Representations of posthuman women in contemporary science fiction television

Belton, Olivia Kate (2019) Representations of posthuman women in contemporary science fiction television. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis explores the representation of what I have come to call the posthuman woman in contemporary science fiction television. This is a term I have devised to explore the nuances of female technological-organic hybrids. In the case study programmes Star Trek: Voyager (UPN, 1995-2001), Dark Angel (FOX, 2000-2), Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi, 2003-9), Dollhouse (FOX, 2009-2010), Caprica (SyFy, 2010), Orphan Black (2013-7), and Westworld (HBO, 2016 - ), these characters demonstrate discourses of anxiety around emergent technology within accessible popular narratives. Scientific advances in genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and robotics have undermined previously stable notions of human subjectivity. The humanist concept of the self, which is predicated on masculinist notions of rationality and body/mind dualism, is challenged by the emergence of posthuman technologies. These case study programmes reflect notions associated with posthumanism, such as the importance of the body to conceptions of the self.

In these programmes, the posthuman woman is a technological object created and owned by nefarious corporations. This character type resists patriarchal control, both through her ‘malfunctioning’ body and through strategic coalitions with others. These programmes offer a remarkably explicit political call to action, which is reminiscent of contemporary anti-capitalist and radical feminist discourses. The posthuman woman’s distinct gender identity may seem irreconcilable with notions of cyborg gender-fluidity, and her normative femininity often acts as a curb on her radical challenge to the gender and human/non-human binary. Nevertheless, these programmes demonstrate a renewed interest in complex issues of embodiment that are relevant to posthumanism and feminism more broadly. Furthermore, they question hegemonic discourses of scientific objectivity and control, as well as drawing on contemporary anxieties of corporate overreach. By focusing on television, this thesis challenges the medium’s reputation as inherently conservative, instead arguing that television’s unique narrative structure is key to representing the posthuman woman’s multiplied identity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: James Tweddle
Date Deposited: 21 Aug 2019 10:47
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2022 01:38

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