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Elective: How We Are Human: Cultural Reflections on Human Identity in Contexts of Biotechnology, Digitalization, and Gender


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


The idea of an autonomous, individual identity is often seen as a Western invention, stemming from the Enlightenment period. Traditional ideas about human identity have been essentialist, assuming clear distinctions between the human and other animal species on the one hand and between the human species and man-made machines on the other. The notion of an essential human identity is, furthermore, deeply rooted in a dichotomous understanding of gender identities.

New developments in biotechnology, science and cultural studies rapidly changed our ideas of what it means to be human, leading to interesting debates within the Humanities. This course sets out to discuss novel ways in which we view ourselves as humans. It brings together aspects from new media technology, life science, culture and bioart to complicate the deceivingly simple category of the ‘natural human’. When do methods of tempering with our DNA and bodies or enhancing ourselves with technology start to make us artificial? Are we artificially creating new subspecies and genders? Are our fears of genetic manipulation and the rise of the cyborg endangering our core human nature? In this course we will together address such questions and come to a new understanding of various aspects of the human identity by focusing on case studies of art works, with a particular interest in the field of Bioart and science-fiction movies and TV shows, in order to examine the cultural and artistic reflection on these developments.

Topics (may) include:

  • Posthumanism and Transhumanism (Donna Haraway, A cyborg manifesto [1991], Blade runner [1982], Ghost in the shell [1995], Ex Machina, [2015]).

  • Identity commodification (Black Mirror).

  • Human enhancement and Eugenics (Gattaca [1997]).

  • Gene patenting and ownership rights to human tissue and cells (the case of HeLa cells, gene patents of the breast cancer gene BRCA).

  • Xenofeminism Manifesto, 2015

  • Animal Ecologies and Anthropocene (Art Orienté Objet, May the Horse Live in Me, 2011; Sonja Bäumel, Expanded Self, 2012; Jae Rhim Lee, The Infinity Burial Project).

These topics will be introduced during the sessions, upon which the students will critically present and discuss the assigned readings, leading to a better understanding of the issues at hand and the arguments used by different stakeholders. In addition to the discussion of reading material as well as art works and film excerpts, the students will formulate individual research questions and carry out research projects, which will be presented during the seminars and will result in individual papers.
Note that, while an interest in scientific and technological developments is of course an advantage, no background in science or technology is needed to attend the course.

Course objectives

The Electives for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the multidisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral and written presentation skills:

1. To explain clear and substantiated research results.
2. To provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course:

  • in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;

  • in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;

  • using up-to-date presentation techniques;

  • using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;

  • aimed at a specific audience.
    3. To actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:

1. To be socio-communicative in collaborative situations.
2. To provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position.
3. To adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

1. To collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques.
2. To analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability.
3. To formulate on this basis a sound research question.
4. To design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved.
5. To formulate a substantiated conclusion.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction


Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the Midterm Exam week. This includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), which equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending seminars (2 hours per week x 12): 24 hours

  • Reading literature and preparing assignments: 98 hours

  • Researching and writing the final research essay: 150 hours

  • Watching assigned films: 8 hours

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
In-class participation 20%
Article Presentation 10%
Case study group presentation 20%
Final Research Essay (5,000 words) 50%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the End Grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the Final Essay on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the Final Essay.
In case of resubmission of the Final Essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the Essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the Final Essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2018 – 2019.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for the seminars. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

Literature will be made available on-line and on blackboard.


Registration occurs via survey only. Registration opens 3 December:

1) On 3 December you will receive a message with a link to the survey.
2) Indicate there which are your 5 preferred Electives, in order of preference.
3) Based on preferences indicated by 16 December the Electives Coordinator will assign you to one specific Elective by 15 January.
4) Students will then be enrolled for the specific groups by the Administration Office.
5) All students are required to enroll for their group in Blackboard to access all course information.

Students cannot register in uSis for the Elective, or be allowed into an Elective in any other way.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


A.A. Wołodźko MA

When contacting lecturers or tutors, please include your full name, student number, and tutorial group number.


The deadline for submission of the Final Essay is 14 June 2019.