The spectre of posthumanism in technology consumption: the death of the human?

Margo Buchanan-Oliver, Angela Gracia B. Cruz

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4 Citations (Scopus)


In the context of ‘technology-intensive markets’ (John, Weiss, and Dutta 1999: 78), a latent cultural concern has emerged about the location of agency and the death of human subjectivity. While the notions of nightmare, disturbance, and fright evoked by the ‘spectres of sinister technologies’ (Ballard 1973: 96) have long been a theme in interdisciplinary discourses of science, technology, and society (Clarke 2002; Helman 1988; Virilio 1997), marketing scholars and marketing communications texts have remained largely silent on the deep-seated disturbance evoked by these ontological concerns. The purpose of this chapter is to illuminate and illustrate these concerns. This chapter contributes to the stream of marketing literature known as posthuman consumer culture. Posthuman consumer culture has been conceptualised as both an epistemology and an aesthetic mode. Previous studies have examined visual representations of posthumanism as represented by the figure of the cyborg (Campbell, O’Driscoll, and Saren 2005; Giesler 2004; Giesler and Venkatesh 2005; Schroeder and Dobers 2007; Venkatesh, Karababa, and Ger 2002). Scholars have further traced the linkage between posthuman epistemologies and cultural production (Venkatesh and Meamber 2006). In addition, while not explicitly linked with posthumanist concerns, explorations of technology consumption have also illustrated how consumers experience technology with a degree of ambivalence (Mick and Fournier 1998), identity tension (Schau and Gilly 2003), and anxiety (Meuter, Bitner, Ostrom, and Brown 2005; Mick and Fourner 1998). More recently, marketing scholars have begun to link posthuman visual aesthetics and consumer ambivalence to the wider ‘context of context’ (Askegaard and Linnet 2011: 381) in which these representations and responses are shaped (Buchanan-Oliver, Cruz, and Schroeder 2010; Buchanan-Oliver and Cruz 2011; Campbell and Saren 2010). These studies are beginning to uncover a genealogy of socio-historical and ontological disquiet in how humans face their technologies. Building on this initial foundation, this chapter further explores ontological disquiet in human-technology interactions by drawing on the concept of abjection (Kristeva 1982) and illustrating how three forms of abjection play out in a marketing communications text to underline a profound and at times inarticulable horror concerning the potential of technology to disintegrate human subjectivity. We will examine recent theoretical assumptions about human interaction and relationship with machines, conceptualised as posthumanism. In particular, we show that abjection - the fear of losing what makes us human - permeates posthumanist discourses. Such fears arise out of the erosion of clear-cut boundaries between human/nonhuman, between organic/mechanistic, and between agency/dependency. We further illustrate various forms of abjection through a close examination of Playstation 3‘s ‘Baby’ advertisement. Anxieties over the death of human subjectivity, while ordinarily repressed in marketing representations of technology advertising, constitute a significant and palpable cultural concern which accompanies the emergence of technology-saturated markets. Given the simultaneously disturbing and arresting power of these ontological concerns, we interrogate the efficacy of addressing such ontological anxiety in the marketing communication of technology brands.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeath in a Consumer Culture
EditorsSusan Dobscha
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781315726175
ISBN (Print)9781138848191
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

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