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Posthumanism as Holism without Boundaries

Authors Alan Smart and Josephine Smart provide the following comments on what it means to be human in the twenty-first century (as well as the twenty-second century) and on the importance of rethinking anthropology in a way that does not place the human species at the centre of the universe.

PosthumanismPosthumanist ideas are becoming mainstream, as the April 2017 National Geographic cover story on “The Next Human” aptly indicates. Regardless of what we call it, attention to the implications of more-than-human realities is growing rapidly. It can be seen in what has become known as the “Anthropocene”: the newly identified geological period in which human activity has become the dominant influence on climate and geological processes. One of the ironies addressed in our new book, Posthumanism: Anthropological Insights, is that just at the time when humans have developed the capabilities to become one of the dominant forces shaping the world itself, we need to become less anthropocentric. If we do not become more aware of the non-humans with which we share the world both inside and outside our skins, saving the world, ours and theirs, for the 22nd century will be much more difficult. In fact, one of our key goals in writing Posthumanism was to explore the implications of our shifting relationship to the world. Our book asks what new emerging human relations with our non-human companions and contexts means for anthropology, and what our discipline can contribute to study of these situations. However, we believe that such entanglements are not new, but have been central to the whole duration of the human condition.

The effort to develop a non-anthropocentric anthropology, one that does not see the human species as being at the centre of the world, sounds paradoxical, yet it seems to us to be both feasible and urgent. The urgency of rethinking anthropology to incorporate our non-human companions and tools is not just for the good of the discipline itself, but for what such an anthropological perspective can offer the world more broadly. Posthumanism, and particularly transhumanism, is dominated by Western ideas and perspectives, yet we consider the core mission of anthropology to be studying the whole range of ways of being human. To do this, we cannot restrict ourselves to just the latest technologies and their implications for human life and society. While recognizing their profound consequences and potential, we need to consider them in a broader context. In Posthumanism: Anthropological Insights we discuss a variety of compelling work that sheds light on how to do this. The groundwork for a post-anthropocentric anthropology can be carried out in ethnographic encounters with Siberian reindeer herders and Amazonian foragers as well as in robotics workshops. If anthropologists don’t incorporate the whole spectrum of diverse ways of being human into posthumanist intellectual, cultural, and political projects, who will?

One of the key lessons of this book, at least for us, is that the classic anthropological principle of holism is ripe for reinvention for a new age. To fully meet the disciplinary mandate, anthropologists should pursue holism not only across borders, as in the anthropology of globality or transnationalism, but across all boundaries, including species boundaries. The complex global entanglements of the contemporary world mean that to understand local societies we not only have to consider interactions with people outside that society, but also address our non-human co-travellers on this planetary journey: microbes, parasites, domesticated species, and technologies. Researching and writing this book revealed the strength and importance of what we call “holism without boundaries.” By tracing our interactions beyond humanity to the non-human agents that have been involved in the formation of our past and present, we can see ourselves in new ways; not separate from non-humans, but entangled with them. Readers will be able to observe and appreciate some the tremendous transmutations during their own lifetimes.

Over the last two years we have been teaching draft chapters of the book in courses ranging from a large first-year introduction to anthropology course to a final-year seminar and a graduate theory course. The enthusiastic responses from students vindicated our initial motivation for writing this short book: to make exciting ideas and perspectives accessible to students at all levels, and to scholars who have been put off by jargon-heavy work in the field. We had ourselves found posthumanist writing intriguing but hard to understand, but gradually became convinced of the power and importance of these ideas.

We noticed that there was a tendency initially for students to think of posthumanism as what we prefer to call transhumanism: sci-fi ideas of transcending human nature through prostheses, implants, and other enhancements, including uploading one’s consciousness to computers or the internet. Students recognize how their own lives have changed through the adoption of social media, cellphones, GPS navigation systems, and so on, meaning they tend to consider this a new phenomenon. They had more difficulty with our argument that people have always been posthuman, and that the very nature of humanity is reliance on more-than-human extensions of our capabilities, through fire, cooking, tools, and language, both spoken and written.

Our approach was to include ample examples of the exciting new technological enhancement of humans, while insisting that there had been equally radical departures throughout the human past. Posthumanism is not only about the future, although it does involve that in fascinating ways. It is about human nature and its repeated transformations throughout our species’ history and prehistory.

Alan Smart is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Calgary.

Josephine Smart is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Calgary.

Note: If you are an instructor and think that this book would be a helpful addition to an upcoming course, simply email us for an examination copy.

Conflict and Compromise

At this year’s Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities in Toronto, we will officially launch our new two-volume narrative overview of Canadian history: Conflict and Compromise: Pre-Confederation Canada and Conflict and Compromise: Post-Confederation Canada by Raymond B. Blake, Jeffrey A. Keshen, Norman J. Knowles, and Barbara J. Messamore. In this blog entry, the authors discuss their focus on cleavages as well as compromises, and the importance of understanding our nation’s history. Visit us at Ryerson during Congress to receive your examination copies (along with some sweet little gifts) or email us with information about your Canadian history survey course and we will make sure examination copies are shipped to you.

Conflict and Compromise: Pre-Confederation CanadaAs Canadians commemorate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, they are often asked to rethink the study of Canada’s past. We couldn’t agree more. Good history helps people know and understand the world in which they live and we believe that Conflict and Compromise, a two-volume history of Canada, will help students make sense of their own past. History is a continual process of understanding change and the challenges that we face as a society. We know it reflects the needs and ideas of the moment, and the predilections, prejudices, and ambitions of the generation writing it.

Conflict and Compromise: Post-Confederation Canada

We believe that every period of Canadian history has been marked by cleavages and conflict—among Indigenous peoples, between Indigenous peoples and newcomers, between French and English, elites and rebels, workers and employers, rural and urban domains, immigrants and host society, and region and centre. Cleavages and conflicts have also been evident over ever-changing attitudes about women’s rights, fundamental economic trends, and culture and values. While those cleavages constantly challenge the idea of a single unified nation, Canadian history has also been marked by a process of negotiation and compromise that has enabled Canada to develop into one of the most successful, pluralistic countries in the world. Within that framework of cleavage and conflict, there have been winners and losers and less-than-contented compromisers. Some in Canada have not embraced difference and diversity, but rather used them to demonize the “other,” sometimes as a political lever; at various times, the country has drifted from negotiation and compromise towards a pattern of wedge politics.

Notions of conflict and compromise permeate these books. We believe they provide a basis for discussion and, we anticipate, vigorous debate. Our aim is to tell a story, and to demonstrate causation to students, as opposed to adopting a thematic approach, which does not treat time in a linear fashion and often leaves students struggling to understand how one event connects to, and sometimes causes, another. We are mindful, too, that Canada’s history was often messy and certainly never as neat as it might appear in the pages of these books.

It is our hope that this history of Canada will help readers to see their own country more clearly, to gain greater understanding of its complexity and its place in a wider world, and to appreciate the struggles of those in the past and present to achieve fairness and justice. We believe Canadians want a clear and compelling account to their country’s past. They want to understand its triumphs and setbacks, visionaries and villains, giants of industry and champions of social welfare and civic rights and freedoms. In that narrative it is instructive, for example, to reflect on how truly flawed some of our great Canadians have been. In the academic context, history is not an exercise for promoting pride in citizenship or glorifying some meta-narrative imposing false order on a diverse and complicated past. There are dark aspects of our history: too many people have been marginalized and persecuted, often on the basis of religion, race, or gender, and Canada remains a work in progress, a continuing project that began as a constitutional compromise in 1867.

Most of our readers will be Canadians, and one of our key goals is to enhance our readers’ understanding of the political traditions of their country. As citizens and voters, we have an obligation to be well informed. Canada’s history, as we demonstrate, was not without conflict, but, more often, has been a story of peaceful gradualism, and this history has yielded a nation founded upon compromise. “Unity” may sound like an admirable goal, but a successful nation must accommodate heterogeneity, disagreement, and conflicting visions, rather than seeking to stifle them.

We have traced the line between the many events of pre-contact, of colonial Canada, the formation of a nation, and the 150 years of struggling to build a successful society. Naturally, not all of the events and factors of Canada’s history conduced to this end, but they all created a context which shaped the nation that Canada became. The enormity of this intellectual task is evident. This is a long period of history in which many, many narratives unfolded, unrelated and guided by exigency and opportunity as opposed to any consistent concept of political or social structure. The breadth of this inquiry and the absence of formal markers for presenting the historical evidence require that these books look beyond economics and politics to show the interconnection between all aspects of society and the many connections among them. The problems of selection, description, causation, and relationship are immense.

The deep-seated problems in need of urgent redress do not undercut the fact that Canada’s story is fundamentally one of reasonable success when compared to many other nation-states that make up the international community—a point that is too often overlooked. Canada is one of the world’s most prosperous and welcoming countries, where the rule of law protects people and property and where citizens have access to a rich array of social programs. It is a beacon to many in the world with growing evidence of opportunity, diversity, and social inclusion. In 2015–16, it welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees with much fanfare. Nearly 20 percent of Canada’s population was born outside the country. The dream of a diverse nation has a long history in Canada and can be traced at least to Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, and especially to George-Étienne Cartier, one of the really important proponents of Confederation, and others who insisted in 1867 that Canada had to embrace diversity. There is much still to be done, of course. We need only witness urban homelessness; First Nations reserves struggling with teen suicide, inadequate housing, and unsafe drinking water; regional inequities and alienation; gender discrimination and violence against women; and the lingering questions over religion and religious symbols in public spaces—all of which have their origins in Canada’s past—to realize the challenges of our own time.

The field of Canadian history has grown enormously in recent years and scholarly output has been immense. A brief survey of Canada’s history can never hope to cover all aspects of that past nor do justice to every approach taken by our colleagues. We continue to enjoy working in an environment of lively and varied, but civil and respectful, historical controversy. And we hope that some of the ideas raised in Conflict and Compromise will inspire students to explore further the wonderful work of Canada’s many historians.

Raymond B. Blake is Professor and Chair of the Department of History at the University of Regina.

Jeffrey A. Keshen is Dean of Arts at Mount Royal University.

Norman J. Knowles is Professor of History at St. Mary’s University in Calgary, Alberta.

Barbara J. Messamore is Associate Professor of History at the University of the Fraser Valley.

A Holistic Approach to Victims and Victimology

To mark the publication of Victimology: A Canadian Perspective, author Jo-Anne Wemmers explains the emerging field of victimology and why the book’s victim-centred, holistic approach is important.

Wemmers_VictimologyEvery day, around the world victims of crime make news headlines. While society reacts with outrage and cries for justice, victims are often given relatively little attention or the attention given to them is short-lived. Even the criminal justice system, which relies heavily on victims as witnesses, generally fails to recognize victims as persons before the law. This despite the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies that each and every one of us has a right to recognition as a person before the law. Crime constitutes a violation of the victims’ rights as well as an act against the state. Victims’ rights are human rights.

Victimology is an exciting new science which has emerged in recent years into a well-defined domain of research. It examines the causes and consequences of victimization with a view to preventing victimization and reducing its negative impact on the individual as well as society. Originally a product of criminology, victimology was born in the ashes of the Second World War in order to help explain crime. However, over the last sixty years it has come to change the way we look at crime. Victimology has matured from a progeny of criminology to a source of knowledge and inspiration for criminology, influencing the kinds of questions that criminologists focus on.

Research on poly-victimization (Finkelhor et al 2007) or multiple crime-type victimization (Hope et al 2001) reminds us of the importance of viewing victimization as a sign of vulnerability and a predictor of future risk of victimization. For example, victimization experienced during childhood is associated with a high risk of violent victimization later on in life (FRA 2014; Perreault 2015). An individual may experience many different types of victimization across the course of their life and by focusing exclusively on specific types of victimization at once we risk losing sight of the bigger picture.

Books on victimology often approach victimization in a segmented way with each chapter focusing on a different type of crime. There may be a chapter on sexual violence, one on domestic violence, and another on burglary. Sometimes they focus on particular categories of victims, such as the elderly. While it is important to recognize the specificities of different types of victimization and victims, it is also important not to treat victimization in isolation.

Victimology: A Canadian Perspective provides students with a holistic approach to the study of victimology. The book devotes an entire chapter to victimological theories, which encourage students to understand and explain victimization and its effects in order to prevent re-victimization in the future. Applying a victim-centred lens to victimology, this book reminds us of the impact of victimization on the individual and the importance of victim support in order to prevent future victimization.

Based on the Canadian criminal justice system, Victimology provides a comprehensive understanding of victims’ legal rights in Canada. It offers a timely, state-of-the-art overview of key federal and provincial legislation pertaining to victims, including the Canadian Charter of Victims’ Rights. Victims’ rights and services are approached from a need-based perspective, providing a critical analysis of victim compensation programs across Canada.

While Victimology presents research from around the world, it is uniquely Canadian in its approach to criminal justice policy and practice, making it an ideal teaching tool for victimology students in Canada. At the same time, the Canadian context is contrasted with systems found elsewhere around the world, providing a rich, comparative analysis. This makes the book a valuable resource for anyone interested in comparative victimology.


Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R.K. & Turner, H.A. (2007b). Poly-victimization: A neglected component in child victimization. Child Abuse and Neglect, 31, 7-26.

FRA-European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014). Violence Against Women: EU Wide Survey Main Results. Luxemburg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Hope, T., Bryan, J., Trickett, A. & Osborn, D. (2001). The Phenomena of Multiple Victimization: The relationship between personal and property crime risk. British Journal of Criminology, 41, 595-617.

Perreault, S., (2015). Criminal Victimization in Canada, 2014. Juristat, Catalogue No. 85-002-X, Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Jo-Anne M. Wemmers is a Full Professor in the School of Criminology at the University of Montreal and an international expert on victimology. She has published over 100 articles, chapters, and books on the subject, is a past secretary-general of the World Society of Victimology, and is the editor of the International Review of Victimology.

A Reformation Sourcebook: Documents from an Age of Debate

Author Michael W. Bruening explains the impetus behind his new Reformation sourcebook, the innovative structure of the book, and how it contributes to the important task of teaching empathy to today’s history students.

Reformation SourcebookOver several years of teaching an undergraduate Reformation history course, I have noticed that, more than ever before, students bring to the course almost no understanding of basic Christian history or theology. As a result, most have difficulty grasping the significance of the issues at stake during the Reformation. The roots of this difficulty may lie partly in increasing secularism across the western world and in the growing number of religious “nones.” Or perhaps we can attribute it to the rise of nondenominational congregations which have consciously detached themselves from the mainline Protestant churches and, consequently, from their sixteenth-century roots. Whatever the case, whether self-identified Christians or not, many students today are not equipped to evaluate the religious upheaval of the Reformation. A Reformation Sourcebook: Documents from an Age of Debate is an effort to help students understand the historical significance of the Reformation by showing them more clearly what was at stake.

The key innovation of the Sourcebook is that it places texts in pairs or groups that expose students to opposing perspectives on the contentious debates of the period. Every text stands alongside one or more documents that articulate a competing perspective. Many texts are direct responses to key arguments presented in other selections. This approach helps students see why the changes introduced during the Reformation were so controversial. For example, students can read Luther and his Catholic opponent Johannes Eck on justification and the priesthood. They can read Luther and Erasmus on free will, Calvin and Sadoleto on the Reformation generally, Thomas More and William Tyndale on the English translation of the Bible, and much more. Students will also be able to read excerpts from a number of formal disputations during the Reformation, including the First Zurich Disputation, Luther and Zwingli’s debate on the Eucharist at the Marburg Colloquy, and one of the first Christian debates on slavery at Iwie. In this way, students will be able to understand far better why what can seem like arcane theological arguments led to real tumult and cultural change all over Europe.

But there is much more to the book than erudite theological debate. Despite the fact that so much recent scholarship has focused on the social and cultural history of the Reformation, the Sourcebook is, to my knowledge, the first Reformation primary source reader to highlight these issues. Its final chapters will allow students to see the enormous impact of the Reformation on Christian rituals as well as on attitudes toward women, marriage, Jews, and religious toleration in western culture since the sixteenth century.

Each chapter begins with a general introduction and concludes with suggestions for further reading. Sections within each chapter include short introductions to the texts as well as focus questions for students to consider as they read. Many of the texts are available in the public domain, but A Reformation Sourcebook makes them more accessible by modernizing archaic spelling and language (e.g., changing thee and thou and replacing King James biblical quotations with newer translations). Several documents are original translations, including (among others) selections from Eck’s Enchiridion, the Sorbonne’s condemnations of the Meaux group, Francis de Sales’s sermon on fasting, and Theodore Beza’s The Authority of the Magistrate in Punishing Heretics.

My main hope is that A Reformation Sourcebook will facilitate students’ understanding of the Reformation and its many debates. But I also hope that in this era of increasingly partisan political rancor and hardening of ideological positions, it will help students develop a greater sense of empathy and a recognition that there are almost always more ways than one to look at controversial issues.

This is one skill that the study of history generally, and A Reformation Sourcebook in particular, can help students to develop. The study of the past—especially the distant past—forces students to confront worlds very different from their own. It requires that they practice being empathetic. To understand the Reformation era properly, one must recognize that the ideas and circumstances that have produced modern perspectives on religious freedom, democracy, gender and social equality, secularism, and relativism did not yet exist. To be sure, it was precisely during the Reformation that these ideas began to develop, but not until then and not without stiff opposition. The structure of this reader, therefore, should help students to hone their ability to understand the perspectives of authors who were in many cases vehemently opposed to one another. And they will learn that in order truly to understand the debates of the Reformation, they will need to place themselves in the shoes of the people on both sides.

Michael W. Bruening is Associate Professor in the History and Political Science Department at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Anthropology Matters

Author Shirley A. Fedorak discusses the changes to the new edition of Anthropology Matters and how they are grounded in a need to make anthropology relevant to today’s students. 

Anthropology MattersMy former students at the University of Saskatchewan were the inspiration for Anthropology Matters. They asked questions, difficult questions, about the world around them and what role anthropology could play in solving or at least mitigating social, political, economic, and religious problems. I noted they were not that interested in small-scale cultures, except as a starting point, and this was when I realized anthropology was losing its relevance in the modern world. I set off to discover where the discipline was still relevant and where anthropology could and should become relevant.

Most of the topics in this new edition of Anthropology Matters are global in nature, and some of them originated from my personal and professional experiences in the three countries I have lived in since leaving Canada.

I am grateful that the second edition of Anthropology Matters was so well received, but in this third edition of Anthropology Matters I felt it necessary to bring more of the Middle Eastern world into the text. Three areas stood out: sectarianism, contract slavery, and veiling.

Sectarianism was rife in the two years (2014-2016) I lived in Beirut, Lebanon. It is an extremely damaging system that permeates the everyday lives of Muslim people. My key informants made this point time and again. They live in fear, yet without ties to their sect (Shia, Sunni, or Druze) they cannot survive in Lebanese society. I experienced some restrictions as I worked with my informants and on at least one occasion I was discretely accused of being a spy. The most frustrating part of my research was not being able to use material that might identify my informants and endanger their lives.

Modern-day slavery is an issue I have wanted to investigate for years and it became the topic of a new chapter in Anthropology Matters. The daily abuse and exploitation of domestic workers I witnessed in Lebanon spurred me on, although I also included material on contract slavery in Los Angeles, California, child slavery and child soldiers in Africa, and human trafficking in Canada and Thailand.

These two topics deal with serious problems that are not the sole domain of the Middle East, but I am concerned that some readers will feel this justifies their media-shaped negative perceptions of Middle Easterners. The chapter on purdah and veiling takes a different approach, and despite many of the misconceptions held in the West, veiling is a positive cultural tradition in most Muslim countries. This popular chapter has been in the book since the first edition, but I have enriched the discussion with personal observations and narratives from one of the wisest women I have ever known. Her insights are based on many years of reflection and the reality of being a Muslim woman living in a diverse Muslim country.

The third edition of Anthropology Matters is not simply an update. The global situation is fluid and the issues examined can and do change. Hence, with a couple of exceptions, all of the chapters have been updated and many have been reworked to include new sections. For example, social media has grown increasingly powerful since the second edition, but not necessarily as a forum for overthrowing corrupt governments. The emphasis in the chapter is now on the effect social media, such as Facebook, is having on culture. Keeping with the power and influence of social media, I have included a brief discussion on jihadists employing the internet to recruit people to their cause.

Choosing what chapters must go in order to make room for new chapters is an agonizing task. My secret wish is that the “lost” chapters from the first and second editions will somehow reappear in the future.

The first chapter in the text sets the stage for the study of anthropology and introduces the question of ethics in fieldwork. The following two chapters offer examples of anthropology at work: the role of anthropologists in design and technology environments, featuring Genevieve Bell’s work at Intel, and linguistic anthropologists preserving and revitalizing endangered languages. The second section of the book contains nine socially-engaged topics, often from a cross-cultural perspective. Gender concerns are at the forefront in several of the chapters; female circumcision, ideal body image, veiling, and same-sex marriage are all major chapters.

The theme of this and earlier editions of Anthropology Matters is global citizenship. The issue-based questions are designed to encourage young people to become global citizens by expanding their understanding of the global story. I strongly feel that anthropology stands at the threshold between misconceptions about people and places and real knowledge and understanding. As an educator, I have an obligation to present information that encourages readers to think beyond what they have been told or heard in the media. This is particularly true of the new chapter on conflict and climate displaced persons, which I set up as a moral dilemma. More than any other topic, this one demands that readers consider their role as global citizens. I also raised the question of etymology: are pejorative terms such as “migrant” used to deflect from the catastrophic nature of the transnational flow of human beings, and to cast suspicion on their motives and intentions? These chapters set the tone and the basis for inquiry, but more often than not, open up more questions rather than present definitive answers. My hope is that students become more reflective, able to process and analyze information and see through hyperbole, fake news, and hidden agendas. Now, more than ever before, these skills are desperately needed.

To further stimulate discourse on ethical questions, I added an Issues Box to each chapter. These boxes illustrate a particular point not directly addressed in the chapter. One example is the “Should we free the slaves?” contested moral question in the chapter on modern-day slavery. Another is “Is Islamophobia justified?” in the chapter on displaced persons. In keeping with the theme of this book, most of the Questions for Consideration at the end of each chapter encourage creative and multi-layered thinking. The third edition of Anthropology Matters also includes a downloadable instructor’s manual and test bank.

The purpose and use of this text is flexible; instructors might use it to replace a traditional textbook or as an additional reader to enhance student understanding of current issues. Anthropology Matters can also become the core text for a course in global issues and anthropology.

Writing a book is an exhilarating experience. My own understanding of the global stage has greatly expanded on this journey, and for me, this is the major benefit of researching and writing about how anthropology matters. I look forward to your feedback on the third edition of Anthropology Matters and any suggestions you may have for topics to include in the next edition.

Shirley A. Fedorak has taught at the University of Saskatchewan and the American College of Cairo. She is the author of a number of textbooks including Global Issues: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (2013) and Pop Culture: The Culture of Everyday Life (2009). She now lives in Penang, Malaysia where she continues to write.