Posthumanist Performativity

20 09 2004

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The last week I have been (among a lot of teaching) pondering Karen Barad’s article on Posthumanist Performativity that discusses a kind of “onto-epistemology”. She proposes that the concept of phenomena should be used to mark a joining of the subject and the object in scientific discourse. She bases this metaphysics on the Danish physicist Niels Bohr’s observations and theorizing on photons or light waves.

To me it seems somewhat related to Haraway’s concept of situated knowledges where the researcher must remove him-/herself from the “nowhere position”. The new
twist on Barad’s article seems to be that she includes the ontological dimension in the concept rather than leaving it on the epistemological level like Haraway or Harding.

Barad’s flirting with physics (she is a trained physicist herself so maybe it’s unfair to call it flirting) seems to mirror a “material turn” in social sciences where the dominance of the social level has been questioned by theorists like Bruno Latour or John Law. And although the article is an interesting read I’m a bit unsure if what she is saying is so revolutionary – material as
well as
social reality matters.

[P]henomena do not merely mark the epistemological inseparability of “observer” and “observed”; rather, phenomena are the ontological inseparability of agentially intra-acting “components.” That is, phenomena are ontologically primitive relations—relations without preexisting relata. The notion of intra-action (in contrast to the usual “interaction,” which presumes the prior existence of independent entities/relata) represents a profound conceptual shift. It is through specific agential intra-actions that the boundaries and properties of the “components” of phenomena become determinate and that particular embodied concepts become meaningful.

Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter

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