Posted by: Johan Normark | August 24, 2013

Posthumanism and new materialism in Munich

This week I attended the ESEH conference in Munich. “My” session (organized by Martin Hultman, thanks for the invitation) and one other session dealt with posthuman ideas and new materialism (which can be seen as related fields). In various presentations one could hear the now common claims that everything flows, matter is energy, matter matters, trees are agents, animals (read geese) have culture, anthropocentrism is bad, etc. A term like materiality was used quite often but I agree with Ingold when he wonders what “academic perversion” has introduced this concept. To me it is a concept lingering from social constructionism. Materiality and even matter itself are terms that say very little. Where is this matter located? Has it to do with particles (rather than waves)? To Harman, materialism is simply an idealism with a realist alibi. Some of the presentations made that very clear.

In one presentation geese, that unfortunately landed in a polluted lake, were described as creatures with culture. There we find one of the main problems with these ideas. Anthropocentrism is seen to be wrong but the animals are being anthropomorphized. Instead of getting rid of the concepts of nature and culture once and for all, formerly “natural” animals are forced into the cultural sphere instead. They are just like us rather than we being like them. Animals are seen as persons and subjects, etc. Correlationism seems to hold a strong grip on posthumanism and new materialism since they still discuss the dichotomy between subject and object, culture and nature, etc. Hence, the suggestion that animism may provide a new way to interact with other entities (seeing animals, plants, stones, etc. as entities with personhood, not just from a social constructionist perspective but rather from a realist perspective) needs some more elaboration. Are “non-western” views really that different from western views? They are still anthropocentric. The Maya tethers such persons to turkeys, plants, stones, etc. but that perspective tells us nothing of what a turkey (or goose) feel. For that we must perform an alien phenomenology and become “turkeycentric”. Animism is, in my view, simply a sensual profile made of real objects. It is nothing revolutionary, not a new paradigm.

To quote Bogost: “posthumanism is not posthuman enough”. I am reluctant to the use of any concept that begins with the prefix “post” (yes, I know that I once used the term “posthumanocentrism”). Ideas that claims that they are not “post” anything else always seem more promising. So, instead of “animating” or “anthropomorphizing” every entity with personhood we must, as Harman says, morph “the human realm into a variant of the inanimate.” There we find the similarity between entities, they are not all subjects or persons. Instead they are all objects (or units). We should not reduce them to some underlying process (undermining) or being part of a greater network (overmining). We should definitely not reduce “matter” to being transformations of energy and refer to Einstein’s famous equation. The only field of thought that I have seen this to be a common ingredient is in “New Age” (quite common in the “2012-phenomenon”). We do not want to tread on that slippery slope that may drag us down into muddy waters.



  1. It’s only the start of materiality in Germany. I’m curious/worried what the Graduate Schools funded under this program will produce.


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