“New Materialism” describes a major recent intellectual trend at the intersections of feminism, science studies, political theory, and philosophy.

After the long twentieth-century dominance of social construction, linguistic idealism and anti-realism, in which the lived experience of a subject, the nature of scientific knowledge, and the reality of gender, are disintegrated in networks of social power, systems of signifiers, and so on, “new materialism” promises an alternative. New materialist theorists appeal instead to the underlying material and somatic conditions of the concepts, identities, and discourses that we care about. In so doing, they revitalize (sometimes in a quite literal sense) matter itself—too long underestimated as inert stuff or barren theoretical artifice—emphasizing its self-organizing capacities, agency, and even inorganic life.

In this course, we will start by briefly situating new materialism in the context of its early voices and intellectual precursors, including Judith Butler, Vicki Kirby, Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze. The majority of the course, however, will be devoted to reading several major works by some of the movement’s foremost theorists, including Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter and Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway. Although our main focus will be on the question of what these theoretical perspectives tell us about the entanglement of politics and science, we will also consider the diversity of the perspectives captured under the convenient label, and engage with topics like posthumanism, queerness, affect, disability, and ecology.

This course is held with HSTC3615.03, they are not cross-listed.