Just recently discovered two great new books published by Duke University Press; Hans-Jurg Rheinberger’s An Epistemology of the Concrete and New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency and Politics edited by Diana Coole and Samantha Frost.
In An Epistemology of the Concrete Rheinberger – the author of the influential and great book Toward a History of Epistemic Things – examines the history of experiments, concepts, model organisms and instruments in order to delve into some fundamental epistemological issues relating to the relation between laboratory instruments and objects of knowledge. That is, Rheinberger stresses that scientific objects actually have a history that is partially determined by the epistemological, institutional, political and social factors that determine the development of knowledge. In a non-French, and anti-Event fashion he shows how these assemblages of social and technical factors set the conditions for the emergence of epistemic novelty and, successively, how research shapes organisms, apparatuses and techniques and is shaped by them in turn.
New Materialisms seems to provide a superb introduction to the innovative power of the new wave of materialism that is emerging in both the social sciences and humanities as well as in the new ‘schools’ of philosophy such as object-oriented ontology and speculative realism (which both provide a radically new alternative to anti-realist and anti-materialist philosophy). In this sense, it seems similar in outlook to Braun & Whatmore’s Political Matter – yet, Coole & Frost offer a more profound array of contributions when it comes to theorizing matter and processes of materialization. Similar, nevertheless, is their post-humanist conception of matter (in which the agentic contributions of matter is conceptualized in opposition to contemporary political theory’s paradigm to consider matter as something that is merely talked about and decided upon) and a radical engagement with the material realities of everyday life in technological societies. They argue that these developments make apparent the necessity of new accounts of both nature, agency and politics: consciousness and subjectivity won’t do. Again, similar to Braun and Whatmore’s Political Matter, the authors claim that these new conceptualizations are needed to do justice to the complexities of present times.