Turning the turn: New materialism, historical materialism and critical theory

Thesis Eleven 140 (1):106-121 (2017)
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In many fields within the social sciences and the humanities, the ‘material turn’ has inspired fresh debates about human-nature relationships, ecology and the meaning of the social. However, the new materialism also poses some theoretical-political problems. These problems relate to the questions of ontology, epistemology and anthropology, as I argue in the first part of this article. In the second part, I argue that some theoretical-political problems that characterize the ‘new’ materialism have also been debated within the tradition of historical materialism. By recapitulating different versions of historical materialism, I argue that an important distinction can be drawn between ontological and praxeological forms of materialism. I argue in conclusion that from the perspective of critical social theory, the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ materialism does not hold, and that for political as well as epistemological reasons a critical materialism should renounce any ontological turn to matter itself.



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Susanne Lettow
Freie Universität Berlin

References found in this work

The posthuman.Rosi Braidotti - 2013 - Malden, MA, USA: Polity Press.
When Species Meet.Donna Jeanne Haraway - 2007 - Univ of Minnesota Press.
Being and Time.Ronald W. Hepburn - 1964 - Philosophical Quarterly 14 (56):276.

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