Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Anthropocene
Counterposed movements in contemporary anthropology situate humanity in radically different ways. In one direction, theorists of the Anthropocene place humanity at the center of global change: humanity is the prime mover. In the other direction, theorists of various stripes loosely grouped in an ontological turn displace or even dissolve humanity within a world of other agents. Both approaches potentially miss the key dynamic in the middle ground: the articulation of what might be called the extrahuman or preterhuman. By extrahuman or preterhuman we mean the augmentation of the distinctively human to be more than only human. Attention to extrahumanity drives salvationist projects of treating prophets as both human and divine, cryptozoological searches for hidden human-like creatures, transhumanist visions of a future for humankind beyond physical limits of life and death, and spiritualist projects that infuse an anthropocentric cosmos with a vitalist sensibility. In extrahuman projects, humanity is not just defined against the nonhuman, nor dissolved into ever-emergent relationality. Rather, it is a grounding context. By paying attention to the extrahuman--and specifically, paying attention to how our field interlocutors define human and extrahuman--anthropologists can address classic questions of what it means to be human without fetishizing or dissolving the category.