Research

 

You will find a complete range of our monographs, muti-authored and edited works including peer-reviewed, original scholarly research across the social sciences and aligned disciplines. We publish long and short form research and you can browse the complete Bristol University Press and Policy Press archive of over 1,500 titles.

Policy Press also publishes policy reviews and polemic work which aim to challenge policy and practice in certain fields. These books have a practitioner in mind and are practical, accessible in style, as well as being academically sound and referenced.
 

Books: Research

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The chapter provides a detailed genealogy and analysis of transhumanist thought, and its underlying assumptions concerning what the ‘human’ is. It situates the lineage of transhumanism by identifying its roots in the Enlightenment and with rational humanism. It then traces the ideas of late 19th and early 20th century proto-transhumanists responding to Darwin’s recasting of human genesis, and blow to human narcissism. An outline of the concrete development of converging nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) technologies follows, before a review of the modern history of the transhumanist movement, revealing the key organizations and trajectories of the modern incarnation of this philosophy. Attention then turns to the most prominent critics of transhumanism. Finally, the chapter considers critical posthumanism as a potential countervailing understanding of the implications of technogenesis. It tracks the lineages and outlines the central concepts of critical posthumanism as well as considering the extent to which transhumanist and critical posthumanist thought has already come into conversation. Critical posthumanist theory forms the backbone of much of the criticism of transhumanism throughout the book.

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The conclusion emphasizes that numerous characteristics of transhumanism echo the logics of advanced capitalism. Their manifold similarities seem to exacerbate the excesses of the other. The human is becoming increasingly tractable to the aims of capital or science, and most usually an amalgamation of the two. While transhumanism and advanced capitalism are curiously unspecific about ethical ends, both depend on notions of growth, increased efficiency and progress, which have distinct ethical implications. In order to resist the technocapitalist and transhumanist emphasis on instrumental progress, ongoing ethical re-evaluations of the human are required.

Ultimately the book proposes a contingent version of humanity that is primarily directed by an ethic of relational compassion and advocates a fitness landscape that enables such an ethic to flourish amid the current techno-human condition. Thus, humility and precaution counter the hubristic and proactionary stance of transhumanism. For an ethics to be relationally compassionate, it must be creative and active, it must be a force that can challenge oppression as well as naming it.

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This chapter argues that capitalists and transhumanists share a fetishization of Big Data and its promise of new forms of knowledge. Both seek to render the world more pliable to the extraction of data extending towards totality for the sake of facilitating predictability and control. Shoshana Zuboff’s notion of ‘surveillance capitalism’ will be identified as a shift in capitalist relations in which Big Data and algorithms construct knowledge products that formalize automating human behaviour as the most valuable assets in the economy. This process propels the urge to control towards commercial imperatives. The heuristic nature of Big Data will be outlined and the way in which its shrouded methodologies and effects obfuscate problematic power relations. An investigation of the emergence of a new media ecology follows, in which the technical developments inspired by the urge to control actually catalyse complexity in the form of increasingly chaotic social relations. Finally, buoyed by the growth fetish of capitalism and the pseudo-colonialist nature of data expropriation, it will be argued that the technogenetic trajectory of algorithmic control aims towards totality. Transhumanism projects a tractable, machine-like world and Big Data functions not only to interpret this world but also to produce it.

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This chapter primarily emphasizes that transhumanist aims are inevitably bound up with capitalist relations. Indeed, transhumanism can be seen as an expression of capitalism’s reliance on speculative future returns. The notions of reification and instrumental rationality developed by critical theorists will be introduced. These concepts recur throughout the book as transhumanist thought reproduces the objectifying and instrumentalizing tendencies of capitalism. ‘Advanced capitalism’ and ‘technocapitalism’ are defined and analysed in order to demonstrate contemporary capitalism’s neoliberal ideology and its imbrication with technological development. This includes the recognition that transhumanism and advanced capitalism both rely on the notion of the rational, liberal individual as the central protagonist. Simultaneously, they objectify and disaggregate individuals for instrumentalist purposes, whether that be neurons and synapses, genetic code or behavioural data markers. The inequalities, expulsions and concentrations of capitalism will be emphasized as relevant to the developing dynamics of techno-human relations. The chapter will also analyse the ecological, economic and political crises that capitalism is facing.

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Techno-Human Evolution and Advanced Capitalism

Available open access digitally under CC-BY-NC-ND licence

Transhumanism is a philosophy which advocates for the use of technology to radically enhance human capacities.

This book interrogates the promises of transhumanism, arguing that it is deeply entwined with capitalist ideology. In an era of escalating crisis and soaring inequality, it casts doubt on a utopian techno-capitalist narrative of unending progress. In critiquing the transhumanist project, the book offers an alternative ethical framework for the future of life on the planet.

As the debates around the advancement of AI and corporate-led digital technologies intensify, this is an important read for academics as well as policy makers.

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This chapter argues that transhumanism is unlikely to be inclusive in the context of advanced capitalism. The exclusions and concentrations alongside increases in inequality and precarity are immediately problematic. This threat is deepened by the commodifying logics of surveillance capitalism where humans are conceived of as information objects, disaggregated into dividual entities and bought and sold as data products.

Much transhumanist thinking threatens to exacerbate these dynamics. Julian Savulescu calls for extensive surveillance and compulsory ‘moral enhancement’. Steve Fuller advocates an economics of death, whereby unaugmented humans may be sacrificed for the project of creating a superior successor species. Nick Bostrom offers a utilitarian framework that calculates modern catastrophes such as plagues, starvation and genocide as mere ripples in comparison with the potential to colonize space with enormous numbers of computer-generated posthuman entities. The colonial and religious pretensions within some transhumanist discourse are a further aggravating factor, as are nascent fascist ideas emerging in response to post-neoliberalism. The development of advanced weapons and increasingly intrusive technologies with surveillance capacities, coupled with the idea that civil liberties pose a threat within highly technologically developed societies, add to the incipient genocidal logics.

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Chapter 3 begins by outlining the transhumanist conceptualization of knowledge as a uni-directional path of progress making the world ever more tractable to human reason. Transhumanists conceptualize knowledge as a guarantor of human progress. Their denial of complexity is exacerbated by hubristic and hyperbolic conceptions of human reason that constitutes a faith in epistemological certainty. Complexity theory will be drawn upon to contest this simplistic worldview. The influence of cybernetic thought upon transhumanism will be outlined to demonstrate how a dubious ‘informational frame’ underpins transhumanist fantasies of radical abundance and immortality. The instrumentalist tendencies of technological progress will be considered as enframing or constraining other possible trajectories of techno-human co-evolution. Foucault’s analysis of the relationship between knowledge and power will be drawn upon to reflect on how technologies can be used to direct, regulate and manipulate human conduct. The underlying urge to control natural and social forces that is evident in transhumanist discourse will be considered in relation to an equivalent urge in technocapitalist relations.

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This chapter creates an outline of an ethical framework that may enable technogenesis to have less totalitarian, dehumanizing and potentially genocidal outcomes. The chapter contends that the instrumental focus on technoscientific development inherent to transhumanism is inapt to contend with the ethical implications of progress.

The ethical framework builds on critical posthumanist discourse emphasizing two aspects in particular: a relational ontology and its related call for compassion (the relational), and our interconnectedness with future (and past) states (the virtual). Adorno’s philosophy will then be drawn upon to highlight what he sees as the central ‘aporia’ of Enlightenment: namely that reason always contains within it the potentiality for domination and barbarity. Adorno develops a ‘negativistic ethics’ that seeks to resist the ‘inhuman’. By bringing together the ‘aporia’ and anthropos, I intend to signal an open attitude to the human, an acceptance of its mutable condition, and a rejection of humanist essentialism and universalisms. Ultimately, Virtual Relational Anthropaporia is an ethical formulation that attempts to speak to the unfolding of the techno-human condition building on the ethics of critical posthumanism and the thought of Adorno.

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The chapter argues that by idealizing rationally potent liberal individuals responsible for realizing their own self-determined enhancements, transhumanists ignore power differentials, systemic constraints, evident contradictions and potential unintended consequences that radical technological developments may augur. A richer appreciation of interconnection would facilitate an understanding of our relations with technology as a co-evolving techno-human condition. By attributing freedom of choice to every individual via the concept of morphological freedom, transhumanist conceptualizations underplay contextual influences, power inequities and the processual nature of techno-human developments. Most importantly, by ignoring the relational complexity in which we are embedded, especially advanced capitalist logics, transhumanists underplay the extent to which technogenesis would be directed by the competitive and instrumentalist fitness landscape of vying nation states and advanced capitalist competition. This constitutes a serious constraint on plurality and is captured by the concept of Transcendent Conformity: the requirement to enhance oneself according to the systemic dynamics of capitalist competition. This highlights the import of context in developing radically potent tools and again emphasizes the limitation of the liberal individual framing of agency.

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This final chapter revisits the ‘big takeaway messages’ for health, community and social care practitioners that are woven across the book and identifies future directions in research for supporting trans people in later life and developing trans-inclusive research and practice. In relation to improving care experiences across health and social care systems, a resounding message is the importance of developing and delivering a person-centred, person-led approach to care that is collaborative and centred on the wishes and preferences of older trans people as the experts on their lives. The chapter concludes by setting out key dimensions for enabling trans-inclusive and affirming practice and services.

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