The extended self

Architecture, memes and minds

By Chris Abel

The extended self


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9612-9
  • Pages: 384
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: November 2014
  • BIC Category: ARCHITECTURE / General, The arts / Theory of architecture, Cultural Studies, Theory of architecture, Architecture, ARCHITECTURE / Criticism


In his wide-ranging study of architecture and cultural evolution, Chris Abel argues that, despite progress in sustainable development and design, resistance to changing personal and social identities shaped by a technology-based and energy-hungry culture is impeding efforts to avert drastic climate change. The book traces the roots of that culture to the coevolution of Homo sapiens and technology, from the first use of tools as artificial extensions to the human body, to the motorized cities spreading around the world, whose uncontrolled effects are changing the planet itself.

Advancing a new concept of the meme, called the 'technical meme,' as the primary agent of cognitive extension and technical embodiment, Abel proposes a theory of the 'extended self' encompassing material and spatial as well as psychological and social elements. Drawing upon research from philosophy, psychology and the neurosciences, the book presents a new approach to environmental and cultural studies that will appeal to a broad readership searching for insights into the origins of the crisis.


'I have known Chris Abel for many years and I have always found his writing challenging and illuminating. This, his magnum opus, is an extensive and thought-provoking work. It is an admirable attempt to break free of accepted modes of thinking and brings a fresh line of enquiry to the symbiotic relationships between man, nature and technology. No single discipline has the answer to the world's environmental crisis and Chris brings an encyclopedic knowledge to bear on its origins, exploring the concept of the extended self through philosophy, literature, genetics, architecture and cybernetics, weaving his way through many more interrelated subjects and issues to expound his theory.'
Norman Foster

'A wide-ranging, and intellectually deep, exploration of ideas relating to memetics and the transmission of culture. That, in turn, provokes comparisons between the mechanisms of biological revolution and those of cultural exchange and influence. Abel handles all this with relish.'
Russell Blackford, Journal of Evolution and Technology

'This ambitious book explores a number of distinct but related dimensions of human experience, including the nature of the self, the evolutionary history of the species, the correspondence between embodiment, cognition, and articulation, the role of technology and built environments in the development of identity, the unfolding global ecological crisis, and the interdependencies between these various fields.Throughout Extended Self, Abel does a masterful job coordinating a considerable range of concepts and resources in an organized and compelling manner.'
Andrew Grosso, Tradition and Discovery, The Polanyi Society Journal

'It would be hard to imagine reading The Extended Self and not coming away with new directions for future research.'
Joshua August Skorburg, Journal of Environmental Philosophy

'In its exploration of the ecologically embedded, inherently technological, evolving-yet also, at times, dangerously slow-to-reform human form of life-Abel's powerful and provocative book offers psychologists a fresh opportunity to reflect critically on the interrelations of our own discipline with architecture and design, as well as environmental and urban studies.'
Suraj Sood and Lisa Osbeck, Journal of Theory & Psychology



Winner of the International Committee of Architectural Critics 2017 Bruno Zevi Book Award


1. The common bond
2. The body nucleus
3. Embodied minds
4. Technics and the human
5. Rethinking evolution
6. From genes to memes
7. Types and taxonomies
8. Technical memes and assemblages
9. Combinatorial design
10. Recasting the extended self
11. Appropriating cyberspace


Chris Abel is Honorary Visiting Professor at Ulster University Belfast and a member of the International Committee of Architectural Critics.

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