Beyond the Romans: What can posthumanism do for classical studies?

Organisers: Linnea Åshede (University of Gothenburg), Irene Selsvold (University of Gothenburg)
This session takes place on Wednesday, 16 March 2016 from 09:00-13:00

The term “posthumanism” is used to refer to a multitude of theoretical positions, with the common denominator of being critical of traditional conceptions of the privileges and limitations of “the human.” Scholars within diverse fields have recently embraced posthumanist theories to challenge the standard dichotomies of Renaissance humanism in their research, stressing instead the mutual relationship between matter and discourse, and considering the agency of animals, artefacts, landscapes, and ideas alongside humans.

The session demonstrates posthuman theory’s great potential to develop classical scholarship in general, and specifically classical archaeology, in relation to how we approach both ancient cultures and our own positions as researchers. Posthuman perspectives are particularly relevant for the topics of Roman mythology and religion, with their emphasis on metamorphoses, hybrid creatures, and encounters between actors that are human, divine, monstrous, or all of it. Roman religion is rife with animated landscapes and sacred groves, the oracular capacity of “inanimate” objects and liquid boundaries between images of gods and the gods themselves. In such instances, the assumptions of traditional scholarship have sometimes resulted in the construction of philosophical conundrums that may have been alien to Roman culture.

We explore how posthuman perspectives instead are capable of acknowledging the various ways in which Roman approaches to elements of myth, art and material culture, built and natural space and the sacred, displace and complicate modern notions of human exceptionalism and individualist subjectivity. The session aims to critically engage with the human/individual-focused research practices that have dominated archaeology, to explore the possibilities posthuman perspectives can provide for the development of Roman archaeology.

Session Programme

This session is made up of five papers.

1. Posthumanism and the Romans
2. Priapus can be Anything: Bodies Without Borders in Roman Art
3. Posthuman visions of early Roman encounters with the Galli
4. Cross-dressing Roman Emperors: Transgender Dynamics
5. The agency of Roman funerary monuments
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