New materialisms: key approaches

Over the past few years, I have been drawing more and more on new materialist theories, concepts and perspectives, particularly in thinking through how humans live with digital technologies (which is the focus of all my research at the moment). The approaches I am currently finding most useful come from a range of perspectives.

Recently, I sat down to map out and categorise the different approaches with which I have been working that use new materialist thinking. I made a big table, and used this to jot down these approaches, the main concepts and questions with which they engage, some key researchers in each approach, and the key theorists each draws on. The PDF of the whole table is available here (fourth revised version added 13 September 2018): Overview of new materialism approaches

I also made a word cloud to visually represent the key theorists identified in the table, and their relative importance in the literature (below). This is an easy way to quickly show which theorists tend to be drawn on the most in this literature.

materialisms word cloud

Below the table, I listed what I saw as common threads and key questions that emerged from the literature I had read when constructing the table. These are as follows:

COMMON THREADS: More-than-human worlds, human-nonhuman assemblage, vitality and vibrancy of things, ethico-onto-epistemology, relational ontology, sensory encounters, tensions between sameness and difference, how matter comes to matter, posthumanist performativity, identifying entanglements and shared agency, identifying exclusions, respectful engagements with disciplinary differences, the micropolitics of relations and affects, the generation and expression of agential capacities, encounters, forces (constraining and enabling) and intensities – how lines of flight might be generated – resistances, new possibilities for action or assemblages, thinking otherwise – intra-actions within assemblages between their various components- this includes power, which is transitory as it is enacted – interdependency between researcher and researched.

KEY QUESTIONS: How do objects under analysis establish conditions of action? How do humans incorporate and improvise with objects? What are the social lives of things? Which assemblages and networked power relations are they part of? How do the objects of study work and who does it work for? What imaginaries do they rely on and establish? Where are tensions/differences/novel formulations? Where are differences and exclusions? How do differences get made? What effects do differences have? What are the relations between things? How does matter come to matter? What theories can be brought to bear to make agential cuts of meaning? What are the affective intensities/forces and agential capacities generated by the assemblages under analysis? What do they do? After identifying the conditions of possibility (normalising agents), how to ‘think the unthinkable’/escape normalising discourses and habituated acts and open up new conditions of possibility? What are the ethics of more-than-human worlds and encounters? What lies beyond the ascendancy of the human – what is posthumous life? What can non-western onto-epistemologies offer?

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “New materialisms: key approaches

  1. Thanks for describing this analytical thinking /analysis process and the “outcomes” – fascinating and provocative. I did something similar recently, but less thoroughly.

    I reflected on where the sociology of higher education – and sociology of health – is heading, what are the new breakthroughs (and buzz-words/ideas/themes at conferences and in publications), why the interest in them among sociologists and where I might have something to contribute…..it left me with a lot more thinking homework, which I am yet to address……I would love to more deeply consider your post here and add it to my next phase of thinking about my own sociological practices. For example, I appreciate the symposium approach to building theory and reflecting on practices, but I actually tend to stick to one and concentrate deeply on it, and realised I have let slide developing my understanding of alternative theoretical approaches (which is humbling but a powerful insight into tackling my own curiosity-driven directions in 2018, and developing research plan for this year and 2019).

    Thanks again, this is a very valuable stimulus – much appreciated.

  2. Just great summary of new materialism among current social sciences and humanities.
    Like to be your follower. Shin-pyo Kang from Seoul Korea.

  3. Pingback: 1 – New materialisms: key approaches

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