Friday, April 24, 2015

new materialism and post humanism

I attended the American Educational Research Association's annual conference April 16-20th in Chicago. As you can imagine there were thousands and thousands of educational researchers from around the world milling about like particles of matter beautifully collected and diffused at the same time 

The conference topics were as diverse as the people. I tended to gravitate towards arts-based research, gender/queer studies, social justice and experimental research sessions.

By Sunday I had fallen into a crowd of people who were pursuing research in the areas of new materialism and post humanism. I had not yet encountered these ideas and found it really thrilling to come into contact with these new concepts. I'm an incurable conceptualist! 

New materialism and post humanism addresses life beyond the human subject. We are so drawn to looking at our lives on this planet through the lens of the human subject that to imagine a different way of looking requires a radical alteration of thinking, being, feeling. How might we look at other perspectives beyond our own? I love this lecture by Jane Bennett on Artistry and Agency in a world of vibrant materiality. Here she is looking at hoarders and their "thing power". How many visual artists and art teachers love to collect things and what might these things be saying to us? How can we attune to things rather than humans? Bennett talks about some intriguing ideas with regards to hoarders. She says that hoarders find comfort in things as they have a longer mortality than humans. Perhaps this is a way for us to cope with what is unbearable - loss. She says the hoarder sees things as extensions of the "self." This a lovely ideas in terms of our attraction to objects. They call to us. 

Around ideas related to new materialism theorist Karen Barad suggests we turn our attention away from the human subject through a process of diffraction. Barad refers to Donna Haraways' concepts of diffraction in this interview: 

"As Donna says, “diffraction patterns record the history of interaction, interference, reinforcement, difference. Diffraction is about heterogeneous history, not about originals. Unlike reflections, diffractions do not displace the same elsewhere, in more or less distorted form, thereby giving rise to industries of [story-making about origins and truths]. Rather, diffraction can be a metaphor for another kind of critical consciousness.” What I was pointing out is the difference in the shift from geometrical optics, from questions of mirroring and sameness, reflexivity, where to see your image in the mirror there necessarily has to be a distance between you and the mirror. So there is a separation of subject and object, and objectivity is about mirror images of the world. And instead, the shift towards diffraction, towards differences that matter, is really a matter of what physicists call physical optics as compared to geometrical optics. . . By contrast, diffraction allows you to study both the nature of the apparatus and also the object. That is, both the nature of light and also the nature of the apparatus itself.  .  . Diffraction, understood using quantum physics, is not just a matter of interference, but of entanglement, an ethico-onto-epistemological matter. This difference is very important. It underlines the fact that knowing is a direct material engagement, a cutting together-apart, where cuts do violence but also open up and rework the agential conditions of possibility." (taken from New materialisms: interviews and cartographies).

Are you with me now? I'll write more soon. My head is swirling. 

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