This book is so far the most important reading for me in this semester (excluding the ones written by Haraway). Basically, the author Karen Barad proposes a new philosophy to understand the world, called agential realism, based on insights drawn from Bohr the scientist’s view of quantum physics and her own experiences of being a physicist. Essentially, agential realism is rejecting the common-sense understanding of the world, where things/objects/matters exist individually and have boundaries that human eyes can often see. According to Barad, agential realism believes that “objects” are never isolated – they are part of the reality that they are trying to discern or separate from, and the system of both the “objects” and the reality is called phenomenon. In fact, “objects” are phenomena too. By challenging the deep foundation of representationalism’s ontology, agential realism describes new ontology, epistemology, and ethics that are coherent with the phenomenon-constructed world (with the world also being a phenomenon, of course).
The property that impressed me the most about the book is its writing. I mentioned in my earlier reflections that we most likely need a new language to talk about any alternative view of the world or ourselves, and here is Barad, actively creating a language with new words and new ways of understanding to support the explanation of agential realism. But take a close look – yet the way she writes is so clear, hardly with any confusion in words themselves. The difficulty comes more from the alternative vision she draws. The writing echoes the core of agential realism, which is to be concretely grounded in reality, but also constructing the reality while being part of it. (I realize I might still rely on representationalism to understand her work.) Indeed, there’s no such a notion of “reality” in agential realism. Reality is a phenomenon; reality are countless phenomena.
I found reading all the physics examples pleasing, because they are grounded in the world, they are quite straightforward, and they support the points the author was trying to make. I almost appreciated the simplicity of these examples, after reading the discussions on agential realism and how it differs from representationalism. (A common theme that often happens when one wants to talk about something entirely new is that one has to explain it over and over again, whereas readers might not in favor of this.)
I’m most concerned with agential realism’s methodology. If already a new ontology, a new epistemology, and a new ethics, why not talk about the methodology as well? I am not sure if the methodology could be self-evident once the ontology and the epistemology are clear. The author seems to imply that by taking agential realism seriously, one will develop an agentially realistic way to live in the world – I found this idea as less convincing, at least not so much from reading the book.
- Is agential realism fundamentally novel, compared with other critical social theories?
- I’m not sure if I’m fully convinced of how objectivity is understood under agential realism.
- In what way does this book relate to feminist theory? I believe we need to be specific here.