Epistemological Misgivings of Karen Barad’s ‘Posthumanism’

Human Studies 37 (1):123-137 (2014)
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Karen Barad develops a view she calls ‘posthumanism,’ or ‘agential realism,’ where the human is reconfigured away from the central place of explanation, interpretation, intelligibility, and objectivity to make room for the epistemic importance of other material agents. Barad is not alone in this kind of endeavor, but her posthumanism offers a unique epistemological position. Her aim is to take a performative rather than a representationalist approach to analyzing ‘socialnatural’ practices and challenge methodological assumptions that may go unnoticed in some disciplinary fields. Yet for all the good of the challenge, Barad must support it with sound epistemological theorizing, theorizing that would apply to any methodology, whether that be sociological, historical, anthropological, or philosophical. Thus, where one might critique Barad on her assessments of sociological, historical, or anthropological incorporations of humans and the nonhuman, I critique Barad’s epistemology on its sense of objectivity and dismissal of the centrality of the human. I argue that Barad’s epistemology must retain a particular form of humanism, a humanism that stakes human subjectivity as the locus of rationality and objectivity, without which it creates intractable problems. To recuperate Barad’s challenge to contest assumptive distinctions while avoiding her epistemological problems, I offer some parting reflections



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Chris Calvert-Minor
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

References found in this work

Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to the Actor-Network Theory.Bruno Latour - 2005 - Oxford, England and New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press.
Objectivity.Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison - 2007 - Cambridge, Mass.: Zone Books. Edited by Peter Galison.

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