Posthumanism refers to a theoretical framework in which the human is decentered in a time of technological development, the crisis of climate change, and advanced capitalism. This perspective reevaluates the relationship between the human and the non-human world. The non-human can be biological, material, or technological.  

The Latin prefix ‘post’ suggests that the posthuman comes after the human, but this linear framework does not hold for posthumanism. Rather, the term posthuman interrogates what it means to be human. A posthuman perspective involves an act of decentering the human. The origins of the term posthuman are not entirely clear, but generally a performative piece by the literary scholar Ihab Hassan (1977) is taken as the starting point of a posthumanist culture in the humanities. He suggests reevaluating the relationship between humans and non-humans, especially with respect to technology and the environment. The notion of the posthuman gained wider currency with N. Katherine Hayles’ book How We Became Posthuman (1999), in which she processed the accelerated change invoked by information technologies and critically assessed the techno-optimist rhetoric of the last decades of the twentieth century. Posthumanist theory claims that in this time and age the human is decentered by technological developments and advanced capitalism. 

A posthuman perspective proposes a non-anthropocentric view by taking the human subject away from the center of attention. It permits an understanding of fashion as materially co-produced in a complex network of interconnected human and non-human actors. As such, the term posthuman refers to the recognition of the human as an entity interconnected with the wider material world. 

The posthuman is basically a hybrid figure; it is about thinking what the human is or rather becomes before, beyond, or after the human. Cary Wolfe (2010) emphasizes that the term “posthuman” pertains to the human being who lives in both a biological and technological world, while “posthumanism” refers to the historical time in which the human is decentered by “technical, medical, informatic and economic networks”. Rosi Braidotti argues that “The posthuman is a work in progress. It is a working hypothesis about the kind of subjects we are becoming” in a time of unprecedented technological development, the crisis of climate change, and all-pervading capitalism (2019, p. 2).  

A posthuman perspective acknowledges a nature-culture continuum that defies binary thinking, such as between the human and its many others—the non-human. The non-human can be organic or inorganic. Traditionally, the non-human pertains to nature or the organic: to trees and animals as well as to bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Today, the non-human equally refers to the technological or inorganic world of robotics, artificial intelligence (A.I.), or synthetic polyester. In the case of fashion, the non-human can be made of organic materials like wool and cotton, or of technological materials like polymer fibers, solar cells, or 3D printed polyamide.  

Posthumanism allows for a sharper focus on the non-human world, i.e. on the environment. It thus helps to focus on sustainability. 

Braidotti, R. (2013) The Posthuman, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Braidotti, R. (2019) Posthuman Knowledge, Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Braidotti, R. (2022) Posthuman Feminism, Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Braidotti, R. and M. Hlavajova (eds) (2018) The Posthuman Glossary, London: Bloomsbury: 3. 

Clarke, B. and M. Rossini (eds.) (2017) The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman, Cambridge University Press. 

Haraway, D. (2016) Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Hassan, I. (1977) “Prometheus as Performer: Toward a Posthumanist Culture?”, The Georgia Review, 31 (4), pp. 830-850. 

Hayles, K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 

Herbrechter, S. (2013) Posthumanism: A Critical Analysis, London: Bloomsbury. 

Smelik, A. (2020) “Fractal Folds. The Posthuman Fashion of Iris van Herpen”. Fashion Theory. The Journal of Dress Body & Culture.DOI: 10.1080/1362704X.2020.1850035

Vänskä, A. (2018) “How to do Humans with Fashion: Towards a Posthuman Critique of Fashion,” International Journal of Fashion Studies, 5 (1), pp. 15-31. 

Wolfe, C. (2010) What is Posthumanism? Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.