Materiality: the expressions of matter



THINK: The worlds we inhabit everyday are material in the most fundamental sense: every thought, every action, every encounter, every word arises from a substrate of materiality which enables such phenomena to occur. If we take this materialist proposition to be true, then our understandings of matter (nature) and meaning (culture) must be inextricably connected. Particle physicist Karen Barad (2007) describes material phenomena as 'entanglements' of matter and meaning which are enacted through 'naturalcultural practices'. All practices, she argues, whether scientific, technological, creative, social, clinical or analytic, are naturalcultural practices through which matter and meaning become entangled. The specific qualities of each practice and its 'apparatus' (equipment, research designs, documentation, etc) constitute the technology by which nature and culture come to interact. Matter flows through these practices as its own vital and dynamic agency, rather than an inert substance to be studied or manipulated by humans. As Barad (p. 137) describes:


Matter is neither fixed and given nor the mere end result of different processes. Matter is produced and productive, generated and generative. Matter is agentive, not a fixed essence or property of things. 


Barad (2007) provides us with a posthumanist appproach to science, art and other naturalcultural practices which attend to the non-human agencies of matter. This is a timely response to the onset of the Anthropocene epoch, in which humanity has become a geophyscial force which is impacting every corner of the earth (Steffan et al, 2015). In the Anthropocene, naturalcultural phenomena such as climate change, radioactive waste and fossil fuels are massively distributed across space and time (Morton, 2013). These are phenomena from which the geological, biological, chemical and cultural elements cannot be seperated. While climate change may be driven by the great acceleration of human enterprise since the 1950's, it pushes back on us with a material force that exceeds the human. Climate change, in this sense, takes on its own material agency which is more-than-human, and yet fundamentally entangled with everyday modes of consumption, transportation and habitation.