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If they can be relatively autonomous, it is not thanks to some kind of miraculous property of theirs, but because practices in general leave room for autonomy. The general reason for this autonomy holds to the fact that practices are structured. Language is a good example.


The very existence of a phoneme depends on the existence of other phonemes. The difficulty we have not just in first understanding, but in first perceiving, for instance, a name in a foreign language say, Japanese , is due to the fact that this perception is differential. It means that whatever forces are exerted in language will have to go through the filters of systems. That implies that structures must each have their own logic i. Secondly and for the same reason , the existence and nature of those structures are not transhistorical facts, since that would imply the possibility of identifying one general entity unfolding itself in history under its variations.

In other words, not all societies have been layered in language, economy, kinship, religion, politics, etc. History is not only about what happens on those different layers, but also about their very existence. Religion, politics, ideas, etc. Thirdly, this autonomy is only relative.

In fact, truly speaking, it is not a layer, since it does not exist separately, but only as the principle of layering in each case. The difference between structural materialism and dogmatic materialism is precisely that the former avoids reductionism , because it does not identify the primary cause, i. It is critical , in the sense that it must relativize the supposedly universal categories used to study history including the very notion of history itself.

Religion exists through the set of the differences by which it distinguishes itself in one particular society from politics and family, etc. The structural cause is not any particular substantial level of reality but the system of intervals, disparities, differences, which keep one structured layer at a remove from another.

In other words, Althusser uses the Saussurian concept of structure to think not only of the systematic organization of each layer, but also of the relation between structures—and this is why he can avoid both reductionism and idealism. For all those reasons we can say that the notion of structure, far from being deterministic, is the concept of the deeper contingency of the very layers of practice. This finitude is itself marked within each structured system, in the blanks it is surrounded by, i. Events that have no room in the systematic space opened by a structure can indeed occur, but they will go unremarked: they will act as elusive and vanishing events.

It is through those elusive points that alternative structures communicate with one another.

As impressive and convincing as all this might be, however, it has not allowed us to start answering our question: if all structures are relatively autonomous, what is specific to scientific practices? To summarize brutally what would require a very complex development, we can say that the difference between ideology and science for Althusser is that the first one is aimed at locking or foreclosing artificially the space of its problematic the space of possibilities it constitutes, which, as we have seen, necessarily includes marks of its own finitude , while the other not only acknowledges its finitude which is, at the same time, its openness , but strives to do something with it.

Science is a practice that constantly tries to let itself altered by its own structural finitude. Science is thus defined not by the fact that it represents anything adequately, but by the mode of production that characterizes it, a mode of production that constantly relativizes its own working system within itself. It is in this sense that it is materialist, and not in the sense that it would hope to reduce everything eventually to one substantial plane of reference.

At first, he basically argued that philosophy was a way to accompany radical changes, either in politics or in science. He implied that philosophy could not take any initiative. But we might accept that the Hegelian concept of contradiction is indeed incompatible with materialist premises contradiction being a logical concept, to claim that something is self-contradictory is to claim that it can be resolved in logical relations—and thus to be arguing in favor of idealism. We will still ask, why does it matter?

How do concepts have an impact on how we do things including how we try to produce a science of history? On this, Althusser hesitates. It can even be argued that this question is the central impetus and the running thread of his entire work, that which makes it stall and start again. I think the last word of this untiring effort is to be found in a posthumous text only recently published, Philosophy for Non-Philosophers. The gist of his position in Philosophy for Non-Philosophers can be summarized as follows: i philosophy is speculative in the sense that it is the bricolage of totalizing views, discourses on everything that include both existent and inexistent objects, itself accomplished by totalizing means, that is by means of conceptual systems —or rather, Althusser says, structures; ii philosophy matters because practices, although diverse, need to be unified, since each practice comes with its own ideological apparatus, thus making it difficult to insure the hegemonic function of ideology, i.

The important category is thus the category of totality. Philosophy is identified by Althusser with a certain idea of metaphysics, or, at least, with speculative thought. Speculation does not appear as any specialized and optional activity that would come on the top of other ones, but as something that is already distributed in the masses and that belongs to the very existence of all practice as one of its conditions.

Chapter 32

Althusser thus does justice to the fact that everybody thinks : speculation is not an arbitrary whim but an activity deeply rooted in the necessities of our life. However, unlike the entire idealist tradition, he does not ground speculation in some metaphysical need, but in the logic of class struggle, itself rooted in the necessity of practical life firstly because production requires exploitation, hence conflict, and secondly because exploitation requires ultimately a form of hegemony in the Gramscian sense.

But philosophy is not speculation in general: religion is another sort of speculation—it could even be shown that myth in the Levi-Straussian sense has the same unifying function! A materialist account of the necessity of speculation thus appeals to the fact that practices are diverse relatively autonomous but need to communicate, not because of any natural need for unification in the human mind, but rather as a consequence of the hegemonic nature of class struggle, which requires that the dominant class rule over all the aspects on the human life in order to secure its domination in the productive process.

Materialism and Empirio-criticism

All philosophy has thus a comparative dimension, since it tries to negotiate the heterogeneity of ideologies due to the heterogeneity of the practices they contribute to. This , then, is materialism: here, the concept of the cause of conceptual thinking in general i. Class struggle is both that which is repressed from the dominant philosophical tradition idealism and that which causes speculation in general the reason why it does have an impact in the world.

Materialism, however, cannot be any particular theory of speculation; it is the practice of philosophy that lets itself be altered by the realization of both its necessity and its heteronomy. To be a materialist in philosophy, for Althusser as for Lenin and, later, for Balibar , is not only to articulate a materialist worldview including a materialist theory of the role of philosophy , but rather to practice philosophy in a specific way. Which way, exactly? Secondly, it does not try to provide ultimate justifications for practices, but instead tries to liberate new inchoate practices from the ideological i.

Thirdly, and correlatively, although involved in the exercise of totalization that defines speculation in general, materialism uses it to expose that which needs to be repressed for the dominant totalizing view of a time to constitute itself. Althusser mentions as examples: matter, work, body, gender, age, prisoners, savages, madmen and women, power relations, etc. They are not mere objects that would wait out there to be accurately represented by us; they are critical elements that cannot be taken on board without changing the very way we represent things in general and altering the very position of the activity of representing things in the balance of our practices.

They can be said to exist in the exact measure as they change us, i. Which is not to say that they exist only for us, since it is not we who are the measure of their existence, but precisely our own finitude, or, more precisely, the fact that changes can make us vanish.

They are outside of us, although it would make no sense to posit them as objects of representation. This position is the only one that avoids both idealism and dogmatism. Materialism thus appears to be critical, speculative, and structural. Of course, much more would have to be said in order to articulate fully this concept of materialism.

But enough, I hope, has been offered to make clear why a concept of materialism matters: it matters because it tells us why speculation, in general, matters.

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Press, , pp. Smart, Encyclopedia Britannica , s. Ernst Cassirer, Language, vol. Such a claim is transversal when it comes to the broad modernist and postmodernist paradigms of cultural theory. An object is no longer passive matter that has to be re-presented; meaning-making takes place on a two-way track.

Ahmed , 34 but rather directs it to its proper place and qualitatively shifts the linguistic turn accordingly i. Harawayian instantiations of new materialism affirm what Barad has called an onto-epistemology, or even an ethico-onto-epistemology, according to which being and knowing and the good become indistinguishable. Inspired by Haraway and Barad, we lastly wish to discuss the cartographical methodology that generates and is generated by the disciplinary and paradigmatic transversalities of new materialism.

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Postmodern cultural theory re-confirmed modern cultural theory, thus allowing transcendental and humanist traditions to haunt cultural theory after the Crisis of Reason. New materialist cultural theory shifts post- modern cultural theory, and provides an immanent answer to transcendental humanism. It is a cultural theory that is non-foundationalist yet non-relativist. In conformity with the interviewees in Part One of this book, we have shown that there is much to be gained from an argument such as the latter; after all, postmodernisms and modernisms are manifold, on the one hand, and epistemologically very similar on the other.

It is for this reason that new materialism continues to rewrite the history of philosophy. As already stated, the minor tradition Deleuze proposed is now widely read and commented upon, but increasingly, great minds of the past are being given the attention that their work needs. Scholars at work within modernism such as Bergson, Whitehead, William James and Edmund Husserl, all of whom had been pushed aside or reinterpreted by dualist thinking, are in need of serious materialist re-readings, which are in fact being carried out by an increasing number of scholars today.

There is not even any reason to exclude Hegel from this list. The richness of all these philosophies had by and large been suffering from dualism-dominated modernism and postmodernism. The way in which new materialism was generated in the previous paragraph alluded to the fact that duration not only came to be inserted into matter ontology , but also and simultaneously into theory formation epistemology. In other words, theory formation also entails the materialization of boundaries.

Starting theory formation from movement alludes to cartography rather than classification, which is the third instantiation of transversality that we intend to highlight in this chapter. In the introduction we claimed that new materialism not only enacts a thinking about theory formation that is other than classificatory new materialism sets in motion a non-dualistic epistemic practice , but also that it enables us to understand the way in which theory formation used to be thought following a territorialization pattern. We claimed that classification exemplifies the territorial and is fully dualistic, and throughout this chapter we have made clear how seemingly opposite epistemic tendencies or classes are in fact non-exhaustive oppositions.

Classifying epistemic tendencies that are supposedly prevalent in cultural theory implies working along territorial lines, which is a transcendentalizing gesture along with invoking sequential negation and a narrative of progress i. This does not allow for the un folding of cultural theory—the matter-energy flows of theory formation, the non-linear coding practices, the cutting across matter and signification—to be captured. New materialism de-territorializes the ways in which cultural theory has been classified, and this process we call cartographical.

Barad , 98 explains the machinery of intra-action as follows:. The mapping practice, generating intra-action and generated through it, shifts both options and works along the following lines:. Not primarily interested in representation, signification, and disciplinarity, new materialism is fascinated by affect, force, and movement as it travels in all directions. It searches not for the objectivity of things in themselves but for an objectivity of actualization and realization.

It searches for how matter comes into agential realism, how matter is materialized in it. It is interested in speeds and slownesses, in how the event unfolds according to the in-between, according to intra-action. New materialism argues that we know nothing of the social body until we know what it can do. It agrees with studying the multiplicity of modes that travel natureculture as the perpetual flow it has always already been.

In the next chapter we will take up the question of non-dualism, and we will discuss in a detailed manner how new materialism pushes dualism into non-dualism, thus allowing for a non-reductive take on matter and language. Skip to main content Skip to quick search. Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin. The Transversality of New Materialism. Furthermore, the structures generated cease to be the primary reality, and matter-energy flows now acquire this special status ibid. A piece of meat activated by electric waves of desire, a text written by the unfolding of genetic encoding.

A mobile entity, an enfleshed sort of memory that repeats and is capable of lasting through sets of discontinuous variations, while remaining faithful to itself. The Deleuzian body is ultimately an embodied memory Braidotti , An idea opposed to another idea is always the same idea, albeit affected by the negative sign. The more you oppose one another, the more you remain in the same framework of thought Serres with Latour , Social constructivism is supposed to be an antidote to this, in the sense that by showing that general categories are mere stereotypes it blocks the move towards their reification.

But by coupling the idea that perception is intrinsically linguistic with the ontological assumption that only the contents of experience really exist, this position leads directly to a form of social essentialism. New Materialism Generated: Depending on Disciplines Although we want to show here that a first instantiation of transversality enacted by new materialist cultural theorists cuts across scholarly disciplines, there is a whole range of scholars working on new materialism from their respective disciplinary locations.

Rahman and Witz themselves yearn for a breakdown of linear continuity as well, while remaining in a dualistic mode pre-distinguishing the social and the physical , which we would interpret as an artifact of their territorial approach to new theory formation: The social constructionism being worked at here is not one that is limited by physical matter, but rather one that is able to incorporate body matters as an indivisible part of lived, gendered experience and action. Generating New Materialism: Playing with Paradigms Demonstrating the workings of new materialism, that is, generating a new materialism rather than relying upon a new materialism already pre-generated, Braidotti , argues that what is to be found in postmodern cultural theory i.

It is a focus, indeed, on metamorphosis or morphogenesis: What endures, what is fundamentally immersed in time is not what remains unchanging or the same over time, a Platonic essence, but what diverges and transforms itself with the passage of time ibid. When feminists criticized or rejected the notion of women as mired in material embodiment, they did so because matter was deemed to be devoid of dynamism.

When, subsequently, that phobia regarding matter was questioned, it was precisely because the border between mind and matter was deemed to be the effect of a prior linguistic or social production. Their boundaries materialize in social interaction. Objects are boundary projects.

But boundaries shift from within; boundaries are very tricky. What boundaries provisionally contain remains generative, productive of meanings and bodies. Siting sighting boundaries is a risky practice.

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