More Info on the Rhizomes Issue on Karen Barad

February 2, 2013 § 2 Comments

This special issue of Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge takes as its focus positive and critical engagements with the work of Karen Barad, drawing together a number of voices to offer a nuanced and current response to her emerging theories of ontology and materiality. Barad’s reading of quantum phenomena has gained considerable popularity in the past few years, not least with Slavoj Žižek’s attention to it in his most recent book Less Than Nothing. As a result of this increasing and significant engagement, something of a critical mass has developed within cultural, feminist, and science studies. In foregrounding matter’s dynamic entanglement with/in conceptual work and forms of representation, Barad radically shifts the anthropocentric stronghold on meaning making by conjuring a posthumanist performative agency that demands attention to the materially constitutive processes and practices that participate in, and as, inquiry. If, for Barad, identity only emerges in mutually constitutive relation, these quantum levels of engagement raise significant and counter-intuitive suggestions for how political and ethical accountability materialises and stabilises.

Many of the terms introduced and developed in Barad’s oeuvre, such as ‘intra-action’, ‘diffraction’ and ‘agential realism’ have shifted the standard metrics of knowledge production and her theories have inspired animated discussion in fields as varied as neo-materialism, new materialist feminism, object oriented ontology, posthumanism, speculative realism, and the philosophy of physics, among others. In view of the prolific and largely positive climate of its reception, it appears timely, then, to consider whether or where a certain doxa might be emerging within existing approaches to (and ‘applications of’) Barad’s conceptual toolkit that would sidestep some of its more provocative suggestions, or where her writing might encounter more critically inflected engagement(s).

This special issue seeks to bring together a range of approaches that problematise the directions and/or identify and explore some of the compelling or crucial insights that Barad’s work offers. Through it, we would like to encourage a discussion that continues to question, rather than assume, the ‘who’ of boundary making practices, so avoiding any fetishisation and/or simplification of diffraction, entanglement or the agential cut. We have sought a set of contributions that refuse to assume political identities and categorizations in order ‘to find ways to think about the nature of causality, origin, relationality and change without taking these distinctions to be foundational or holding them in place’ (Barad, 2011: 124). This move shifts the terms, for example, from how ‘we’ might ‘do’ politics, ethics, or research ‘differently’, to the politico-ethico-material production of specificity. Contributors to this issue have been encouraged to consider the provocative, problematic, and promising aspects of Barad’s theoretical output and uptake, as well as to speculate about the possible directions that her concepts might take in the future. Such critical interrogations of Barad’s thinking might foreground some of the following pressing questions: what ecological and/or environmental orientations does her work suggest? How does it challenge and/or extend current scientific paradigms? How does it rethink the habitual limits of the ethical? How might it continue to open questions of responsibility and complicity? Or how might it reopen questions of justice?

Given the focus of Barad’s inquiry into the nature of difference and (re)production, the breadth of her work’s disciplinary reach, and its capacity to displace disciplinary habitats, this special issue promises an inter- or intra-disciplinary engagement. We are pleased to say that Karen Barad will be making a contribution to this issue which will also include a bibliography of primary and secondary work on and by Barad.

Publication of this special number is anticipated in Winter 2013.


Karen Barad

Ben Woodard

Myra Hird

Katie King

Rick Dolphijn

Karl Steel

Marietta Radomska

Jussi Parikka

Rebekah Sheldon

Eva Hayward

Hanna Meissner

Iris Van Der Tuin & Evelien Geerts

Kathrin Thiele

Ulf Mellstrom

Adam Robbert

Graham Harman

Joseph Rouse

Ada Smailbegovic

Andie Shabbar

Martin Savransky

Levi Bryant

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