The Nonhuman Turn -- Richard Grusin


“The nonhuman turn, on the other hand, insists (to paraphrase Latour) that “we have never been human” but that the human has always coevolved, coexisted, or collaborated with the nonhuman—and that the human is characterized precisely by this indistinction from the nonhuman.” “

In trying to define the nonhuman, it is easy to travel down a rabbit hole of the many facets of thought concerning new materialism, networks, environments and the nonhuman turn. However, I was drawn to trying to understand what it is to be human in order to characterise the nonhuman (or inhuman, post-human, more-than-human etc). It seems that one of the most essential aspects of being human is to coexist with, collaborate with, use and often exploit the “nonhuman”, which throughout history has moved from creating tools and controlling nature for agricultural purposes to creating computers, software and advancing technology to factory farming, human slavery and war (where we redefine "nonhuman" for political and economic gain). Therefore, being human is inherently linked to our relationship and engagement with the nonhuman — it is the bedrock upon which we build everything.

If we are currently experiencing a nonhuman turn, a cynical reason for that may be that the nonhuman, particularly the environment and technology, now pose a threat to human existence through climate change and AI. Initially, the idea of a nonhuman turn seemed to me like a move away from a tunnel visioned anthropocentric view of the world, but with the looming peril of AI and climate change in mind, the nonhuman turn may indeed be a continuation of anthropocentrism, or in fact the very crux of it. Are we only turning our attention towards the nonhuman because we have no other choice?