I, Posthuman
: embodying entangled subjectivities in gaming

  • Poppy Wilde

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


We live in an era where the fundamental principles of what it means to be human are being reconsidered and reconceptualised, and we are moving towards a more entangled and relational understanding of the human’s ontology. The “boundaries” of what constitute a human as separate from both its surroundings and human and non-human others are being problematised. How do you separate “the human” from its contexts? In an age where advanced technology often constitutes these contexts, how can you separate the human from technology? Whilst we have always been entangled, today this occurs in a context that is more technologically driven, and this has provoked further debate on the status of the “posthuman”.

This PhD thesis is concerned with what it means and how feels to be posthuman, by exploring how posthuman subjectivities are enabled and embodied. What we are capable of doing emerges contextually: it is profoundly dependent on our environments. In my view of the posthuman, the stable “human” self is disrupted, giving way to a subjectivity where our interactions in the world are more intra-active. But how might we consider the emergence of posthuman subjectivities in more depth? I suggest using a particular example of posthuman subjectivity, the MMORPG avatargamer, to demonstrate how the humanistically separated entities of “avatar” and “gamer” can provide a context to explore how “other” and “self” are not ontologically distinct. In doing so, I ask: what specific practices enable or provoke this ontological entanglement? Engaging in an autoethnographic inquiry, I use my intra-action with my avatar Etyme in the MMORPG World of Warcraft as one example of posthuman subjectivity. This methodology in itself is intriguing to explore the multiplicity of selves we experience, and negotiates the humanistic overthrows of “selfhood” whilst experiencing the self as entangled.

Through my construct of the posthuman, where the human cannot be meaningfully separated from its environment, we are nevertheless still drawn to speak of an “I” and have a desire to understand ourselves as independent agents. However, the fieldnotes analysed in this thesis disrupt the “I”, and instead reflect on the shifting sense of self with and through an entity that is experienced as both me-and-not-me. Whilst an autoethnographic posthumanism might seem contradictory, I argue that it is a fundamental step in acknowledging our humanistic tendencies and beginning to reflexively engage with, and critique, these ideals. To do so, this thesis “posthumanises” traditionally humanistic constructs: acting and empathy. To widen this concept further, a third analytic re-interrogates different aspects of subject formation to consider how these too could be “posthumanised”. This suggests a broader application of posthumanism, demonstrating how previous notions of mastery, autonomy, and individuality can be critiqued and destabilised in order to view our practices and “selves” as emergent and entwined.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorAdrienne Evans (Supervisor), Gary Hall (Supervisor) & Mark Evans (Supervisor)

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