Finding the ‘human’ in the ‘posthuman’: The representation of the technologically enhanced posthuman in Young Adult fiction

Change log
Shakeshaft, Richard  ORCID logo

Technology has become an increasingly significant element of humans’ lives in recent years, and it continues to shape them in ways hitherto only imaginable in science-fiction. Moving beyond humanism, the human/technology relationship has caused the question of what it means to be human to be considered through posthuman thought. I see the reality of technology’s effect on human lives giving rise to the figure of the posthuman, in which aspects of the human are replaced or enhanced by technology. Through the posthuman subject, I propose the idea of a postchild and the notion of a posthuman trialism as new ways in which to examine representations of posthumans.

Texts aimed a teenage readers frequently offer perspectives on questions of identity formation and the need for adolescent protagonists to find their place in the world. I use a range of young adult texts, with a variety of different types of posthuman protagonists written over the past twenty years, to explore how the posthuman is represented through the narratives, and how power structures and ideologies are conveyed. Through my analyses I demonstrate that, despite technology’s apparent superiority, it is human qualities that remain more important in the posthuman, although the extent to which the human is prioritised depends on the way in which technology is employed.

My findings provide a clear illustration of how teenage readers are being shown about the ways in which technology can be used and viewed in their lives, and how the human/technology relationship may shape their lives. While the presentations do not portend the dystopian vision of the future still prevalent in many people’s minds, they stress the need for humans’ use of technology to be questioned by its users and those with power in societies. My new approaches to the posthuman also mean that my work gives ways in which representations of the posthuman in any media can be critically examined.

Nikolajeva, Maria
posthuman, trialism, postchild
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge