Feminist Materialism

Rosi-Braidotti-profile8 point mandalaRosi Braidotti (b.1954 in Latisana, Italy) is a philosopher and feminist theoretician. Her contribution to philosophy takes us to the intersection of social and political theory, cultural politics, gender, feminist theory and ethnicity studies. Braidotti investigates how to think about difference and to disrupt sameness.


New materialism cuts transversally across disciplinary fields. In short

New materialism shows how the mind is always already material (the mind is an idea of the body), how matter is necessarily something of the mind (the mind has the body as its object), and how nature and culture are always already “naturecultures” (Donna Haraway’s term). New materialism opposes the transcendental and humanist (dualist) traditions that are haunting cultural theory (Dolphijn and van der Tuin, 2012a, np).

The focus of new materialism is on rhythms, connections and flows.  The cognitive compulsion to categorize is futile when all is in flux, creating a continuous reconfiguration of relationalities in which all beings acquire shapes, operate and differentiate.

Rosi Braidotti asserts that the self is nomadic in that the self is always intersectional and unfixed.  It is not a unitary core self, but a system of selves grappling with differences and taking up subject positions, temporarily, as points of departure for nomadic becomings (Braidotti cited by Tamboukou, 2010, p.32).  She theorizes about the politics of life itself, and insists that a radical refocusing from material as object to material as process shifts the ecocultural imaginary from a fragmented world to mutual interdependence. This shift has the potential to disrupt capitalism, a “self-imploding system” that is inherently self-destructive and necrophilic as it feeds on the very condition of its survival: “It eats the future itself” (Braidotti, 2010, p.202f, 215).


IMAGE_baradKaren Barad (b. April 29, 1956) is an American feminist theorist, known particularly for her theory of agential realism. She is the author of Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Barad earned her doctorate in theoretical physics. Her current work on science, agency, ethics, and knowledge is aligned with the work of Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway.

Agential Realism is a theory articulated by Karen Barad who theorizes that the world is composed of phenomena that are “the ontological inseparability of intra-acting agencies.”  Intra-action, a neologism introduced by Barad, challenges dualism. Intra-action contrasts with ‘interaction’ which assumes that there are separate individual agencies that precede their interaction and are constantly differentiating.  Phenomena are not collections of humans and nonhumans; they are the condition of possibility of all beings, not merely as concepts, but in their materiality. Entanglements occur when beings “emerge through and as part of their entangled intra-relating” (Barad, 2007, ix).  Humans are intrinsically entangled with all beings and come to matter “through the world’s iterative intra-activity – its performativity.” Barad, viewing agency not as a noun, but as a process, uses the adjective ‘agential.’  Agential realism argues that agency is performed or enacted through embodied discourse, and that all matter is agential. In a recent interview, Barad declares that matter is living: “All matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers” (Dolphijn & van der Tuin, 2012a, np).



Re-membering the Future, Re(con)figuring the Past: Temporality, Materiality, and Justice-to-Come

Keynote address by Karen Barad

Agential realism is at once an epistemology, ontology and ethic (Barad, 2008, p.135).  Barad, with her background in theoretical particle physics, rejects traditional science’s separation of ‘object of observation’ and ‘observer’ because this division assumes the object as passive and the observer as active. Barad’s ethic recognizes emergent realities:

Onto-ethico-epistemology in its hyphenated sense captures something important about new materialism, and that is that what is in the world (ontology), what we know what is in the world (epistemology) cannot be separated as two separate things that do not affect one another (van der Tuin). That is, things emerge in the world and they are both shaped by what we know and material simultaneously, and even more we cannot think of them as separate. Finally… everything that emerges is embedded in politics, and while there is no inherent way of being ethical, there are choices that people make in specific special temporal consequences by which they had a role to play and should take partial responsibility (Newmaterialistscartographies, 2015, np).

Identity is not a static phenomenon; it is “unstable, differentiated, dispersed, and yet strangely coherent” (Barad, 2007, p.184); accordingly, my work explores ‘intra-active becoming’, not ‘identity’.


Elemental Ethics is based on David MacAuley’s Elemental Philosophy (2010) in which he considers the elements as an ecocentric ethic.  Water, air and earth create the very materiality of the landscape; “wind, fire and water serve as transformative agents and catalysts of ecological change” (p.336).  An elemental ethic points to collective responsibilities for both multi-centred and particular bodies of water, air and earth that sustain ecosystems (p.337).  From a Jungian perspective, the elements conjure up mythical and material images, characterized as “archetypes, which are ideas or forms of thought emanating from the experiences of a people in such a way that they are powerfully present in the collective unconscious” (p.66).  The elements are participatory; they keep each other balanced by their dynamic energies, which create, transform and destroy, like Kali-Ma, and thus are inherent in the intra-action of regeneration.  Recognizing that there are cultural differences in how the elements are assigned, I situate myself in the onto-ethico-epistemology of the five elements from the shamanistic and Bon-Buddhist traditions of northern Asia, as represented by the mandala image.  Tenzin Wangyal (2002), a Bon-Buddhist teacher, writes that an elemental epistemology “does not mean giving up our understanding of modern chemistry and physics.  The elements give us a more fundamental metaphor that helps to explain the dynamics that lie beneath these different disciplines” (p.11).

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