Technology | 10 May 2024

Technology Series: micha cárdenas


micha cárdenas, PhD, MFA, is an artist, author and Associate Professor of Critical Race & Ethnic Studies and Performance, Play & Design, at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the director of the Critical Realities Studio. Her debut novel Atoms Never Touch (AK Press 2023) imagines trans latina love crossing multiple quantum realities. Her academic monograph Poetic Operations : Trans of Color Art in Digital Media (Duke UP 2022) was the co-winner of the Gloria Anzaldúa Book Prize in 2022 from the National Women’s Studies Association “for groundbreaking monographs in women’s studies that makes significant multicultural feminist contributions to women of color/transnational scholarship.”

Technology After Man: Beyond dehumanization

“We are fighting against human animals.” – Yoav Gallant, Israeli Defense Minister, October 9, 2024[1]

“I find that there are reasonable grounds to believe that that threshold indicating the commission of the crime of genocide against Palestinians as a group in Gaza has been met.” – UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, March 25, 2024[2]

The stakes of developing technology today are that those technologies may be used for genocide. Workers at Amazon and Google are engaged in an organizing campaign called #NoTechForApartheid to try to stop the technologies they are creating from being used for genocide against Palestinians.[3] Graduate students in Astronomy at UC Santa Cruz have called on their faculty to not allow their research to be used for genocide, articulating the many ways that the optics and imaging research they are doing is being used for military and surveillance purposes.[4] My own research has followed a trajectory from trying to stop the murders of trans women of color in my book Poetic Operations: Trans of Color Art in Digital Media to understanding how the concept of the human, and its limits, has been used as a weapon to justify killing of people around the world, as it is currently being used to justify a genocidal attack on the people of Gaza.

The stakes of developing technology today are that those technologies may be used for genocide.

Poetic Operations began by asking the question: if increased visibility for trans women of color in popular media has resulted in more murders, what other strategies are artists and activists using to stop the killing? Learning from abolitionist strategies such as those of the INCITE: Women and Trans People Against Violence organization, I engaged in practice-based research to build local safety networks for queer and trans people of color. The art project, called Local Autonomy Networks, or Autonets for brevity, began with wearable electronic prototypes using mesh networked garments that I created, and continued through workshops using Theater of the Oppressed to consider how to build abolitionist safety networks in 11 cities in the US, Canada, Germany and Brazil. Studying and reflecting on that work, I was profoundly inspired by Édouard Glissant’s concept of poetics of relation. In Glissant’s formulation, poetics is a force, both aesthetic and political, that moves between bodies, communities and landscapes. Beginning with the cry of the enslaved person thrown off of a slave ship, Glissant imagines poetics as much more than the arrangement of words, as the actions that move affect between people, places and societies. Poetic Operations considers the artwork of trans people of color in digital media, and other artists whose artwork attempts to improve the life chances of trans people of color. In doing so, the book articulates a trans of color poetics by using algorithmic analysis that considers algorithms broadly, as processes that have the form of recipes or rituals. Poetic Operations describes the ways artists have used algorithms of survival and algorithms of resistance in their artwork.

Yet in the past 174 days, the world has witnessed algorithms used by Israeli Defense Forces for the genocide of Palestinian people in new and horrific ways. We have witnessed drones equipped with automatic rifles to shoot at innocent people in hospitals.[5] We have witnessed robot dogs deployed against Palestinian people in Gaza.[6] We have witnessed artificial intelligence being used to identify Palestinians to kill at an unprecedented pace, which one former intelligence officer referred to as making a “mass assassination factory” out of Gaza.[7]

“The Probability Engine: Permafrost and the Last Piece of Antarctic Ice”, detail of permafrost, Souterrain Art Festival, Montreal, Quebec, 2024 by micha cárdenas in collaboration with Star Hagen-Esquerra, Marcelo Diaz Viana Neto, Ryan Li Dahlstrom, Ian Costello, Tamara Duplantis and Madison Mccartha. Photo by Marcelo Diaz Viana Neto.

I began writing my next academic monograph, tentatively titled After Man: Fires, Oceans and Androids in 2021, after Palestinians protested their eviction from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. In the ensuing violence, Israeli defense forces killed 256 Palestinians, and 13 Israelis were killed by rockets fired from Gaza.[8] My research in this book focuses on Sylvia Wynter’s claim that “The referent-we of man and of its ends, [Derrida] implies, is not the referent-we of the human species itself… I am saying here that the above is the single issue with which global warming and climate instability now confront us and that we have to replace the ends of the referent-we of liberal monohumanist Man2 with the ecumenically human ends of the referent-we in the horizon of humanity.[9] Wynter claims here that the limits of the definition of the human, who is not considered human and is therefore considered expendable, underlie global climate change. In an earlier essay, Wynter studies the use of the acronym No Humans Involved (N.H.I.) by officials involved in the Rodney King case, as well as many cases involving violence against Black men. In the essay, she concludes “The eruption of the N.H.I./liminal category in South Central Los Angeles has again opened a horizon from which to spearhead the speech of a new frontier of knowledge able to move us toward a new, correlated human species, and eco-systemic, ethic.”[10] In the essay, she connects the way that Black men are dehumanized by the criminal justice system to the epistemological systems of knowledge created and reinforced in academia which define humanity in such a way that it can be withheld from certain populations in order to justify their killing.

On October 9th, when Yoav Gallant announced the total siege of Gaza in which all food, water and electricity would be withheld from two million people, he stated “We are fighting against human animals.” What followed was an attack on Gaza that continues to this day, having killed over 32,000 Palestinians and over 14,000 children.[11] Many scholars have referred to this as a genocide, including the International Court of Justice ruling that it is plausible that Israel’s actions constitute genocide.[12] This is to me the clearest example of Wynter’s claim that I can imagine. In their book Terracene, UC Berkeley assistant professor of Ethnic Studies Salar Mameni makes a crucial link here between climate change, the racist claim that Arab people are terrorists, and wars committed against SWANA countries, claiming “the terrorist thus falls outside of the category of the human and is an entangled fusion of the nonhuman (such as infectious disease or toxic landscapes) and the less than human (such as racialized bioterrorists).”[13] Mameni makes clear the ways that terrorists are defined by the war on terror and discourses of the Anthropocene as other than human, and how the terrorist is also used to delimit the boundaries of the human. Mameni makes the link from orientalist rhetoric to the war on terror to articulate the racialized politics underlying the idea of the Anthropocene, our current epoch, which has been described by scientists as defined by human impacts on the world on the scale of a geological age. Their book makes clear the massive amount of environmental destruction wrought by war and occupation. A January 2024 Guardian article stated that the war in Gaza has produced as much emissions as twenty countries.[14]

The clearest alternative one can find today to a weaponized Orientalist colonial conception of the human is the massive movement of millions of people in resistance…

The rest of my forthcoming book After Man describes strategies that artist and activists are using to respond to dehumanization, other than simply demanding to be human. Considering the writing of authors such as Zakiyyah Iman Jackson and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, I analyze artworks that I have created, as well as artworks by other artists including Ursula Beimann, Rehab Nazzal and Syrus Marcus Ware. I also consider the poetry of Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha, who wrote, with many collaborators, “Ceasefire Cento”. The poem begins with the line, “we all long to write the poem that will stop this death.”[15] Poetry is a powerful technology. Yet I argue in After Man that the clearest alternative one can find today to a weaponized Orientalist colonial conception of the human is the massive movement of millions of people in resistance that has demanded an end to the genocide, an end to the occupation and a free Palestine. These movements refuse dehumanization and enact worlds every day in which Palestinians are seen as undeniably, fully human. The greatest technology we have is our collectivity.


[1] “Israeli defence minister orders ‘complete siege’ on Gaza, October 9, 2023, Al Jazeera,

[2] “‘Reasonable grounds’ to believe Israel committing ‘genocide’”, March 26, 2024, Al Jazeera,




[6] ; ; ;


[8] Gaza on Screen. 2023. Durham: Duke University Press. ;

[9] McKittrick, Katherine, ed. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2015, 24.

[10] Wynter, Sylvia. “’No Humans Involved’: An Open Letter to my Colleagues”, in Forum N.H.I.: Knowledge for the 21st Century. vol. 1, no. 1, Fall 1994.

[11] ;

[12] ; ;

[13] Salar Mameni. 2023. Terracene: A Crude Aesthetics. Duke University Press., 18.




Banner Image: 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron members with robot dog at Barksdale Air Force Base in 2023. Quadruped robotic dog pictured is similar to ones in use by Israeli forces in Gaza.

The Humanities Institute’s 2024 Technology Series features contributions from a range of faculty and emeriti engaged in humanities scholarship at UC Santa Cruz. The statements, views, and data contained in these pieces belong to the individual contributors and draw on their academic expertise and insight. This series showcases the ways in which scholars from diverse disciplinary perspectives contend with the issues connected with our annual theme. Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest piece in the series every week!