Critical Heritage and the Posthumanities

Sterling, Colin. 2020. Critical heritage and the posthumanities: problems and prospects. International Journal of Heritage Studies 26:11, 1029-1046 [DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2020.1715464]

Open Access article available to download here.

This paper emerges from my post-doctoral research exploring the implications of posthumanism and the Anthropocene for the heritage field. Instead of embracing or rejecting posthumanism outright, the paper considers the transformative potential and key limitations of this framework. Two core themes are picked up on here: the first positions posthumanism as that which comes after humanism, while the second decentres the human altogether. While the significance of the former to critical heritage is relatively easy to establish, the implications of the latter are more opaque. Building on critiques put forward by Indigenous scholars and environmental philosophers, the paper acknowledges the shortcomings of any posthuman political project. To look beyond this, the paper engages with the work of feminist philosopher Rosi Braidotti and political theorist William E. Connolly, who offer a concrete set of agendas for heritage to engage with posthumanist thinking. The essay concludes with a discussion of ‘planetary stewardship’ – a concept put forward by Earth Systems scientists and others that demands novel reflections on care, governance and responsibility across human and non-human worlds. A strategic alliance of critical heritage praxis and critical posthumanist thinking may provide a valuable counterpoint to some of the more technocratic solutions imagined for the climate crisis.