Posthumanism is a theory which challenges the conventional philosophies found in Humanism. In the early 19th century during the Enlightenment Era in Europe and America, thinkers such as Locke, Hobbes, and Voltaire contributed to the popularization of Humanism. It emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment—generally elevating the human species to be rational, autonomous, individuals whose priorities naturally and unquestionably come first. However, Posthumanism counters these assumptions and offers a more collective and holistic view of the world. It asserts the idea that we are all connected—and we doesn’t stop with humans, it expands to all organic life forms and to technology.
Orphan Black is a science fiction series (currently in its fourth season) which follows several genetic clones who are working together (sometimes) to try to protect their interests from the many factions who claim a stake in their biology. Sarah Manning is the main protagonist of the series. She began the series as a drifter from London who has operates in petty crime for income. Not just drugs and theft though, Sarah is more often a con-artist, who swindles wealthy folks out of cash. She has a foster-brother, Felix and a secretive foster-mother, Mrs. S, who always knows a great deal more than you’d think. Sarah also has a young daughter named Kira. In Season 1 of the series, Sarah lacks any and all responsibility. As a character, Sarah transforms from a single-minded, individualistic, and selfish con-artist into a deeply caring, loyal, and protective mother and sister. She harnesses her rebellion and directs it towards the forces who seek to control her, her daughter and her genetic identicals.
In the finale of Season 2, Sarah is forced to surrender to Dyad in order to get Kira back.
Starting about halfway through the episode, this scene emphasizes Dyad’s interests in the clones—they are science, nothing else. Sarah’s life, privacy, and identity is completely devalued; they dehumanize her and strip her of fundamental rights. Two men grab Sarah and hoist her onto a gurney, strapping her down despite her resistance.
Sarah pleads with them as they roll her to an operating room. Dr. Nealon enters. They intend to perform an oophorectomy. Dyad’s absolute disregard for Sarah’s life and privacy—completely devaluing her identity and dehumanizing her to the point of performing an invasive surgical procedure without her consent.
“We’re removing one of your ovaries. For research.” Dr. Nealon
Through a Posthumanist perspective, we can see how Dyad—led by white men—represents humanity. While the Leda clones are seen as subhuman, nonhumans, and therefore do not have basic human rights. Because the clone deviates from the default, they are deemed lesser or wrong. From the viewpoint of some followers of the religious cult, the Proletheans, they are even considered abominations.
By the end of Season 1, Cosima unravels just some of the mystery behind her genome. First, Delphine admits that all of the subjects have numeric tag numbers—like prisoners, like samples in a lab.
“324B21. Right, I’m 324B21.” – Cosima Niehaus
Once she deciphers the bar code, text appears on the screen reading: THIS ORGANISM AND DERIVATIVE GENETIC MATERIAL IS RESTRICTED INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. They are being serialized, monitored, and patented. What part of their life can they claim as only theirs? They are being stripped of all individuality and categorized, tagged using numbers and letters—and then watched, controlled for the purpose of scientific “advancement.”
However, it is very clear that these clones are not all the same. Cosima, Alison, Sarah, Helena, etc. They all possess their own personalities, backgrounds, and traits. They are individual in the strictest sense. Yet, they are still one. An interesting dynamic exists on Orphan Black where the clones are individually very different, but they have a collective sense of sisterhood and love. We see this throughout all three seasons, but particularly in this scene:
The Leda clones have gathered around a familial symbol—the dinner table—simply to celebrate that they are all together and safe. Sarah dedicates the meal to Beth, who, unknown to her, lead Sarah to find her true family and purpose. Early in the first season, Sarah was quite selfish and individualistic. Now, she is breaking bread with people whom she vowed to ignore, forget about, and leave behind. Sarah’s journey is incredibly transformative—changing from a narrow and individualistic perspective to an open view which emphasizes community, connectivity, and togetherness.