Academic journal article Capital & Class

The New Materialism: Re-Claiming a Debate from a Feminist Perspective

Academic journal article Capital & Class

The New Materialism: Re-Claiming a Debate from a Feminist Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

As researchers with an interest in the gendered impacts of the 2007/8 financial crisis and intensifying austerity measures in the United Kingdom (UK), we welcome calls made in recent years for a turn to a New Materialism in International Relations (IR) and International Political Economy (IPE). However, disappointingly--at a time when there is a clear need for feminist material analyses of crisis and austerity across varied national and regional contexts--interventions have shown a marked tendency to sideline the long and rich tradition of feminist (historical) materialist thought. In the light of this, we aim to make an intervention into current theoretical discussions on New Materialism in order to reclaim and re-cast the terms of these debates. There have been two distinctive calls for a New Materialism from scholars working in different theoretical and intellectual traditions, namely Marxism and poststructuralism. In his agenda-setting speech at the Millennium conference (2012), William E. Connolly cast New Materialism in a poststructuralist guise (2013). Not long afterwards (2014) a round-table discussion at the University in Sussex similarly identified New Materialism with poststructuralist thinking. We will not engage with this variant of New Materialism at length in this article, since in our view it is unlikely to much elucidate the dimensions of (financial) crisis and austerity that most concern us. We do not refute the importance of the ideational and the discursive dimensions of gender, but we believe that there has been an overemphasis on 'words', language, representation and subjectivity in poststructuralist feminist analysis to the detriment of material 'things', such as women's productive and reproductive work and violence (still largely, though not exclusively, violence against women) (see Delphy & Leonard 1996; Jackson 2001). Moreover, as Fraser (2000, 2014) observes, globalisation generates greater cultural diversity within and across bounded communities, but global restructuring also produces new forms of social relations of inequality and entrenches others. Gender issues--as they might be further engaged in the context of the poststructuralist debate on New Materialism--are likely to be understood in a way that continues to sideline the material inequalities. This is indeed the case in Queer feminist interventions of a New Materialism (Barad 2012) where the existence of matter is almost denied an ontological status per se.

As such, we will not engage with New Materialism a la Connolly at length because we do not believe that New Materialism in this guise is especially helpful. We have chosen to focus instead on what we see as a potentially more productive space to interrogate our interests; the New Materialism debate as it played out some years before Connollys speech (2006 to 2008) in the pages of the journal Historical Materialism. Here Paul Cammack, Greig Charnock and Marcus Taylor cast New Materialism in the historical materialist tradition of thought from Marx onwards. In our reading of Cammack's work and subsequent contributions to the debate that he initiated, this New Materialism aims to develop an analytical and critical framework to critique developments on a global scale. In particular, New Materialism aims to elucidate the consequences for the poor and dispossessed; those left behind or adversely impacted by developments in the 21st century--which is why we choose to make this debate the site for our intervention.

However, whatever the potential to incorporate feminist analysis within Cammack's variant of New Materialism, we detect here too a sidelining of gender and feminism. Within the terms of Cammack's own understanding of 'new developments' he must encompass and elucidate current post-financial crisis politics, the impacts with respect to inequality, poverty and suffering or the political responses to the same. As Adorno held: 'the need to lend a voice to suffering is the condition for all truth' (1973: 17-18). …

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