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


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies.
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 essentialistic, assuming clear distinctions between the human species and other animal species on the one hand – based on our self-awareness – and between the human species and man-made machines on the other – based on an essentialistic dichotomy between the natural and the artificial. 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 changing 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 biology, technology, science, culture and art 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, justified? In this course we will, together, address such questions and come to a new understanding of various aspects of the human identity.
To this end a series of seminar meetings will deal with topics such as those listed below (the list will be amended and expanded upon). For each of the topics, reading material will be provided in the form of articles and book chapters, to be discussed together. Since artists and film directors often reflect on these topics in critical ways, the course will approach the different issues with a focus on case studies of art works (with a particular interest in the field of Bio-art 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 (cf. Donna Haraway, A cyborg manifesto [1991], the film Blade runner [1982], the Japanese anime film Ghost in the shell [1995], Ex Machina, [2015]).

  • Identity commodification (cf. TV Show: Black Mirror, “The Entire History of You”).

  • Human enhancement and Eugenetics (cf. art project Jalila Essaïdi, Bulletproof skin [2012], TV series Black mirror, film Gattaca [1997], embryo selection).

  • Gene patenting and ownership rights to human tissue and cells (cf. the court case on the use of HeLa cells in medical research, the court case on gene patents of the breast cancer gene BRCA).

  • Animal Ecologies and Anthropocene (cf. bioart of 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 ciritically 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 elective courses 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 interdisciplinary 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 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
    a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
    b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
    c. using up-to-date presentation techniques;
    d. 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. 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.

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
    a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
    b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
    c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;
    d. aimed at a specific audience.


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 course includes supervised research.

Course Load

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

  • Attending lectures: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Watching assigned films: 8 hours

  • Studying compulsory literature, preparing presentations: 98 hours

  • Researching and writing the final research essay: 150 hours

Assessment method

Assessment & Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Presentation of Article from reading material 10%
Overall Participation in Seminar Discussions 20%
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.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the final paper 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 paper.
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 2017 – 2018.

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 tutorial groups. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard for this course, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

Text(s) will be made available online.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis can be found here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


A.A. Wołodzko MA

When contacting the lecturer, please include your full name, student number and tutorial group number.


The deadline for submission of the final essay is 15 June 2018.