Fictions of the human
: race, technology and contemporary literature

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis reads recent works of Anglo-American fiction, arguing that these novels’ engagements with two of the signal events of the contemporary period – the rise of the digital and the unfolding of the climate crisis – results in a renewed interrogation of the epistemological and ontological foundations of the category of the human. Standing in opposition to the human’s elision in recent theoretical turns towards the object, the animal and the machine, this thesis follows these novels – Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (2004), Chris Ware’s Building Stories (2012), N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy (2015-2017) and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake (2003) – in calling for a re-engagement with the human, whose entanglement with the economic and social structures of racial capitalism and coloniality mark it as a crucial locus for understanding the political economy and cultural production of the contemporary moment. 

By looking to the formal conceits, generic experiments and imaginative leaps made by these novels, this thesis argues that to exist within the ambit of the human in the contemporary moment is to experience dislocation, disaggregation and dispossession. Read alongside recent theoretical work in Black Studies, Marxist Theory and Decolonial Theory, I argue that this broken form of being issues from the interlocking series of crises that characterises the contemporary moment. Such crises – the breakdown of the climate, widespread political unrest and the globalisation of an extractive and exploitative mode of production – cannot be detached from the historical designation of a certain mode of economic and social life as human, and so their contestation requires a reckoning with the hegemony of this genre of humanness. With its chosen texts, this thesis then analyses the foundations of this human’s world and reveals pathways towards its subversion and destruction.
Date of Award1 Jul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJane Elliott (Supervisor) & Seb Franklin (Supervisor)

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