Actant (Greimas)

An actant is a class of ‘characters’, in the broadest sense of this term, which have the same function in their different manifestations in a narrative. Actants appear as certain forces, powers or capabilities in a given text, situation or field. They are by no means equivalent to concrete characters of a story or to the dramatis personae of a play. (Rulewicz, 1997)

The reasons for requiring the concept of actant are as follows, as explained by Rulewicz:

Firstly, an actant may be abstraction, such as God, Freedom or Equality; a collective character, such as the chorus in ancient tragedy, a group of characters fulfilling the same tasks, like soldiers in an army; or an actant may be represented by different characters that all act in a definite way. It should be added that an actant may be an animal, organism, inanimate object or, indeed, an environment, so long as one understands the term ‘environment’ actively, as an ongoing process of contextualisation and environing.

Secondly, one character may simultaneously or successively assume different actantial functions.

Thirdly, an actant may or may appear as a presence in the narrative, nor does it have to appear in the utterances of the characters. An actant may be the general abstract notion which is presented on the ideological level of the narrative.

Agency (Barad)
See also Intra-action; See also Agential realism

According to Barad,

“In an agential realist account, agency is cut loose from its traditional humanist orbit. Agency is not aligned with human intentionality or subjectivity. Nor does it merely entail resignification or other specific kinds of moves within a social geometry of antihumanism. 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.”

For Barad, “agency is about the possibilities and accountability entailed in reconfiguring material-discursive apparatuses of bodily production, including the boundary articulations and exclusions that are marked by those practices.” (Barad, 2007: 218)

Somewhat metaphysically, it might be suggested, Barad defines agency in the following terms:

“Agency is “doing” or “being” in its intra-activity.” (Barad, 2007: 178)

However, Barad also argues that,

“…acknowledgement of “nonhuman agency” does not lessen human accountability; on the contrary, it means that accountability requires that much more attentiveness to existing power asymmetries” (Barad, 2007: 219)

Agential realism (Barad) 
See also

Karen Barad proposes that agential realism is “an account of technoscientific and other practices that takes feminist, antiracist, post-structuralist, queer, Marxist, science studies, and scientific insights seriously, building specifically on important insights from Niels Bohr, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway, Vicki Kirby, Joseph Rouse, and others.” (Barad, 2003: 810-811)

In developing an agential realist approach, Barad draws on, “the insights of some of our best scientific and social theories, including quantum physics, science studies, the philosophy of physics, feminist theory, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, (post-) Marxist theory, and poststructuralist theory.” (Barad, 2007: 25)

Furthermore, “Agential realism is an epistemological and ontological framework that cuts across many of the well-worn oppositions that circulate in traditional realism versus constructivism, agency versus structure, idealism versus materialism, and poststructuralism versus Marxism debates.” (Barad, 2007: 225)

“… agential realism goes beyond performativity theories that focus exclusively on the human/social realm.” (Barad, 2007: 225)

While Barad makes these broad claims for her agential realist approach, it could be argued that its significance is more narrow and that its capability in addressing such issues as gender, race and class are overstated by Barad.

Thus, the primary value of Karen Barad’s agential realism may be as a contribution to the interpretation of quantum physics. The nature of that contribution, as she herself expresses it, is to present, “a way of interpreting quantum physics that builds on Bohr’s interpretation while removing its humanist elements” (Barad, 2007: 248).

The goal of agential realism is to provide insights that address some of the unresolved foundational problems in quantum mechanics. The historical and conjunctural context for developing this understanding is the partial undoing since the late 1990s of the ‘pragmatic turn’ in the study and practice of physics that occurred during the 1940s and 1950s, when its centre shifted westwards from Europe to the United States, after which theoretical physics adopted a pragmatic, utilitarian and instrumental style and a pragmatic computational culture.

This partial undoing of the ‘pragmatic turn’ permits questions concerning interpretational issues at the foundation of quantum mechanics, as discussed by Bohr and Einstein but relegated to the “merely philosophical” in the ‘pragmatic turn’, to be restored to attention (Barad, 2007: 252-253).

For further definition and background, see also Agential realism (Weiss)

As a means of illustrating her agential realist onto-epistemological point about the entangled practices of knowing and being, Barad (2007: 379) chooses brittlestars, which, she claims, enact her point about the entanglement of ontology and epistemology precisely. Unfortunately, she states that,

“Brittlestars know better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing” (Barad, 2007: 378)

In so doing, she further claims,

“They challenge our Cartesian habits of mind, breaking down the usual visual metaphors for knowing along with its optics of mediated sight.” (Barad, 2007: 378)

This is to attribute, or indeed project, first, a complex epistemological status upon brittlestars, that of ‘knowing better’, implying a degree of reflexivity and a performative tension between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing better’ as a basis for acting, i.e. not just responding to stimuli, a learning process, an adaptation process, a process of melioration. Second, it is to project a complex intentionality onto brittlestars in challenging our Cartesian habits of mind.

It leads her also to assert that,

“Knowledge making is not a mediated activity … . Knowing is a direct material engagement” (Barad, 2007: 379)

How can one, brittlestar or no, then, ‘know otherwise’ and, especially, ‘know better’. In other words, what would be the relevance of ‘knowing’, through learning, through adaptation, as a mediated process of abstraction from context, de-contextualisation and re-contextualisation, even while embodied and not necessarily intellectualised, if “knowing is a direct material engagement”? At the very least,must knowing not be a differential engagement, whether this if of a diffractive, reflective, refractive or other ‘optical’ process?

Apparatus (Barad)
See also Phenomena; See also Event

Barad takes Neils Bohr as her point of reference for defining apparatuses. For Bohr, and hence Barad, apparatuses are not passive observing instruments. They are productive of phenomena and are part of phenomena. What constitutes an apparatus, for Bohr, emerges within specific observational practices (Barad, 2007: 199)

“Apparatuses have a physical presence or an ontological thereness as phenomena in the process of becoming.” (Barad, 2007: 210)

Jerome Fletcher notes that the terms ‘apparatus’ is often used as a translation of the French term dispositif, a term employed by Foucault, Agamben and Deleuze. In this usage, apparatus does not simply refer to a mechanism, tool, device or physical object, such as, for example, computer hardware, but is more like an arrangement, for example, of hardware, software, code, writing, performance, usage, texts, ideology, writers, readers, coders, decoders, executions (of programs) and so on, together (i.e. different modes of materiality and different levels of organisation).

What takes place within the apparatus, in this sense, is a series of events.

For further discussion of Dispositif/apparatus, see Dispositif, Apparatus, Material-Discursive Practice

Complementarity (Bohr; Barad)
See also Indeterminacy; See also Uncertainty

For Bohr, Barad (2007: 20) argues, there are not elementary bits of matter that possess the complete set of properties that Newtonian physics assumes, such as position and momentum.

Rather, it is in the nature of measurement interactions (intra-actions?), given a particular measuring apparatus, to make certain properties determinate, while others are excluded. Which properties become determinate is governed by the specificity of the experimental apparatus. Different quantities become determinate using different apparatuses. It is not possible to have a situation in which all quantities have definite values at once. Some values are always excluded.

This makes for two sets of complementary variables. For any given apparatus, those that are determinate are said to be complementary to those that are indeterminate, and vice versa.

Complementary variables require different, mutually exclusive, apparatuses for their definition.

As Barad (2003: 814) explains, according to Bohr, theoretical concepts, such as position and momentum, are not ideational in character. They are specific physical arrangements.

For example, the notion of position should not be presumed to be a well-defined abstract concept. Nor should it be presumed to be an inherent attribute of independently existing objects.

Position only has meaning when a rigid apparatus with fixed parts is used, establishing a fixed frame of reference for specifying position.

Furthermore, any measurement of position using this apparatus cannot be attributed to some abstract independently existing object. It is, more properly, a feature of the phenomenon, which is to say a manifestation of the inseparability of “observed object” and “agencies of observation.”

Diffraction (Barad)
see also Diffractive methodology

Barad contrasts the phenomenon of diffraction with that of reflection, as part of her re-thinking of Western epistemology and ontology, with its focus on representationalism and realism, or more precisely, representationalist realism.

The phenomenon of diffraction makes the wavelike behaviour of light explicit, which can only be explained by using the full theory of physical optics.

The phenomenon of reflection, on the other hand, can be explained without taking into account the wavelike behaviour of light. In other words, reflection can be  explained using geometric optics, whereby light might well be a particle that bounces off surfaces. (Barad, 2007: 81)

Diffraction patterns mark and important difference between waves and particles. According to classical physics, only waves produce diffraction patterns, particles do not (Barad, 2007: 81).

The classical physics understanding of diffraction is that it concerns the way waves combine when they overlap and the apparent bending and spreading of waves that occurs when waves encounter an obstruction (Barad, 2007: 74).

Diffraction patterns are evidence of superpositions (c.f.). Barad, following Haraway, takes diffraction as a model, metaphor or analogy for her diffractive methodology.

Diffractive methodology (Haraway; Barad)
see also Agential realism; Diffraction

Barad claims she is developing a diffractive methodology (Barad, 2007: 88-94). The proposal to work diffractively is made initially by Donna Haraway. Haraway’s aim in calling her method diffractive, in analogy with the physical phenomenon of diffraction, is to disrupt the widespread reliance on the optical metaphor of reflection.

Both reflection and diffraction are optical phenomena. However, whereas reflection is about mirroring and likeness, seeking homologies and analogies between separate (assumed to be whole and pre-existing) entities, diffraction examines patterns of difference and attends to specific material entanglements (c.f.) (Barad, 2007: 88).

For Haraway, as the New Materialists Cartographies wiki (Stephenson, 2010) states, paraphrasing Haraway,

“diffraction is an attempt to make differences while recording interactions, interference, and reinforcement. It does not have an origin and has a heterogeneous history. In addition, the practice of diffractive reading and writing never sediments the relationship between signifier and signified.”

Diffraction does not fix what is the object and what is the subject in advance. Also, rather than reading,

“one text or set of ideas against one another where one set serves as a fixed frame of reference, diffraction involves reading insights through one another in ways that help illuminate differences as they emerge: how different differences get made, what gets excluded, and how those exclusions matter.” (Barad, 2007: 30)

Barad develops the diffractive methodology by drawing on quantum understandings of diffraction phenomena. As Barad explains,

“a diffractive methodology is respectful of the entanglement of ideas and other materials in ways that reflective methodologies are not. In particular, what is needed is a method attuned to the entanglement of the apparatuses of production, one that enables genealogical analyses of how boundaries are produced rather than presuming sets of well-worn binaries in advance.” (Barad, 2007: 29-30)

Following Haraway, Barad argues that,

“a diffractive methodology is a critical practice for making a difference in the world. It is a commitment to understanding which differences matter, how they matter, and for whom.” (Barad, 2007: 90)

In Barad’s diffractive methodology:

“Diffraction is an ethico-onto-epistemological matter.”;
“Diffraction is a matter of differential entanglements.”; and
“Diffraction is … about the entangled nature of differences that matter.” (Barad, 2007: 381)

Yet, “Diffraction is not about any difference but about which differences matter” (Barad, 2007: 378)

See Apparatus

See also Superpositions; See also Measurement

In the discipline of physics, Barad contends, it is now thought that the entanglement of states lies at the heart of quantum phenomena and a great deal of quantum weirdness. (Barad, 2007: 83)

Understanding the implications of the entanglement of states is part of Barad’s re-thinking of Western epistemology and ontology.

Entanglements are highly specific configurations. Space, time, and matter do not exist prior to the intra-actions that reconstitute entanglements.

Barad states that, “the notion of an entanglement is a generalisation of a superposition to the case of more than one particle.” (Barad, 2007: 270) Quantum entanglements are super-correlations forming and entangled state. (Barad, 2007: 270) Such entanglements are, like superpositions, uniquely quantum mechanical. They specify a feature of particle behaviour for which there is no classical physics equivalent. (Barad, 2007: 270)

Epistemology (Western epistemology)
See also Knowing; See also Ontoepistemology; See also Ethico-onto-epistemology

See also Ontography

Epistemography is a term coined by Peter Dear (2001) to name studies that would investigate epistemology’s topics. Dear’s historical study of conceptions of ‘experience’ in 16th and 17th century natural philosophy (Dear, 1995) exemplified such an effort to  situate a fundamental epistemological themehistorically and to trace its development. (Lynch, 2008: 5)

Michael Lynch explains,

“Epistemography … investigates practices in specific cultural and historical circumstances. It includes genealogies in Foucault’s sense: describing an open variety of mundane architectures and economies that set up and order how things and people can be known, counted, measured, classified and administered. However, … it is more open to the possibility that a given era will host many ‘epistemes’, some of which would seem incommensurable with others if one were to compare them abstractly (Lynch, 1991).” (Lynch, 2008: 6)

See also Epistemology; See also Knowing; See also Ethics; See also Ontology; See also Posthumanism; See also Posthuman

Onto-ethico-epistemology is a neologism used by Barad to argue that what is in the world (ontology) and what we know is in the world (epistemology) cannot be separated as two distinct realms that do not affect one another. That is, as ‘things’ emerge for us as phenomena in the world, through human perception, they are both shaped by what we know (our perceptual apparatus) and the material conditionality of their existence simultaneously (the world conceived as ongoing agential apparatus).

In short, we should not think of ontology and epistemology as separate realms, hence the neologism ontoepistemology. In addition, for both van der Tuin and Barad, embedded within this concept of ontoepistemology is that everything that emerges for us, as humans, is embedded in politics (as set of apparatuses), and while there is no inherent way of being ethical, there are choices that people make in specific spatio-temporal situations in which they have a role to play and should take partial responsibility. (Stephenson, 2011)

Beyond this human ethic-onto-epistemology, in which ‘humans  or ‘people’, while not being the central agent nevertheless still have a role to play, Barad argues that the human itself emerges through ongoing material phenomenal ontology, a real that acts and is agential, itself entangled with human ethico-onto-epistemology, thereby displacing not only  (anthropocentric) humanist conceptions of what it means to be human but also the category of the human itself: human ethico-onto-epistemological phenomenally is but an emergent phenomenon in the world’s coming to matter (to itself).


The Human
Used for Humanity, Humans, People
See also Post-human; See also Post-humanism

People, “humans”, are “intra-actively (re)constituted as part of the world’s becoming” (Barad, 2007: 206). Humans are of the world, not simply in the world. Humans, while not the mere effect of the world’s becoming, are not the sole cause of the world’s becoming.

The question, Barad states, is what role human practices play in the world’s becoming (Barad, 2007: 206).

See also Complementarity; See also Uncertainty


The neologism ‘intra-action’, according to Barad, signifies the mutual constitution of entangled agencies. Intra-action serves to recognise that distinct agencies do not precede but rather emerge through their intra-action. Thus, in this view, agencies are distinct in a relational sense; they are only distinct in relation to their mutual entanglement. They do not exist as individual elements and hence they do not inter-act. The notion of intra-action is a re-working of certain traditional notions of causality. (Barad, 2007: 33)

Barad prefers the notion of intra-action to that of the usual interaction, because the latter presumes the prior existence of independent entities or relata. (Barad, 2003: 815)


“Intra-actions are nonarbitrary, nondeterministic causal enactments through which matter-in-the-process-of-becoming is iteratively enfolded into its ongoing differential materialization.” (Barad, 2007: 179)

In such a dynamics,

“… iterative intra-actions are the dynamics through which temporality and spatiality are produced and iteratively reconfigured in the materialization of phenomena and the (re)making of material-discursive boundaries and their constitutive exclusions” (Barad, 2007: 179)

Donna Haraway suggests that intra-action is a sibling term to her own concept of ‘companion species’. (Haraway and Reti, 2007: 100)

See also Epistemology; See also Ontoepistemology: See also Ethico-onto-epistemology

Barad states that, “Knowing is a distributed practice that includes the larger material arrangement. To the extent that humans participate in scientific or other practices of knowing, they do so as part of the larger material configuration of the world and its ongoing open-ended articulation.” (Barad, 2007: 379)

Barad continues, “Knowing is a specific engagement of the world where part of the world becomes differentially intelligible to another part of the world in its differential accountability to and for that of which it is a part.” (Barad, 2007: 379)

In Barad’s agential realist account, “intelligibility is an ontological performance of the world in its ongoing articulation”. Thus, intelligibility, “is not a human-dependent characteristic but a feature of the world in its differential becoming.” (Barad, 2007: 379-380)

Furthermore, “knowing does not require intellection in the humanist sense, either; knowing is a matter of differential responsiveness (as performatively articulated and accountable) to what matters.” (Barad, 2007: 380)

However, “knowing is not a matter of mere differential responsiveness in the sense of simply having different responses to different stimuli. Knowing requires differential accountability to what matters and is excluded from mattering. That is, what is required is differential responsiveness that is accountable to marks on bodies s part of a topologically dynamic complex of performances.” (Barad, 2007: 380)

For Barad, “Brittlestars [an organism closely related to the starfish, AP] literally enact my agential realist ontoepistemological point about the entangled practices of knowing and being.” (Barad, 2007: 379) On the basis of the  example of the brittlestar, Barad asserts that, “Knowledge making is not a mediated activity, despite the common refrain to the contrary.” (Barad, 2007: 379)

For Barad, “Knowing is a direct material engagement, a practice of intra-acting with the world as part of the world in its dynamic material configuring, its ongoing articulation. The entangled practices of knowing and being are material practices.” (Barad, 2007: 379)

Material-discursive practice
See Apparatus


see also Entanglement; Phenomena; Agential realism; Materialism; New materialism; Dialectical materialism; Historical materialism; Aleatory materialism

In Barad’s agential realist view, matter is “a dynamic and shifting entanglement of relations, rather than a property of things” (Barad, 2007: 224); and matter “refers to phenomena in their ongoing materialisation” (Barad, 2007: 151)

Barad contrasts her characterisation of matter against that of Descartes, who defined matter as corporeal substance constituted of length, breadth and thickness, and as extended, uniform and inert. Matter, in this Cartesian view, is therefore quantifiable and measurable, as appropriate to Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics. (Coole and Frost, 2010: 7)

As Barad states repeatedly, “Matter is a stabilizing and destabilising process of iterative intra-activity.” Thus:

Matter is substance in its intra-active becoming – not a thing but a doing, a congealing of agency. Matter is a stabilizing and destabilising process of iterative intra-activity. Phenomena come to matter through this process of ongoing intra-activity. That is, matter refers to the materiality and materialisation of phenomena, not to an assumed, inherent, fixed property of abstract, independently existing objects.” (Barad, 2007: 210)

“… materialisation is an iteratively intra-active process of mattering whereby phenomena (bodies) are sedimented out and actively re(con)figured through the intra-action of multiple material-discursive apparatuses. Matter is a stabilizing and destabilising process of iterative intra-activity.” (Barad, 2007: 210)

“In an agential realist account, matter does not refer to a fixed substance; rather matter is substance in its intra-active becoming – not a thing but a doing, a congealing of agency. Matter is a stabilising and destabilising process of iterative intra-activity.” (Barad, 2007: 151)

“… matter is substance in its intra-active becoming – not a thing but a doing, a congealing of agency. Matter is a stabilizing and destabilising process of iterative intra-activity. Phenomena – the smallest material units (relational “atoms”) – come to matter through this process of ongoing intra-activity.” (Barad, 2007: 336)


The notion of measurement is crucial for understanding the arguments that Barad (2007) makes. It could almost be said that the whole book hinges upon and is about measurement, or more especially processes of measurement, and value, as that which is measured, or rather that which emerges through processes of measurement.

It is therefore important to notice that Barad mentions two discrete types of measurement and value and to try to understand how she conceives of the relationship, if she does indeed do so, between them.

One kind of measurement and value is mentioned outside the text, so to speak, if there can be such a place, if we acknowledge Derrida, possibly trivially, in the “Preface and Acknowledgements”, and so is not part of the argument presented in the body of the text, but nonetheless frames the text.

The other kind of measurement and value is that upon which she dwells in the body of the text, as part of the book’s substantive argument.

In the “Preface and Acknowledgments”, she states that,

“My first really important insights about the nature of measurement and value came from my parents; I feel very fortunate indeed to have been raised with working-class values, which refuse to measure the value or worth of a person by their profession, accomplishments, education, wealth or worldliness” (Barad, 2007: xiii)

On page 337 of Meeting the Universe Halfway, Barad raises the question of whether measurement is an irreducibly human-centred notion, such as the form of measurement and valuation mentioned above. According to Barad, what we usually call a ‘measurement’ is a correlation or entanglement between the component parts of a phenomenon, between the ‘measured object’ and the ‘measuring device’, where the ‘measuring device’ is explicitly taken to be macroscopic so that we can read, i.e. ‘see’, ‘decode’ and ‘interpret’, the pattern of marks that the measured object leaves on it (Barad, 2007: 337).

In reply, she argues that,

“Measurements … are causal intra-actions, physical processes. What we usually call a “measurement” is a correlation or entanglement between component parts of a phenomenon, between the “measured object” and the “measuring device”, where the measuring device is taken to be macroscopic so that we can read the pattern of marks that the measured object leaves on it.” (Barad, 2007: 337)

What does it mean, then, to refuse to measure, if measurements are “causal intra-actions, physical processes”. It would seem that the practice of measuring the value or worth of a person differs radically from sensing “a correlation or entanglement between component parts of a phenomenon”. How, as stated in her acknowledgement, does the measured object, a person, relate to the measuring device, working-class values, given that the values are already inscribed in the measuring device, and thereby ‘refuse’ other valuations. That is to say, within what apparatus does this particular valuation take place?

How, given this depiction, can a “measuring device”, as a causal intra-action, an apparently deterministic relationship, “refuse to measure or value’, given that measurement is a physical process? In other words, for any measurement, do there exist other measures?

See Diffractive methodology; See Reflexivity and Reflexive methodology


John Haugeland (1998, 317, 358, n. 15) construes naturalism as the thesis that people are, though distinctive, naturally evolved creatures somehow implicated in whatever physics tells us about.

New materialism
See also Materialism; Dialectical materialism; Historical materialism; Matter

The term ‘new materialism’ was coined by Manuel DeLanda and Rosi Braidotti in the second half of the 1990s. New materialism seeks to demonstrate that the mind, in being ‘bodily’, is always already material but that, nevertheless, the mind takes ‘bodiliness’ as its object, and that nature and culture are always already ‘nature cultures’, in Donna Haraway’s term.

New materialism critiques the dualism inherent in transcendental and humanist traditions which still linger in some cultural theory. The transcendental and humanist traditions continue to stir debates that are being opened up by new materialists who seek to shift these dualist structures by allowing for the fluxes of nature and culture, matter and mind, thereby opening up active theory formation. (Dolphijn and Tuin, 2012)

For a discussion of the many lines of flight of new materialism, see New Materialist Cartographies

See also Ethico-onto-epistemology; See also Epistemology; See also Knowing; See also Ontology

A neologism employed by Barad to argue that we should not think of ontology and epistemology as separate realms. What is in the world (ontology) and what we know is in the world (epistemology) cannot be separated as two distinct realms that do not affect one another.

Thus, onto-epistem-ology  is “the study of practices of knowing in being” ; while we need something like an ethico-onto-epistem-ology as “an appreciation of the intertwining of ethics, knowing, and being…” (Barad, 2007: 185)

See also Epistemography

See also Epistemology (Western epistemology)

Barad contrasts geometric optics with physical optics. Part of the significance of focusing on optics for Barad is that geometric optics, as theory and metaphor, is crucial for conventional Western understandings of epistemology and ontology.

Thus, Barad (2007: 86) argues, citing Keller and Grontkowski (1983), optical metaphors are frequently used in discussions of (Western) epistemology and methodology. Indeed, in Western thought epistemological premises are grounded in visual analogies, dating back to the Ancient Greek period.

Representationalism (c.f.), based on reflection and the kind of (limited) reflexivity it implies, Barad contends, makes a philosophical whole of this approximation of knowing to seeing.

See also Reality; See also Agential realism; See also Apparatuses

In the Baradian approach, citing Niels Bohr, phenomena are the referent for reality. Reality is composed of things-in-phenomena. Phenomena constitute a non-dualistic whole (Barad, 2007: 205). Phenomena are specific material configurations of the world (Barad, 2007: 206)

This Bohrian-derived ontology does not posit a fixed notion of being that is prior to signification, as in realism; nor does it assume that being is wholly inaccessible to language, as in Kantian transcendentalism; nor does it assume that reality is completely composed of language, as in linguistic monism.

Barad calls her approach Agential realism (c.f). For agential realism, phenomena are constitutive of reality. Thus, “phenomena are the ontological inseparability of intra-acting agencies” (Barad, 2007: 206)

Phenomena are, “differential patterns of mattering (“diffraction patterns”) produced through complex agential intra-actions of multiple material-discursive practices or apparatuses of bodily production, where apparatuses are not mere observing instruments but boundary-drawing practices – specific material (re)configurations of the world – which come to matter.” (Barad, 2007: 206)

In Barad’s agential realist account, people (“humans”) are phenomena, “part of the configuration or ongoing reconfiguring of the world” (Barad, 2007: 206)


Politics can be defined in two distinct ways: as an ongoing process of negotiating power relations, a perspective that is congruent with materialist approaches; and as a formal constitutional, institutional and normative edifice. (Coole and Frost, 2010: 18)


The idea of ‘postanthropocentrism’, which questions the human exceptionalism and methodological individualism of certain strands of humanist traditions, is a key focus of posthumanist thinking, that is, as a rethinking the human in its necessary relations to the nonhuman others, such as animals, machines, objects, systems, environments, for example, that form a necessary, but generally unrecognised, part of ‘being human’. (Herbrechter, 2013: 3)

The Posthuman
See also Posthumanism; Posthumanist; See also Postanthropocentrism

N. Katherine Hayles notes that,

“Whereas the ‘human’ has since the Enlightenment been associated with rationality, free will, autonomy and a celebration of consciousness as the seat of identity, the posthuman in its more nefarious forms is construed as an informational pattern that happens to be instantiated in a biological substrate. There are, however, more benign forms of the posthuman that can serve as effective counterbalances to the liberal humanist subject, transforming untrammeled free will into a recognition that agency is always relational and distributed, and correcting an over-emphasis on consciousness to a more accurate view of cognition as embodied throughout human flesh and extended into the social and technological environment.” (Hayles, 2006: 160-161)

Stefan Herbrechter (2013: 3) suggests that,

“Usually it is Donna Haraway – although she disowns the label ‘posthumanism’ – with her ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ who is credited with critically embracing the ambiguous potential that ‘becoming posthuman’ might bring, both liberating and regressive. Posthumanism really takes off with N. Katherine Hayles’s How We Became Posthuman (1999), in which she attacks precisely these transhumanist fantasies underpinned by cybernetics that want to digitalise the body by merely repressing the old Christian and Cartesian mind-body dualism problem. In doing so, they continue a humanist, idealist and universalist tradition that has proven to be very oppressive towards material differences. Braidotti, and other materialist posthumanist feminists such as Karen Barad, or Vicki Kirby, for example, instead focus on the material effects of changes to human embodiment – maybe first articulated in Halberstam and Livingston’s Posthuman Bodies (1995).”

Posthumanism; Posthumanist
See also Posthuman; See also Postanthropocentrism

Barad argues that her agential realist framework provides “a posthumanist performative account of technoscientific and other naturalcultural practices” (Barad, 2007: 32). As she explains,

“By “posthumanist” I mean to signal the crucial recognition that nonhumans play an important role in naturalcultural practices, including everyday social practices, scientific practices, and practices that do not include humans. But also, beyond this, my use of “post humanism” marks a refusal to take the distinction between “human” and “nonhuman” for granted, and to found analyses on this presumably fixed and inherent set of categories. Any such hardwiring precludes a genealogical investigation into the practices through which “humans” and “nonhumans” are delineated and differentially constituted. A posthumanist performative account worth its salt must also avoid cementing the nature-culture dichotomy into its foundations, thereby enabling a genealogical analysis of how these crucial distinctions are materially and discursively produced.” (Barad, 2007: 32)

According to Rossini (2006),

“As a part of postmodernist anti-humanist movements of thought and poststructuralist theory, posthumanism first appeared on the academic stage in the late 1960s, primarily in literary departments of North America. Its philosophical roots, however, can be traced back to European thinkers Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. After Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science, 1882), Heidegger’s Brief über den Humanismus (Letter on Humanism, 1947) in particular can be seen as the initiator of the post/humanism debate that then received a new and powerful impetus with Michel Foucault’s wager, proposed in the final sentence of his book Les Mots et les Choses (The Order of Things, 1966), that “man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.””

See also Scientific realism

According to Barad (2007: 37), “Realism … is … about the real consequences, interventions, creative possibilities, and responsibilities of intra-acting within and as part of the world.”

See also Phenomena; See also Agential realism; See also Scientific realism

Reality, for Barad is an ongoing dynamic of intra-activity (Barad, 2007: 206). Reality is composed of things-in-phenomena. Phenomena constitute a non-dualistic whole (Barad, 2007: 205). Phenomena are specific material configurations of the world (Barad, 2007: 206)

Rather than understanding the world as composed of objects, Barad argues that the establishment of definite boundaries to an object presumes its belonging within the larger configuration of a phenomenon (Rouse, 2004: 158, n.7)

See also Representation and Representationalism; See also Reflexivity and Reflexive methodologies

Reflexivity and Reflexive methodologies

Representation and Representationalism 

The context for Barad’s discussion of representation and representationalism is the realism/anti-realism debate.

According to Barad (2007: 53), representationalism is a practice of bracketing out the significance of practices. Representationalism fails to take account of the practices through which representations are produced.

Given this approach, representations, therefore, are condensations or traces of multiple practices of engagement.

See Representation and Representationalism
See also Reflection; see also Reflexivity

Scientific realism
See also
Representation and Representationalism

Tischler (2014: 110) asserts that,

“Scientific realism is the view that scientific theories more or less correspond to an intrinsically existing reality, outside of human interests, concerns and engagement.”

In other words, scientific realism embodies a correspondence theory of truth based on a representationalist approach to epistemology and ontology: that which is known is a representation, i.e. a description of a depiction, of that which exists.


“Superpositions do not represent mixtures of particles with determinate properties. Rather, superpositions represent ontologically indeterminate states – states with no determinate fact of the matter concerning the property in question” (Barad, 2007: 265)

“Technically speaking, a mixture refers to a collection or ensemble of particles, each with a determinate value of the property in question, such that the state of any given particle is determinate but unknown. In particular, in a mixture, each particle is represented by a determinate eigenstate.” (Barad, 2007: 265)

In a mixture, “each particle has properties, but we may be uncertain about the values of particular properties for any given particle”. In contrast, “superpositions embody quantum indeterminacy” (Barad, 2007: 265)

See also Complementarity; See also Indeterminacy

Bibliographic Sources:

Barad, K., (2003). Posthumanist performativity: toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28 (3), pp.801–831. Available at:

Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Durham: Duke University Press.

Coole, D. and Frost, S. (2010). Introducing new materialisms. In New materialisms: ontology, agency, and politics, edited by Diana Coole and Samantha Frost. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 1–43.

Dear, P. (1995). Discipline and experience: the mathematical way in the Scientific Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dear, P. (2001). Science studies as epistemography. In J. Labinger and H. Collins (eds.), The One Culture? A Conversation about Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 128-41.

Dolphijn, R. and van derTuin, I. (2012). New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies, Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press. Available at: Accessed on 29 July 2014

Haraway, D. and Reti, I. (2007). Edges and Ecotones: Donna Haraway’s Worlds at UCSC [Report, Regional History project], Santa Cruz, CA: University of California, Santa Cruz. Available at:

Haugeland, John (1998). Having thought: essays in the metaphysics of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hayles, N.K. (2006). Unfinished work: from cyborg to cognisphere. Theory, Culture & Society, 23 (7-8), pp.159–166. Available at:

Herbrechter, S. (2013). Rosi Braidotti (2013) The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN : 978-0-7456-4158-4. Culture Machine, (April). Available at:

Lynch, M. (2008). Ontography: investigating the production of things, deflating ontology. In Oxford Ontologies Workshop, Saïd Business School, Oxford, Oxford University (25 June). Oxford, UK: Oxford University. Available at: [Accessed September 6, 2014].

Rossini, M. (2006). To the dogs: companion speciesism and the new feminist materialism. Kritikos, 3 (September). Available at:

Rulewicz, W. (1997). A Grammar of narrativity: Algirdas Julien Greimas. The Glasgow Review, (3). Available at: [Accessed September 21, 2014].

Stephenson, K. (2011). Onto-epistemology. New Materialist cartographies [Wiki].

Tischler, E. (2014). Emptiness and wholeness: untangling the “realities” of Tibetan Buddhism and quantum physics. [Dissertation]. Wesleyan University. Available at:


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