CRITICAL LIFE STUDIES
Critical life studies (CLS) is an international research field, which is in conversation with and provides a critical response to the explosion of ‘turns’ and ‘studies’ in academia—e.g. the anthropocene, ontological, posthuman, and affective turns, and gender, trans, queer, critical race, postcolonial, and animal studies, which, in resonance with newer feminist onto-epistemological theorizings, promise hope for the future of theory by attempting to dethrone the anthro-ontological notion of the Human. Each intervention contributes significantly to transforming our knowledge by demonstrating the inadequacy of the concept of the Human to account for and respond to ongoing social injustices and global crises, but only few has dared to ask: should we reject humanism tout court and if so, how might this be done? From the perspective of CLS, this oversight is a product of the vestigial humanism lingering in their shared, and often veiled, allegiance to a non-negotiable concept of life itself.
The core concept of critical life studies (CLS) therefore strikes at the heart of the dilemma that contemporary critical theory has been circling around: namely, the negotiation of the human, its residues, a priori configurations, the persistence of humanism in structures of thought, and the figure of life as a constitutive focus for ethical, political, and onto-epistemological questions. Despite attempts to move quickly through humanism to more adequate theoretical concepts, such haste has impeded the analysis of how the humanistic concept ‘life itself’ is preconfigured or immanent within the supposedly new conceptual leap. This research field thus addresses how we may begin to think life critically—outside the orbit and primacy of the human.
CLS is a diagnosis of the state of critical theory today, including academic feminisms, but also a bold, tripartite prescription: 1. to challenge Humanism by acknowledging the urgent need for a radical overhaul of the central proto-figure of life—whilst being alert to its inheritances; 2. to contest presumptions about life as beginning and ending in the organism, as a priority in the generation of meaning, and as a ‘special’ boundary in the constitution of ethico-political worlds; and 3. to use the departure from life as a necessary condition of new thought, obliging an engagement with all that does not have (human) life as its essential referent and center. This prescription is not meant as the horizon of all constitutive meaning, but instead a problematic that opens up a more expansive engagement with critical theory.