Barad’s Agential Realism (Part 2)
by Adam Robbert
Another paragraph from the essay on Meeting the Universe Halfway that I am slowly putting together:
There is no doubt that Butler’s work on performativity features as a strong influence in Barad’s book; by extension, Foucault’s analysis of regulatory power and discursive practices feature here as well (cf. pp. 133 – 135 and pp. 145 – 153). If Butler’s work can in some sense be seen as a deepening of Foucault’s, we might likewise see some of Barad’s work as an extension of Butler’s (to be sure all three make important contributions on their own, but a lineage of sorts can be detected nevertheless). The best part of Barad’s reading of Butler and Foucault is that it’s written in the mode of a generous critique. Barad’s intent is stated in advance, “One of my main aims is to contribute to efforts to sharpen the theoretical tool of performativity for science studies and feminist theory endeavors alike, and to promote their mutual consideration” (pp. 135 – 136). Barad continues, “Crucially, an agential realist elaboration of performativity allows matter its due as an active participant in the world’s becoming, in its ongoing intra-activity” (p. 136). These quotations reveal Barad’s sympathy towards performativity, and the means by which she seeks to extend it. Pivotal to this extension is Barad’s serious engagement with ontology—with reconceptualizing how we consider matter and agency. In this regard, “The space of agency is not only substantially larger than that allowed for in Butler’s performative account, for example, but also, perhaps rather surprisingly, larger than what liberal humanism proposes” (pp. 177 – 178).