New materialism still feels new
Seeing two such iconic scholars as Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti on stage at the same time is always a treat. This was in the context of New Materialism: Naturecultures, a wonderful continuation of last year’s New Materialisms and Digital Culture, and continuing the vibrant discussions surrounding how to think the material as dynamic and alive – and diffractively leaking across disciplinary borders of knowledge, assembling into new theory war machines, intensive encounters, and problematics that themselves offer milieus for fresh thought. Organized by Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphjin, the conference featured speakers such as Haraway, Vicky Kirby, Adrian Mackenzie, Milla Tiainen and Melanie Sehgal – as well as yours truly. It’s clear that Haraway was the main feature, starting the whole day with her energetic talk “Playing Cat’s Cradle with Companion Species: Naturecultures-in-the-making.” It drew on the figure of the string – and the Cat’s Cradle game – which visualizes, embodies and is a tool-to-think-with knots knotting, ties engantgling, and relations in-the-making. In other words, companion species and the importance of the “with”. At the same time, all presentations worked towards interesting directions in aesthetics and science of mattering dynamics. My own emphasis was on “medianatures” as a version of “naturecultures” topological continuum.
Again the conference succeeded in moving across science, technology and philosophy, and the importance of material feminisms was present (not only because the event was organized in Utrecht, easily one of the leading gender studies centres of the world). As such, as van der Tuin nicely elaborated in her opening words – new materialisms are transversal at their heart. Next year’s event is organized in Linnköping (with Cecilia Åsberg), and is themed “Genealogies of Matter”. The name already promises even more transversal connections, cartographies of though-movements and forging discussion across different ways of engaging with matter, the real, and things/processes non-human too.
For instance, it would be interesting to articulate something about the relations between the mode of questioning in speculative realism and object-oriented-philosophy and new materialism. With such figures as Shaviro, Delanda and for instance Whitehead (and as always, Deleuze) quoted frequently on “both sides”, it is actually slightly surprising no further discussion has emerged. New materialisms is very strongly affiliated with feminist discussions which is one of its strengths and points towards a different set of politics that engage not solely with ontology – but with labour, sexuality and a range of cultural practices. Of course, its not that OOP is solely about ontology, but its clear that the direction of discussions has been taking it to a different set of questions than new materialism that has a very strong relation to other disciplines outside philosophy too – cultural and gender studies, Science and Technology, as well as media theory, I would add.
Meanwhile, while returning from the Netherlands to Berlin, this advert on Schiphol airport reminded me of what we need to address: the cultures of mobility, at the core of circulations of neoliberal regimes of governing too, articulated together with the seeming lightness of cloud computing, which however is at the core of the new materialities of digital culture – which far from immaterial are embedded in very heavy materialities as their sustaining “background forces”…