Species Thinking Without Agency: The Afterlife of Slavery, Clones, and Blurring Subject and Object in the Anthropocene


  • Joey Song University of Michigan




The overwhelming scale of climate change demands new ways of bridging national, cultural, and taxonomic differences. However, ecocritical frameworks that emphasise non-human agency in an attempt to make human individuals empathise with other people, other species, and the earth are haunted by the tenacious spectre of nineteenth-century classical liberalism’s characterization of personhood through specious, fragile dichotomies that can largely fall under the general rubric of agency versus determinism. The putatively opposed terms of these binaries are malleable, and control of their designation is a key element of control societies. Contemporary scholarship has identified several ways subjects bleed into objects, but, even though the ‘individual’ should theoretically collapse under its own ontological pressure in our current biopolitical age, neoliberalism largely holds onto classical liberalism’s central dogma of a person as an agential individual. I analyse the novel Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro and its critical analyses to show how the plight to recognise agency is a prison of analysis that upholds an ideal of the individual as the bastion of personhood. As seen through the afterlife of slavery post-emancipation, those in power can discursively recognise the humanity in people formerly designated 'things' while still perpetuating systematic exploitation and dehumanisation. The metric of ‘agency’ as a unit of hope is an epistemic barrier to effective political rhetoric regarding climate change and species thinking.