Call for Papers: Sylvia Wynter, Culture, and Technics

The correlated hypothesis here is that all our present struggles with respect to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, struggles over the environment, global warming, severe climate change, the sharply unequal distribution of the earth resources (20 percent of the world’s peoples own 80 percent of its resources, consume two-thirds of its food, and are responsible for 75 percent of its ongoing pollution, with this leading to two billion of earth’s peoples living relatively affluent lives while four billion still live on the edge of hunger and immiseration, to the dynamic of overconsumption on the part of the rich techno-industrial North paralleled by that of overpopulation on the part of the dispossessed poor, still partly agrarian worlds of the South)—these are all differing facets of the central ethnoclass Man vs. Human struggle.

–Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the human, after man, its overrepresentation—An argument.”

As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, more scholars than ever before, from a broader array of disciplines, are both recognizing and engaging with Wynter’s polymathic and uncategorizable oeuvre and extending her philosophical and political contributions and theoretical labors. This is not only due to the fact that the crises of planetary proportions named and examined in her work continue to metastasize, but also due to the unparalleled scholarship and intellectual companionship of Katherine McKittrick, who ushered in a critical renaissance of Wynterian thinking with the publication of the anthology Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Duke University Press, 2015) nearly a decade ago.  The term anthology traces to the Greek, meaning a collection of flowers, and McKittrick’s text, interinanimated by Wynter, has shifted the theoretical landscape and season into a vibrant spring: pollination. The range of projects that Wynter’s contributions have enabled defy generalization; she is firmly situated amongst the foremost critical theorists of the past half century. The challenge she posed to the academy remains: to dismantle the restrictive and hierarchical system it was built upon in order to make space for new forms of intelligibility and sociality, and unhousing the theoretical and onto-epistemic edifice of man that would foreclose or interrupt this path breaking project. “Towards the human, after man.” For Black studies, she offers a model of the critical theorist as the bearer of deep erudition and uncompromising rigor, as well as being a syntopic and public intellectual in the sense that both Edward Said and Noam Chomsky wrote about.  Wynter’s radical conclusions are committed to a Black radical revolutionary horizon, and are equally as characterized by a determined will as a critical mood of uncompromising hope in the possibility of struggle and renewal.  To think after man, towards the human, evinces a faith in the liberating capacity of study, and also discloses a form of critical animacy and inhabitation which are neither prescriptive nor narrowly overdetermined, but instead, constantly on the move.

We propose a special issue of Social Text that takes up the rubric of Wynter at a post-2020 conjuncture characterized by, on the one hand, a “racial reckoning” prompted by global protests against police violence and premature death via the carceral racial capitalist state and, on the other, strengthening waves to decolonize institutions and knowledge formations. We propose that Wynter is a key thinker through which to map the sameness, difference, and interplay of these discourses of decolonization and black studies, given their uneven uptake within institutions and social movements across Europe, America, and the Global South. We posit based upon her own unique research methods and theoretical idiom, as well as the pattern of her interventions which, like two other paradigm shifting black critical theorists of which she is a peer–Hortense Spillers and Stuart Hall–has been more known for the profundity of her thought style, political and literary grammar (introducing a whole new vocabulary in her overcoming of the limits of the given) and essays more than the traditional scholarly monograph. We also greatly appreciate the care with which her archive in general and her magisterial, and as yet unpublished text, Black Metamorphosis in particular is held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Among the multiple possible inroads into Wynter’s intervention within culture, we propose in particular to focus on her challenge to conventional thinking about technology. We do so as we observe that our present conjuncture is one of unprecedented violence against the populations Fanon deemed “the wretched of the earth,” and at the same time it is also one in which the cognoscenti of Silicon Valley (Wynter spent much of her career at Stanford University) are proclaiming a breakthrough onto new technological horizons enabled by algorithmic control and artificial intelligence. Building on the potency of the critiques of techno-optimism and technocracy issued from within black studies in the work of Ruha Benjamin, Simone Browne, and others, we propose treating Wynter as a theorist who equips us to pose the question of technology otherwise. Laying the ax to the root, Wynter helps us understand technics not simply as a set of emergent tools or a sector of the economy, but as “reason concerned with production” (Aristotle) and also to consider the ways in which technology is tethered to racial capitalism and racial slavery. Technology is for and through that reason always both biopolitical and necropolitical, and the prospects for the reenchantment of the human which Wynter has called for depend upon a thoroughgoing reconsideration of this instrumentalization of reason.

This special issue of Social Text thus seeks new essays by scholars working with Wynter, from any discipline, engaging the question of technics and culture and their interplay. We seek to take stock of that emergent conversation in its full philosophical and political scope for the 2020s. Our aim is less an exegesis of her work, or tribute to her career, than it is the unpacking of a critical toolkit. We seek to engage with Wynter on the following grounds:

  • Her early and ongoing engagement with cybernetics, and complex systems
  • Her dialogue with Fanon on psychoanalysis and the principle of sociogenesis
  • Her critique of the university and its discourses
  • Her critique of feminism
  • Her theory of aesthetics, film, and performance mediation
  • Her theories of race, indigeneity, and decolonization as pertaining to technics
  • Her engagement with Black Marxism
  • Her concept of dyssellection in relation to necropolitics and cognate terms
  • Her NHI open letter to her Stanford colleagues on the human catastrophe abetted by STEM disciplines
  • Her interventions into philosophy and theories of mind, neuro-philosophy, and neuropolitics

We welcome essay abstracts of 500-800 words in length exploring a topic related to the above or additional topics. Deadline June 1st, 2024. Please submit abstract via email to both Social Text issue co-editors Che Gossett and Tavia Nyong’o at: and

Social Text Collective

The Social Text Collective began in 1979.