Barad’s interpretation of quantum physics expands the sociological debate beyond the classical context of interrelated pairs of opposites, i.e. culture-nature, spirit-matter, subject-object, that have dualised Western civilisation and enabled the emergence of systems of dominance and exploitation. Barad’s body of work is a call to account for the constitutive exclusions that have differentially constituted the ‘other’ as inferior to the self. This paper offers an overview of Barad’s onto-epistemological framework of agential realism with an emphasis on the essential relationality-quantum entanglement-it supposes between “I” and “thou”, between all material(ising) entities. It introduces the framework to readers in the social sciences and invites a critical reconsideration of the question of how things / bodies come to matter, and what the consequences are. For a profound understanding, it offers an account of Barad’s methodology of diffraction and the reworked notions of responsibility and ethical accountability that this framework entails. Finally, it argues that Barad’s contribution is relevant, across the hard sciences scientific and humanistic disciplines, due to its invitation to think of ourselves and our knowledge practices as entangled within the world, ontologically inseparable from its flow of materialisation, and ethically responsible for the discursive and material practices we are enacting.
In this paper, I argue that Karen Barad’s interpretation of quantum physics has the potential to expand the sociological debate by infusing ethics into each material(ising) entity and phenomenon as it unfolds. Barad problematises the Cartesian-Newtonian conception of knowledge and materiality which, in its separation of mind-matter, culture-nature, human-nonhuman, has enabled the emergence of systems of dominance and exploitation. This paper offers an overview of the ontological and epistemological implications of agential realism and describes its key terms, namely quantum entanglement, diffraction, intra-action, and spacetimemattering. It considers the framework’s ethical consequences, seeing as notions of responsibility and ethical accountability are reconfigured in a world where all bodies, human and nonhuman, are entangled. By exemplifying the cross-disciplinary influence of Barad’s work, I will illustrate the transferability of these principles across fields of study that shape the social construction of knowledge and, as a result, pave the way for new social practices and changes. The shift in perception suggested by agential realism invites us to move beyond dualism, discover new spaces for ethical relating between “I” and “Thou”, and take responsibility for the discursive and material practices we are enacting. In this, I argue, lies the contribution offered by agential realism to the social sciences.
Keywords: Karen Barad, new materialism, agential realism, entanglement, diffraction.