Reading Karen Barad’s Interview in New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies

“Agential realism is not a manifesto, it does not take for granted that all is or will or can be made manifest. On the contrary, it is a call, a plea, a provocation, a cry, a passionate yearning for an appreciation of, attention to the tissue of ethicality that runs through the world.”

– Karen Barad, New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies

Karen Barad’s agential realism is not about agents or actors in the sense of a Latourian reading of that term. In her new work Meeting the Universe Halfway she describes her use of the term as “an epistemological-ontological-ethical framework that provides an understanding of the role of human and nonhuman, material and discursive, and natural and cultural factors in scientific and other social-material practices, thereby moving such considerations beyond the well-worn debates that pit constructivism against realism, agency against structure, and idealism against materialism” (26).1

In her interview she reiterates many of her basic themes of critical thinking over critique, diffractive methodology, intra-action, feminist theory, and the inseparability of epistemology, ontology, and ethics. “Ethics and justice are at the core of my concerns”:

“Agential realism is not a manifesto, it does not take for granted that all is or will or can be made manifest. On the contrary, it is a call, a plea, a provocation, a cry, a passionate yearning for an appreciation of, attention to the tissue of ethicality that runs through the world… for me, ethics is not a concern we add to the questions of matter, but rather is the very nature of what it means to matter.”

Critical Thinking over Critique

“Critique has been the tool of choice for so long, and our students find themselves so well-trained in critique that they can spit out a critique with the push of a button” (49).2

We can think of critique in the philosophical sense as an analysis that offers by way of the critique method either a rebuttal or a suggestion of further expansion upon the problems presented by the topic of that specific written or oral argumentation. Against this type of methodology Barad offers her own critical approach of the “practice of diffraction, of reading diffractively for patterns of differences that make a difference” (49). She specifies this approach as neither eliminativist in the sense of a subtractive methodology, but rather as a “creative and visionary” investigation or exploration.

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