What comes after the subject? Towards a critical posthumanist social work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Foucault’s famous ending to The Order of Things declares that (hu)man is a recent invention. This led writers such a Derrida and Deleuze to speculate that Foucault had in mind the modern invention of the self and personal identity in the work of John Locke and specifically in the 1689 publication of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. However, debates about the relation between humans and non-humans as part of the post anthropocentric scene have been around for only three decades. It is only recently that these have been honed around the banners of feminist materialism, actor network theory, object-oriented ontology and post-humanism. This chapter addresses social work from an environmental standpoint and argues that it should urgently embrace an agential realist perspective based on a post-anthropocentric ethics. The main aim of the chapter is to call for a ‘post-anthropocentric turn’ in social work by emphasising the concern that the Anthropocene and the ecological crisis are only symptoms: it is time to address the causes, which have been identified in the anthropocentric worldview based on an autonomous conception of the human as a self-defining agent and as exceptional. We must begin to unpick the knotted cluster of reassuring, mutually confirming truisms which represent humanity as Nature’s most precious subject, regarding animals as only a means to human ends. We should also challenge the claims that individuated human agency is the exclusive domain of political action, subjectivity, and community. The grounds of these claims for human centering frequently rest on the idea that the human is exceptional. Mainstream social work entirely endorses this anthropocentric worldview. It is part of the anthropological machinery which continues to produce our self-identity and human uniqueness. The chapter shows how an urgent response to this ecological crisis lays in post-humanism which takes a theoretical post-anthropocentric shift in the current perception of the human. A passage from liberal humanism to post-humanism is necessary for social work on environmental ethical terms. In doing so it should endorse a green republicanism which emphasises a de-growth agenda and the importance of reciprocity, commitment, and community-based life for flourishing and sustainable ways of caring for the Earth. For those wishing to push the thought experiment even further considerations of alternative forms of life must constitute the subject matter of social work. The chapter offers a framework for a distinct posthuman understanding of social work as relationally entangled, emergent or materializing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPost-Anthropocentric Social Work: Critical Posthuman and New Materialist Perspectives
EditorsVivienne Bozalek , Bob Pease
Place of PublicationAbingdon/Oxon
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)9780367349653
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Critical posthumanism
  • social work
  • human agency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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