Date of Award

Summer 8-7-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Alessandra Raengo

Second Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Barker

Third Advisor

Dr. Ted Friedman

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Angelo Restivo

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Akira Lippit


Vernacular Posthumanism: Visual Culture and Material Imagination uses a theory of image vernaculars in order to explore the ways in which contemporary visual culture both reflects on and constructs 21st century cultural attitudes toward the human and the nonhuman. This project argues that visual culture manifests a vernacular posthumanism that expresses a fundamental contradiction: the desire to transcend the human while at the same time reasserting the importance of the flesh and the materiality of lived experience. This contradiction is based in a biodeterminist desire, one that fantasizes about reducing all actants, both human and nonhuman, to functions of code. Within this framework, actants become fundamentally exchangeable, able to be combined, manipulated, and understood as variations of digital code. Visual culture – and its expression of vernacular posthumanism – thus functions as a reflection on contemporary conceptualizations of the human, a rehearsal of the posthuman, and a staging ground for encounters between the human and the nonhuman. Each chapter of this project begins in the field of film studies and then moves out toward a broader analysis of visual culture and nonhumanist theory. This project relies on the theories and methodologies of phenomenology, materialism, posthumanism, object-oriented ontology, actor-network theory, film and media studies, and visual culture studies. Visual objects analyzed include: the films of Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, and Krzysztof Kieślowski; Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997); the film 300 (2006); the TV series Planet Earth (2006); DNA portraits, the art of Damien Hirst; Body Worlds; human migration maps; and remote surgical machinery.