February 1, 2022
From Monthly Review
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SunYoung Ahn is an assistant professor of English at Kangwon National University, South Korea. Her areas of interest are contemporary literature and culture, Marxism, the Frankfurt School, and humanist politics and philosophy.

Across the humanities and the social sciences, critical attention is being given to the nonhuman as an ecological, philosophical, and political problem—the nonhuman here meaning anything from air to water, from atoms to cells, from animals and plants to manufactured objects. Going under names as various as new materialism, political ecology, and object-oriented ontology, these studies comprise a movement that is largely described as the nonhuman turn. Though multidisciplinary and variegated, the nonhuman turn is driven by a common objective to eradicate what is deemed a false dualism between the human and the nonhuman and to reground ethics and politics in ways that can dissolve a deeply ingrained bias in human thinking: the notion that everything in the world is an Other that exists to give legitimacy to the human subject. To counter this rather arrogant and narcissistic perception, a new ontology of the world is constructed in which matter is not inert, dead stuff on which the human wields influence. Instead, it possesses its own agency, capable of generating motion and shaping events.

Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, for example, write that new materialism is above all distinguished by the affirmation of matter’s “emergent, generative powers (or agentic capacities).” In being attentive to the life of all things, including “forces, energies, and intensities…and complex, even random, processes,” this new materialism imagines a reality created through fortuitous combinations of forces that cannot always be explained by causal inferences and systematic analyses. The argument is that, in the West, the philosophy of the nonhuman has been anthropomorphic, to say the least. To rectify this human-centered and solipsistic habit of mind, new materialists look to contemporary scientific research about matter and its properties, which in their view demonstrates that nonhuman matter has a complex existence in which it is not only passively handled by the human, but also actively and intimately affects human affairs. What they see as the disproportionate importance placed on the human is thus balanced out by the great weight given to the nonhuman presence and its influence on the world. In this way, new materialism imposes an equalizing epistemology by identifying “a posthumanist sense of material agency,” on the one hand, and “a limitation of humans’ agentic efficacy,” on the other. As Graham Harman, an object-oriented ontology theorist, explains, all the objects of experience “are merely fictions,” which is to say, “simplified models of the far more complex objects that continue to exist when I turn my head away from them, not to mention when I sleep or die.” This is not to suggest that there is an unbridgeable chasm that hinders the human from knowing the world of the nonhuman object. The point, rather, is that the human partakes in the motions of the material world, not as an agent in the traditional sense, but as herself an object in symbiotic relations with the nonhuman. The human is not the all-knowing subject who grasps the full parameters and functions of matter in the universe but is instead one who exists along with matter in perpetually changing forms and motions.

It is exciting to imagine that the world is a place where matter has “immanent generativity” and that all beings and things have horizontal and mutually influential relationships. Such nonhierarchical relations teach the human to be humble, inspiring respect and attentiveness to the unique qualities of all beings and things. Nevertheless, I argue that the current theoretical extrapolation of nonhuman agency has some limitations that seriously undermine its ethical and political potency. There are three aspects I find especially problematic about the current surge of critical interest in the nonhuman, the first of which is that it is an ineffective political mobilizer. Put simply, preoccupation with aleatory vectors of force emptied of intentions and motivations make it impossible to formulate political plans that can realize their social ideals. The second problem with the new materialism is its far-fetched caricature of Marxist thought—of historical materialism as a crude theory of the human-nature relationship tainted by speciesism and an understanding of the nonhuman as a passive resource waiting to be used by humans. Yet, the very terms new materialism and political ecology have precedents in Marxist thought, whose influence goes unmentioned. Lastly, the study of the nonhuman involves fetishization, attributing mystifying agential power to nonhuman beings and things, obfuscating the social contexts from which it arises. Drawing on Karl Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism, I suggest this mystification conveniently helps transcend or ignore the present commodified nature of the nonhuman.

The (Non)Politics of the Nonhuman Turn

One way in which nonhuman studies render the very possibility of political action moot stems from the argument that the human, too, must be reckoned as matter, as always already an adulterated composite of various material elements. She is therefore not a political animal, or a being with innate rights and dignity to defend. Nor is she a uniquely intelligent being distinguished from “dumb,” passive nature; rather, the human is a part of dynamic, unpredictable nature that is larger than the sum of its parts. Crises caused by global warming are especially eye-opening in this regard, in that they demonstrate that humans are present on Earth not as its lords, but as natural beings themselves, never certain about the ways of the planet because they lack comprehensive knowledge of the world. As Dipesh Chakrabarty argues, humans are thus “geological agent[s]” and exist as “a natural condition,” not merely as historical and political beings in the sense that Enlightenment discourse depicts them. History is thus not an exclusively human affair, whose most recent epoch can be explained with the term global and analyzed through a critique of capital. History is instead planetary, necessitating species thinking that is “connected to the enterprise of deep history.” The ontological status of the human species is thus not primarily social, historical, or political; rather, it is natural, because of inescapable immersion and incorporation in the sensual, physical world.

The problems with this conflation of the human, the natural, and the political are numerous, beginning with the misleading suggestion that depicting the human as a speck in the vast continuum of planetary life can itself be taken as an ethical achievement and a political statement. That is, proper self-reckoning and respect for the more-than-human world becomes ipso facto a political act. This suggests that while human actors within the capitalist system may have accelerated global warming, the bigger picture is the planetary history, in which humans exist as a natural, not political, force. Here, the political and the natural are melded in ways that blur the seriousness of centuries of capitalist activities, with their massive outpouring of carbon dioxide, and that also mitigate the stakes of determining precisely how processes of production and reproduction affect the environment.

The depiction of the nonhuman as agential obscures the fact that the nonhuman world is already significantly and thoroughly affected by processes of accumulation, distribution, and capitalization. Economic and political factors are effectively erased; what remains is the natural world and its swirling operations of matter that already constitutes the flattened, horizontal relations between the human and the nonhuman. Because the human and the nonhuman already exist as democratic and mutually influencing assemblages, it becomes unnecessary to think about how to leverage political actions for achieving desired outcomes. While not explicitly antipolitical, nonhuman studies certainly promote a nonpolitical position: as Bonnie Washick and Elizabeth Wingrove argue, the emphasis on the “always already ‘in process’ dimension of the world’s materiality” does not help “illuminate any particular form of action…that corresponds to the cooperative, conflictual, agonistic and/or deliberative relations variously associated with political engagement.” Admittedly, the new materialist argument is helpful insofar as it stimulates “rethinking or revisioning both ourselves and our world.” Yet, it can also produce “a politics that does not matter” because any joint action is reduced to the “‘always already’ networked dependencies through which we live.” New materialism thus has a tendency, as Andreas Malm puts it, “to lapse into a determinism of the crudest variety,” in which any kind of “endeavor is ruled out as pointless.”

The sense of futility caused by this drainage of political energy is also well illustrated in the way Coole and Frost define history, which for them is not a deliberated process, but rather a “continuous transformation of provisional forms by new, indecipherable and unanticipated events, with the corollary lesson that aleatory intervention may be more efficacious than the patient understanding of trajectories and working through of continuities whose internal logic of development is assumed to endure.” This statement is problematic, but not because it highlights the importance of fortuitous encounters and interactions, for many things in the human course of events indeed do not go as planned. Rather, the problem is what I see as a fatalism that removes confidence in the efficacy of human actions and plans. I question whether what happens to the human and the nonhuman can really be attributed directly to “aleatory intervention,” rendering void the process of “patient understanding” and “working through.” An intervention that is aleatory is still an intervention, after all, and cannot take place if there are no human agents to precipitate it. Unplanned and off-the-cuff interventions may sometimes yield more positive results than planned actions, but it is equally true that political actions programmed in advance likewise have led, and still do lead, to desirable outcomes. It thus remains meaningful to assess “trajectories” and the “internal logic of development.” In an interesting passage, Jane Bennett introduces a discussion about worms to elucidate that, “in some times and places, the ‘small agency’ of the lowly worm makes more of a difference than the grand agency of humans,” by enabling the growth of forest trees, for example. Yet, it would be a far stretch to suggest that worms affect human politics and civilization in the same way humans do, or to conflate human political activities with those of worms. Doing so would not necessarily make politics more inclusive and egalitarian; rather, it would change the meaning of politics to include the work of worms, placing human actions on the same level as that of worms. This is an abstraction that creates not democratic politics, but nonpolitics, in which the need for political action and taking responsibility is minimized.

I am skeptical as to whether ecology’s incorporation of politics in this way, or the conflation of the two, can really enrich democratic theory, not to mention inspire us to reorganize our democratic polities. Doing this means engaging in the everyday work of confrontations, negotiations, compromises, and decisions, in which the nonhuman cannot participate with sheer animacy alone. This becomes clearer if we examine Bennett’s speculation about how “edible matter,” such as omega-3 fatty acid, might act once it gets inside human bodies. Implying that enough has been said about humans who do the eating, Bennett reverses the focus by examining what food might interactively do once consumed. Her conclusion, citing scientific papers, is that “a particular element” such as omega-3 “can be so contingently well placed in an assemblage that its power to alter the direction or function of the whole is unusually great.” Thus, consumption of stuff such as omega-3 may decrease violence in prison inmates, improve learning and behavioral capacities in struggling children, and mitigate symptoms of schizophrenia. This does not necessarily suggest that there is “mechanical causality” in which a certain quantity of edible matter directly and transparently results in the creation of specific behaviors, moods, or temperaments. The point is that shifting the focus “away from individuals and onto actants in assemblages” enables us to think about problems such as obesity not only in terms of “large humans and their economic-cultural prostheses,” but also in terms of the “strivings and trajectories of fats as they weaken or enhance the power of human wills, habits, and ideas.” If the Cartesian viewpoint posits a mind-body dualism to argue that the mind governs the body, new materialists illuminate how the body—especially its internal workings that are imperceptible to the human eye—can affect the mind.

Matter inside and outside our body clearly affects mood, psychology, and behavior. Weather, for example, as we commonsensically know through experience, has significant influence on what we do and how we feel and live. Yet, to attend microscopically to the workings of chemicals and particles, suggesting they have as much impact as “economic-cultural prostheses,” runs the risk of neutralizing social contexts, which, in fact, significantly determine how matter operates. As Sebastian Abrahamsson, Filippo Bertoni, Annemarie Mol, and Rebeca Ibáñez Martín argue, the fact that violence decreases when prison inmates consume omega-3 fats signifies more than the power of matter: it illuminates that the prison inmates might be malnourished and provides a clue about the kind of environment to which inmates are subjected, because a clear measurement of the effect of food consumption is only possible under circumstances in which diet and behavior are closely monitored in a disciplinary setting, with minimized variables.

The importance of considering the larger context and not just the ontological status of matter is highlighted further when we think about the “worlds from which omega-3 is procured,” which informs us of the grim reality that, should the procurement of omega-3 from fish continue, the oceans will soon be depleted, not to mention a widening of the “inequalities between well-fed and undernourished people.” Hence, unless accompanied by the more “traditional” analysis of the globalized economic system and political dynamic, new materialism becomes a meditation exercise with no substantial basis. Scientific findings are its source of inspiration, which may appear to provide a credible ground from which matter can be thought, but as Marx and Frederick Engels asked: “where would natural science be without industry and commerce?” Knowledge about omega-3, for example, does not become available in a vacuum. It is discovered in the course of human activity, of “unceasing sensuous labour and creation.” Like Marx and Engels’s example of the cherry tree that acquires “sensuous certainty” through human activities of commerce, omega-3 also acquires sensuous certainty, not through its materiality alone, but through the “action of a definite society in a definite age.” Using Marx and Engels’s imagery of the freshwater fish and its polluted water, one could say that the problem of fish here cannot be resolved by recognizing the wondrous and vital agency of the fish in abstraction, but by understanding the historical processes in which the fish has come to be alienated from its “essence”: clean, livable water.

The Eclipse of Marx

Interestingly, approaches to the studies of the nonhuman, though diverse in their origins and meanings, share commonality in their display of tension with Marxist thought. They do not altogether overlook the Marxist legacy, for it would not be possible to discuss the “new” kind of materialism without clarifying its relationship to the “old.” While acknowledging the legacy, however, they also mischaracterize it by describing it as too rigid and human-centered to allow room for thinking about the quirkiness and contingencies created by the nonhuman. Marxism should especially be wary, Coole and Frost write, lest it “advance a historical metanarrative, aspire to the identification of determining economic laws, valorize an originary, pristine nature, or envisage communism as history’s idealized material destiny.” In follow-up statements that create more confusion than clarification, they claim that, in contrast to the supposed shortcomings of the old materialism, the new materialism is associated with “renewed attention to the dense causes and effects of global political economy and thus with questions of social justice for embodied individuals.” Social analyses of the kind offered by Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault are “grist for the critical materialist” because they make her aware that “such dense networks of relationships support socioeconomic structures that sustain the privileges and interest of some rather than others, that these advantages are not randomly, much less fairly, distributed, and that understanding how they operate and are maintained is a crucial task.”

I quote this at length to show that Marxism in fact engages precisely in the tasks that new materialism claims it is newly undertaking. Moreover, it dares to detect a recognizable pattern and system among “dense networks of relationships” and demands that human agents who put into practice their shared plans and visions change the analyzed reality. New materialism, by contrast, seems especially reluctant to cogitate on the power of political actions and procedures; its theorists are also averse to making systematic observations, characterizing the workings of the nonhuman as beyond generalization and analytical judgment. The ideal human being is thus not one who tries to make changes, but one who obtains an “understanding” of how things “operate and are maintained.” This is deeply akin to the abstraction of Ludwig Feuerbach’s “contemplative materialism” that Marx and Engels speak of, and which they accuse of merely producing “a correct consciousness about an existing fact” without an interest in “overthrowing the existing state of things.” Marx and Engels determine that contemplative materialism misses out on praxis because of its ahistorical perception of matter, whose sensuousness is properly recognized, but not its process of becoming in the context of “social development, industry and commercial intercourse.” Following Marx and Engels, we can apply the same kind of analysis to new materialism, for it too recognizes matter in its sensuous form, but without consideration of the context that has shaped this sensuousness. The “new” in new materialism does not complicate or enrich materialism in a novel way, for it reifies matter and renders it an object of contemplative wonder.

It is important to examine John Bellamy Foster’s use of the term new materialism, which he defines as Marx’s attempt to overcome the limits of Feuerbach’s abstraction. The “new” in this sense means that materialism is to be thought in practical and historical terms, with an emphasis on how nature, including human nature, is the result of “social intercourse.” Marx did acknowledge the “ontological priority” of nature over history, but precisely because “nature untouched by human history was more and more difficult to find,” the focus was to be placed on studying the “quality of the interaction between humanity and nature, or what he was eventually to call the ‘metabolism’ of humanity with nature.” It is unfortunate that this legacy of new materialism is largely overlooked by the new materialism of the twenty-first century, for as Simon Choat points out, not only do the two share some similar aims, but Marx’s historical materialism “even anticipated many of [its] insights.” The omission, however, is a pattern also seen in the ways political ecology is used by scholars like Bennett. In a few rare places where she defines the term, political ecology is what expands the usual notion of politics as exclusively a human affair into that which includes all, so that the “scope of democratization can be broadened to acknowledge more nonhumans in more ways.” Bennett’s definition of “vital materialism” may also be of help here, which she explains is aimed at “a polity with more channels of communication between members” and not necessarily at “the perfect equality of actants.” Bennett thus widens the meaning of politics as “political ecology” and redefines “publics” as “human-nonhuman collectives.” This is a new kind of political theory positing that the “appropriate unit of analysis for democratic theory is neither the individual human nor an exclusively human collective but the (ontologically heterogeneous) ‘public’ coalescing around a problem.”

While Bennett’s professed ethical vision is worthwhile, her generic use of the term political ecology does not really illuminate how to get to the point of expanded democracy, or how to even communicate with agents that are nonhuman, without maximizing human imagination, itself an exertion of agency. Therefore, her arguments, in Paul Rekret’s words, “eschew…analysis of social relations and forces” and instead merely hinge “upon the affective force of her ethical appeal.” Moreover, because Bennett postulates that even critique itself is “blinded by its anthropocentrism,” she is left with no choice but to “call for a spiritual…transformation so that one might be ‘attuned to’ or ‘register’ materiality,” even when it is not possible to know matter’s agency given the limits of human cognition. This means that, for Bennett, the Marxist critique of political economy and emphasis on human praxis, too, is anthropocentric.

As Bennett acknowledges, the tradition of “Hegel-Marx-Adorno” that traces “human power to expose social hegemonies” may be necessary, but her “contention is that there is also public value in following the scent of a nonhuman, thingly power, the material agency of natural bodies and technological artifacts.” Bennett thus omits the entire legacy of political ecology that is based on Marxist thought, which argues, mainly, that capitalist relations of production are destructive, not only because they create social stratifications, but also because they create a rift between humanity and nature, as well as cause much damage to nature itself. True, political ecology as a discipline is “theoretically catholic” and several decades old, with a tradition long enough to hail from several different schools of thought, including “poststructuralism, postcolonialism, and feminist geography.” At the same time, the concern of political ecology for the problems of environmental degradation, class, and inequality is “squarely rooted in Marxist scholarship,” or, put differently, is “deeply shaped by the encounter between Marxism and contemporary environmental questions.”

In contrast, political ecology borne out of the nonhuman turn tends to overlook the intersecting issues of capitalism, environmental degradation, and inequality, opting instead to focus on the materiality of matter itself. In explaining the quality of soil, for example, one cannot merely discuss its material composition and the worms to which it plays host; so much of its quality has to do with socioeconomic histories that came before and the question of who lives on it. This suppression or omission of the Marxist legacy is a serious problem, not so much because it glosses over a certain line of materialist thought and leaves a scholarly gap, but rather because lack of serious engagement with the critique of political economy actually illustrates how compatible nonhuman studies can be with capitalist logic itself.

Matter and Magic

As true today as it was in Marx’s time, the nonhuman, whether animals or inanimate objects in nature, is to a considerable extent mediated by human action in the form of fungible and disposable commodities. Omega-3 fatty acids in the twenty-first century are certainly commodities that entail long processes of production and exchange within the global economy, just as food as basic as bread in the nineteenth century was a commodity involving considerable adulteration, “all to save costs and enhance [its] saleability.” All objects in nature, then—whether genes or viruses, air or water—already come to humans heavily changed by interactions with humans. While some “Australian coral-islands of recent origin” were mentioned as a possible exception to this observation during Marx and Engels’s time, today it would be very difficult to find such an outlier.

The agency of matter, therefore, even if it were somehow felt, experienced, and traced by the human, is always already mediated by human activities. To enunciate this mediated fact of the nonhuman world is not to justify domination by the human, nor is it to insist on the ontological priority of human consciousness; it is instead to point out that, in light of the historical condition, the human relationship to the nonhuman mostly takes the form of appropriation, commodification, and expropriation. The nonhuman with which we interact exists primarily as a commodity with exchange value, whose qualitative differences are erased and becomes an object with “quantitatively determined value.” If it appears as though it is wielding agency to shape events, it is because of a “fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities.” The traces of the “social characteristics of men’s own labour” are gone. What remains instead is the “mysterious character of the commodity-form” that appears as though the objects exist on their own and have always existed in their current (but always ephemeral) forms. Empowering objects with such capacity and energy is thus akin to “flight into the misty realm of religion: there the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands.”

In the context of the present moment, when air, soil, and water are all to a considerable extent commodified, to insist that the nonhuman has agency in ways that flatten the traditional hierarchies between the human and the nonhuman is to engage in fantastical thinking to remain enchanted in a disenchanted world. It is to conjure up what does not exist—a reality in which the nonhuman is more than a commodity, retaining its ontological integrity and emanating aleatory and contingent liveliness. Malm points out that the idea of “attributing agency and power to the objects rather than to the relations and people behind them…mirrors exactly the sort of fetishism Marx set out to unmask.” Jennifer Cotter also criticizes the attribution of agency to objects, arguing that it formally equalizes the human and the nonhuman and thereby “accepts the equating of people with the objects they produce.” The consequence of this is the creation of a “class-based paradigm” that “raises the ideology of exchange to a new metaphysical level of abstraction in which ‘life’ is the common element of ‘value’ that ontologically liquifies all objects, all matter, into one protean, indeterminate, acausal ontological field of free flows of exchange.” While the nonhuman is glamorized and romanticized as quirky, agential matter, its actual depletion and destruction is obscured. Also erased are the human laborers who make the nonhuman into commodities.

The defining characteristic of nonhuman entities with which we interact today is that they are un-free. They appear as natural objects existing independently and unmediated by social processes, but in truth conceal their reality as products of labor and social relations that are historically constituted. Discussions that overlook the reality of this economic and historical mediation obscure capitalist reality and cast a romantic hue over it, elevating the nonhuman into something wondrously agential and robust. The nonhuman turn allows the “whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy” to shroud human labor as well as disguise the nonhuman’s impoverished status with only the market price to explain itself. Such a turn casts magic over matter and makes invisible its capitalized nature and alienated laborers.

The point, of course, is not that the human should remove the mystical veil from the object so that she can recover its true form prior to commodification and fetishism. There is no such thing as an originary form that can be recovered in the object. As Theodor Adorno elucidates in philosophical terms, commodification or not, the object carries its own “thingness,” an alien element the subject cannot reconcile or “relativize or liquefy.” In other words, the object is preponderant over the subject because “society comes before the individual consciousness” and “always remains something other than the subject.” At the same time, the object cannot be independent of the subject, for it “can be known only as it entwines with subjectivity.” Marx understood this, according to Adorno, and did not idolize the object by putting it on a pedestal. The very “plan” of the “mature Marx” for a “liberated society” was not about recovering the original truth of the object by taking away its “fetish character,” or about praising the object’s enduring power. Rather, it was about organizing the mode of production so that it became geared for “use by the living rather than for profit.” As Adorno argues, the “lament about reification” alone is insufficient; without acting on what “would yet be changeable by human action,” the “cause of human suffering” will simply continue.

In contrast, pointing out how quick human beings are to read “any expression of thing-power as an effect of culture and the play of human power,” Bennett proposes that we be receptive and sensitive to the workings of matter as such. For Bennett, the very idea that one may in truth be reflecting on the fetishized commodity form is already an endorsement of anthropocentric thinking. For an alternative mode of critique, she suggests that we cultivate a “methodological naiveté,” one which, unlike that of Marx who is quick to “demystify,” is willing to “suspend suspicion” by containing human agency “illicitly…projected into things.” Yet, market force—regulated, enhanced, and accelerated by humans—already impresses on these things as human marks. They do not come to humans as pure matter, only then to be violated by human agency and cognition. They come to humans already transformed by social processes, already “entwined with subjectivity.” These facts cannot be wished away, nor can they be suspended, even if momentarily. Humans can no longer afford naiveté—certainly not now, when every summer and winter we increasingly drive the climate to extremity with relentless cycles of destructive production and consumption, putting both the human and the nonhuman at deadly risk. To be in wonder at the volatile workings of meteorological matter will not do. In other words, we must not cast a veil of magic over matter.

Notes

  1. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics (New York: Continuum, 2007), 181.
  2. Scholars frequently referred to as proponents of the nonhuman turn include, among others, Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007); Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010); Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology: Or What It’s Like To Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Diane Coole and Samantha Frost, New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010); Graham Harman, Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (London: Pelican, 2018); Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Human (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993). For their attempts to put an end to humanist—or, more precisely, anthropocentric—influence, this mode of thinking is also variably termed as the posthuman turn, or posthumanism.
  3. Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, “Introducing the New Materialism,” in New Materialisms, 9, 13–14; Harman, Object-Oriented Ontology, 34.
  4. Diana Coole, “The Inertia of Matter and the Generativity of Flesh,” in New Materialisms, 92.
  5. Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Critical Inquiry 35, no. 2 (2009): 213–14, 218.
  6. Bonnie Washick and Elizabeth Wingrove, “Politics That Matter: Thinking About Power and Justice with the New Materialists,” Contemporary Political Theory 14, no. 1 (2015): 65–66, 77; Andreas Malm, The Progress of This Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World (London: Verso, 2020), 109–10.
  7. Coole and Frost, “Introducing the New Materialism,” 35.
  8. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 98.
  9. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 41–43.
  10. Sebastian Abrahamsson, Filippo Bertoni, Annemarie Mol, and Rebeca Ibáñez Martín, “Living with Omega-3: New Materialism and Enduring Concerns,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 33, no.1 (2015): 9–10.
  11. Abrahamsson, Bertoni, Mol, and Martín, “Living with Omega-3,” 11–13; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (Amherst: Prometheus, 1998), 45–46, 66.
  12. For example, Simon Choat notes that the new materialists offer some compelling points “at the expense of a caricatured version of historical materialism.” See Simon Choat, “Science, Agency, and Ontology: A Historical-Materialist Response to New Materialism,” Political Studies 66, no. 4 (2018): 1029. Coole and Frost, “Introducing the New Materialism,” 30, 32, 36.
  13. Coole and Frost, “Introducing the New Materialism,” 36; Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” in The German Ideology, part 1, ed. C. J. Arthur (New York: International Publishers, 2004), 123; Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, 60, 62.
  14. John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 113–14. Of course, the two are also conspicuously distinct, as Choat explains: “Whereas new materialism essentially defines materialism in a relatively conventional way—as philosophical reflection upon the nature of matter—historical materialism seeks not to [re]define matter but to interrogate the historically specific material conditions of human production and reproduction, and hence the material conditions of the development and uses of science, the production and role of objects and agents, and our labour within and upon nature.” See Choat, “Science, Agency, and Ontology,” 1028. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, xix, 104, 108–9.
  15. Paul Rekret, “A Critique of New Materialism: Ethics and Ontology,” Subjectivity 9, no. 3 (2016): 227–28, 237.
  16. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, xiii; Gavin Bridge, James McCarthy, and Tom Perreault, introduction to The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology, ed. Gavin Bridge, James McCarthy, and Tom Perreault (Oxon: Routledge, 2015), xx, 7; James McCarthy, Tom Perreault, and Gavin Bridge, conclusion to The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology, 621.
  17. John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, The Robbery of Nature: Capitalism and the Ecological Rift (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020), 109; Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, 46.
  18. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1990), 144, 164–65.
  19. Malm, The Progress of This Storm, 146–47; Jennifer Cotter, “New Materialism and the Labor Theory of Value,” Minnesota Review 87 (2016): 175–76.
  20. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 169.
  21. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 181, 183, 186, 189, 190, 192.
  22. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, xiv, xv, 17.



Source: Monthlyreview.org