A Posthuman Approach to Global Politics

While environmental problems are often addressed in the field of political science, the resulting harm to both humans and nature, and the interconnections between them, are often left invisible as the focus is put on the interests of states. Cynthia Martin suggests that empathy can be promoted through a shift in one’s theoretical perspective.


Using theoretical paradigms that embody empathy encourages students to put themselves in the place of the ‘Other’.  Pedagogically, they provide teachers with essential tools to teach and encourage respect and kindness. They provide bodies of knowledge that substantiate the experiences of individuals and groups. As a concept, empathy is the embodiment of compassion and altruism.

My goal as a teacher and Political Scientist is to encourage an empathic undertaking of ecological sustainability. This semester students in my Global Politics class are considering Posthuman Complexity1] theories in International Relations alongside the traditional mainstream approaches (i.e. Realism, Liberalism etc.). 

Mainstream models and paradigms of International Relations theories are focused on state-centric and anthropocentric forms of analysis. Nation-states, in their attempts to safe-guard their sovereignty and promote economic development, all too often fail to consider the effects of ignoring the safety and well-being of human and non-human systems, and the consequences this has on the Earth’s ecosystems.[2]

Posthuman Complexity models encourage empathy in many ways. Firstly as a model it encourages students to look beyond the parameters of a human-centered analysis. Secondly, Complexity models deconstruct and redefine embedded notions around the superiority of the human species in their relations with all other life forms. Rather, humans are considered along with other self-regulating systems and their contingent parts. Thirdly, by extending the concept of empathy beyond the parameters of human-centered interactions, students begin to fully understand that there is a dialectical relationship between themselves and all living systems in their environments. [3] 

In environmental politics, environmental racism refers to the experiences of human and non-human life systems in the racialized communities of the global north and global south. These communities receive disproportionate amounts of air and water pollution, disposal of toxic wastes, and other means of degradation to land and water systems through, for example, resource extraction. [4] They are ‘racialized’ because the affected communities are located on or near land inhabited by indigenous peoples and rural, peasant farmers.

State-centric and anthropocentric approaches to Global Politics and IR look at the embedded power relations located in the relational organization of nation states. Broadening the scope of the analysis to include non-human, self-regulating systems is of vital importance to sustaining a healthy planet. Establishing and reinforcing their importance is best accomplished by incorporating Posthuman, complexity theories to the study of IR and ecological sustainability because they underscore the need for empathy compassion and altruism for all life forms.


Cynthia J. Martin

Political Science, Dawson College



[1]Cudworth E & Hobden S (2011) Posthuman International Relations: Complexity, Ecologism and Global Politics Zed Books.



[4]Critical Concepts: An Introduction to Politics 4th edition Janie Brodie & Sandra Rein Editors. Pearson,  Prentice Hall Toronto 2009

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2 Responses to A Posthuman Approach to Global Politics

  1. Isabelle R. May 12, 2016 at 9:04 pm #

    I have taken a Global Politics class that did indeed focus mainly on the Grand paradigms that involve states as entities and an emphasis on how states interact with each other , as well as with individual actors like state leaders and non-governmental organisations. However, feminist and environmentalist critiques and models of international relations was also explored. I had found these to be the most interesting, as well as the most significant. With learning about these, I was able to analyse policy issues and current political affairs with a more critical eye. However, to also broaden the scope to involve non-human systems as explored by Cynthia Martin in this article also opened my eyes to a new way of looking at politics and international relations in a way that would not only benefit us as human beings, but the planet itself as well.

  2. Alex F December 7, 2016 at 9:07 pm #

    This was a rather short article, but one point that was brought up was environmental racism, and that is the idea that really caught my attention. This is an actual issue and it affects those of indigenous lifestyles. Right away this makes me think of Brazil and how the rainforests are being cut down in mass numbers. I find that there isn’t enough stress on these issues. There is no respect or care for the people who live in these areas and who have been there for centuries before we have discovered it. There cannot be justice if the people of the land do not have a say, because if they did there is no way this madness would still be going on.

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