The Need of a Critical Theory of Digitalization (Remark on the Point of
Technologization in the Manifesto)
Alexandra Colligs
Krisis 2023, 43 (1): 117-119.
The prior issue of Krisis (42:1) published Critical Naturalism: A Manifesto, with the aim to
instigate a debate of the issues raised in this manifesto the necessary re-thinking of the role
(and the concept) of nature in critical theory in relation to questions of ecology, health, and
inequality. Since Krisis considers itself a place for philosophical debates that take contempo-
rary struggles as starting point, it issued an open call and solicited responses to the manifesto.
This is one of the sixteen selected responses, which augment, specify, or question the assump-
tions and arguments of the manifesto.
Critical naturalism, Digitalization
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC
BY 4.0). © 2023 The author(s).
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
The Need of a Critical Theory of Digitalization (Remark on the Point of
Technologization in the Manifesto)
Alexandra Colligs
Even if it seems correct that the hope for liberation cannot be placed in the acceleration of
technological development, an answer is still needed to the question of how the utopian pro-
spect of a third nature as a relation of care can be related to the current technological apparat-
uses and the power relations that pervade them. How, then, can the intertwining of nature,
culture, and technology be critically described and re-perspectivized? To pursue this question,
Critical Naturalism must incorporate the reflections of a Critical Theory of digitalization,
which critically points out how Big Tech has reduced the promise of technological liberation
to consumerism, and pushes a posthumanism in which the human mind is reduced to behav-
iourist predictions of behaviour.
That the relentlessly driven technological development which launches the super-rich into
space and yet abolishes neither hunger, nor disease, nor misery, does not strive for the best for
all, is by now probably obvious. However, this does not dispense us from a close analysis of
how our development into cyborgs (Haraway 1991), i.e. the intertwining of our way of being
with technological apparatuses, mediates our relationship to inner and outer nature. And how
this change is accompanied by the construction of an immense surveillance apparatus, which
on the one hand ensures the (bio-)political controllability of the population, and on the other
hand drives the production of ever new needs by evaluating the “behavioral surplus” (Zuboff
2018), the endless multiplication of which serves the purpose of new markets. Following the
reflections of the older Critical Theory, it is important to understand how the totality of the
technological mediation of our self-relations, as well as our social relations through the en-
compassing digitalization, reshapes and changes these relations. And how, in turn, they pro-
duce our inner nature, our needs, and, relatedly, our relationship to outer nature in a way that
structures these modes of relating in terms of domination and commodity form. In order to
pursue the questions further, it is necessary to take a closer look at the ways in which the
digitalization of the world intervenes in processes of subjectivation. It has to be considered
here in particular how our existence as avatars, i.e. as formalized, standardized, and disembod-
ied forms of representation of our selves in virtual space, relates to non-virtual reality. It seems
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
that our avatar existence not only represents us but has begun to form our real existence in a
way that transforms us into real avatars, i.e., leads to our embodiment of our abstract and
virtual existence (Stederoth 2022). The identity of such a subject thus decisively constituted
in the virtual world loses individuality to the extent that experiences not mediated by techno-
logical standardization become more and more impossible. This concerns not only the experi-
enceability of our needs, which are reshaped by permanent technological and market mediation
and aligned according to the logic of profit and growth, but also our relationship to external
nature, which is increasingly immaterialized and devalued as a mere background for instagram
pictures or as a supplier of raw materials for technological progress; and whose laws are not
to be respected but best broken (hence the excitement for nuclear fusion experiments that
promise to generate more energy than is expended). The virtual transformation of our mode of
existence not only contributes to the fact that we can more strongly disregard our entanglement
with and dependence on external nature, but also entangles us more deeply in the promises of
a green capitalism which pretends to avert the climate catastrophe by individual consumerism
and by the means of digital tools that pick out emission-saving flights, offer environmentally
friendly produced clothing, or encourage us to buy electronic cars. The herein complicit forms
of subjectivity have to be addressed and criticized in order to create other forms of collective
self-preservation that relate differently to inner and outer nature.
Some questions which have to be addressed in this process would be: is there still a remainder
of nature that is able to escape the almost inescapable digital constraints of standardization?
At what point could resistance against our continual constitution as deficient beings be located,
which revolts against the self-optimization impositions of morning routines, fitbits, and cos-
metic surgery which all reduce the body to nature that has to be controlled? How do we rescue
the mind against its assimilation to procedural schematization and algorithmization and the
reduction to affirming that what already is? And: if there is no longer a “backstage”, i.e. no
place where the subject still knows itself unobserved and safe from others, what does that mean
for the possibility of political agency and radical change?
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
Haraway, Donna Jeanne. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Rout-
Stederoth, Dirk. 2022. Reale Avatare. Zur Versponnenheit in Netzkultur. Berlin: J.B. Metzler.
Zuboff, Shoshana. 2018. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier
of Power. New York: PublicAffairs.
Alexandra Colligs is a postdoc at the University of Kassel in the department of Practical Philosophy. She studied
philosophy, german language and literature, and psychoanalysis at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, where she
also received her doctorate with a thesis on the relationship between liberation and identity in Judith Butler and
Theodor W. Adorno. Her doctoral thesis Identität und Befreiung was published 2021 (Campus-Verlag). Last
year, she co-edited a volume on Critical Theory and Feminism with Karin Stögner (Suhrkamp, 2022). She is
currently working on her postdoctoral thesis on a materialist perspective on the theory of mind.