre of emerging political agendas. Follow- perception.”63 The critique of care as it stands
ing Puig de la Bellacasa, XF must seek to requires just such a politics, and as such
acknowledge “the necessity of care in more demands to be understood as an example of
than human relations, not as all that there is the application of sapience + care. We must
in a relation […] but as something that tra- know ourselves to change ourselves.
verses, that is passed on through entities and
agencies.”59 More than merely intensifying
conclusion: what will become of us?
“awareness of how beings depend on each
other,”60 it serves as the fabric for an unpicking The vision of posthuman political agency that
and resewing of obligations and opportunities, I have proposed is premised upon a normative

sapience + care

standard by which agents are encouraged to disclosure statement

cultivate response-ability in accordance with
their own mutable, evolving, and differen- No potential conflict of interest was reported by
tially distributed capacities; this extends to the author.
entering into (inevitable) processes of being
cared for in ways that are themselves care-ful notes
– which are (as far as possible) mindful of
the existence, requirements, and sometimes 1 Braidotti, The Posthuman 50.
competing demands of other actants in these 2 Colbrook 65.
specific chains of response-ability. The
3 Such a position is closely aligned with a range of
model of sapience + care – of observant
twenty-first-century feminist mat(t)erialisms,
tending fuelled by reason and reflexivity – several of which have proved influential to xenofe-
might be cultivated into an approach to minism – not least Donna Haraway’s later work, to
ecology in which we collectively labour, each which we will be returning in the course of this
from our own specific coordinates and accord- discussion.
ing to our own distinctive capacities, to miti-
4 Laboria Cuboniks n. pag.
gate some of the species’ negative effects
upon the beings with which it coexists (and, 5 Braidotti, The Posthuman 3.
indeed, upon itself). This vision of a revised 6 Laboria Cuboniks n. pag.
or extended humanism would see posthuman-
ity minimizing the impact of its own differen- 7 Braidotti, “Posthuman, All Too Human?” n. pag.
tially distributed success in an act of other- 8 Steyerl n. pag.
acknowledging care.
9 Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto” 180.
One can be on the side of the human without
neglecting the assemblages of which we are all a 10 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble 100.
part, as long as one conceives of humanity in
11 Ibid. 55.
this manner – as a site of nascent potential
for sapience + care, alienated understanding 12 Ibid.
of a complex world combined with the will to 13 See Colbrook 198.
engage in the reparative processes of tending
to it. Although we may be more capable of 14 Roden.
understanding the abstract requirements of 15 See, for example, Haraway, When Species Meet.
planetary care than we are at actually delivering
16 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble 97.
it, either on the environmental or the individ-
ual scale, it is this that we can position at the 17 Ibid. 40.
heart of a xenofeminist notion of posthuman 18 Braidotti, The Posthuman 195.
feminism; the will to extend the human
capacity for abstraction when applied to the 19 Levitas 6.
demands of care for other actors and for our 20 Laboria Cuboniks n. pag.
environments. In this sense, my call to and
21 Think of the ways in which science fiction has
for the posthuman is a hyperstitional gesture
taught us to desire hoverboards and heads-up dis-
of desire for what we describe in the manifesto
plays, and extend this beyond mere consumer elec-
as “an emancipatory and egalitarian commu- tronics to the broader field of technosocial reality.
nity buttressed by new forms
of unselfish solidarity and col- 22 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble 11.
lective self-mastery.”64 Such a 23 Ibid. 39.
position may, just about, allow
24 Ibid. 2.
us to be posthumanists for
humanity. 25 Ibid. 78.


26 Haraway, When Species Meet 106. 47 Shotwell 98.

27 Negarestani, “The Labor of the Inhuman, Part 48 Ibid.
II” n. pag.
49 Ibid. 99.
28 Cornell and Seely 121.
50 Ibid. 98.
29 Shotwell 1.
51 Ibid.
30 Ibid. 98.
52 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble 116.
31 Puig de la Bellacasa 133.
53 Pirici and Voinea n. pag.
32 An entitlement, incidentally, that holds only at a
54 Stiegler 115.
certain scale – namely, when held at sufficient dis-
tance to apply to an apparently encompassing “us.” 55 Puig de la Bellacasa 7.
When one breaks this category down to the
various “us-es” it contains – “us-es” shaped by 56 Ibid. 5.
race, nation, class, and so on – it becomes apparent 57 Ibid. 85.
that species entitlement typically extends only to
the most parochial kinds of false universals. 58 Ibid. 10.

33 Laboria Cuboniks n. pag. 59 Ibid. 163.

34 Becker 54. 60 Ibid.

35 Ibid. 54–55. 61 Becker 50.

36 Bauer n. pag. 62 Wolfendale, Interview with Laureano Ralón

n. pag.
37 Williams and Srnicek 358.
63 Puig de la Bellacasa 118.
38 Negarestani, “The Labor of the Inhuman, Part
II” n. pag. 64 Laboria Cuboniks n. pag.

39 Ibid. n. pag.
40 See, for example, Peter Wolfendale’s apparent
justification of the meat-industrial complex on the
basis that non-human animals are incapable of
reason. Humans are entitled to slaughter other Bauer, D. “It’s not you, it’s me.” We Need your
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