Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Preface: Movement, Aesthetics, Ontology

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Preface: Movement, Aesthetics, Ontology

Article excerpt

Preface: Movement, Aesthetics, Ontology

Across the social sciences and humanities, new materialism and neomaterialism are increasingly being used as labels for analytical approaches that seek to reclaim the indispensable and transforming involvement of materialities in everything from political economy to everyday life and the constitution of gender, race and sexuality.1 Insofar as concepts can be said to always address specific problems, new materialism and neomaterialism engage with the ways in which materialities matter in the formation of lives, the world and research. The concepts also signal an effort to remap how matter is always in formation by drawing on marginal philosophical traditions.2 Instead of aspiring to produce novel ontological fundamentals or exhaustive definitions of matter, new materialism is concerned with 'a materiality that materializes'.3 These approaches stress the continued becoming of organic and inorganic materialities in relations, milieus and processes that reactivate their potentials for being and thus often exceed what has already taken place and become known.

One criticism of new materialism and neomaterialism is, unsurprisingly, with the implications of novelty that the concepts imply. Accounts of new materialist thinking have been confronted as to their neglect of the nuanced acknowledgments of materiality in earlier Marxist and feminist theory and some sectors of cultural studies.4 In relation to these understandably critical responses to the claim of 'newness', the objective of this group of essays is not to celebrate a heroic break from decades of humanistic and social theory. The essays gathered here advance a view that the 'new' in new materialisms refers to two things. Firstly, as Diana Coole and Samantha Frost have already pointed out, it refers to the unprecedented scale on which contemporary technologies, sciences and eco-crises produce ways of manipulating, living as and being affected by matter.5 Second, and related, we would like to propose that 'new' points to the sustained processuality-the never fully foreseeable emergence and unfolding-of any materialisations under scrutiny. This unfolding requires modes which stay attentive to the emergence of the subject matters of the research, so as to be able to actualise, in always somewhat unpredictable ways, the research process.

Let us qualify this proposition about emerging materialisms. The contributions here seek to offer examples of how the generation, distinctiveness and utility of new materialist perspectives spring from the kinds of concepts or reconceptualisations with which they endeavour to rethink the character and status of materialities. Along with other contemporary approaches, new materialisms posit that concepts must be constantly tested and often reshaped in relation to empirical events, the given planes of inquiry, and the twists and turns of the research process. What is perhaps specific to new materialisms is their particular way of understanding the performativity of concepts. Several new materialist approaches have proposed that many established concepts of the human and social sciences (such as agency or human-]centered notions of the body) are challenged when research attends to the processuality and activity of various kinds of materialities. The researcher should also let the concepts she or he works with re-]singularise in connection with the vibrant, never fully containable processes that are being explored. In the present collection of essays, this takes place, for instance, when concepts drawn from geology and neuroscience attain novel capacities when brought into relation with media art and cinema. From new materialist perspectives, it is the co-]affective relations of material, conceptual, historical and social elements that reconfigure spheres of knowledge by way of singularisation.6

We also want to emphasise that far from claiming to be thoroughly new, the concepts and problems that new materialist perspectives work with openly resuscitate and modulate previous theorisations concerning bodies, materiality, relations, and process. …

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