Skip to content
Home » Key Thinkers and Authors in New Materialism and Discourse Analysis

Key Thinkers and Authors in New Materialism and Discourse Analysis

Key Thinkers and Authors in New Materialism and Discourse Analysis - Discourse Analyzer

Are you ready to enhance your learning by asking the assistant?

Log In to Your Account

Alternatively, if you don't have an account yet

Register Now!

New Materialism has introduced a paradigm shift in discourse analysis by challenging traditional frameworks that prioritize linguistic or social constructs over the material aspects of existence. Central to this movement are key thinkers like Karen Barad, Diane Coole, Samantha Frost, and Jane Bennett, whose groundbreaking work integrates the physical with the discursive, emphasizing an inseparable interrelationship between matter and meaning. This introduction explores their contributions, which collectively argue for a more integrated approach to understanding how discourses shape and are shaped by material realities, thus offering fresh insights into the interactions between human and non-human agents in the construction of knowledge and societal norms.

1. Karen Barad

Karen Barad is a key figure in the field of New Materialism, blending insights from quantum physics, philosophy, feminist theory, and the history of science to develop a theoretical framework known as Agential Realism. This framework has significantly influenced how scholars in various disciplines, including discourse analysis, think about the nature of reality, agency, and the interrelation between discourse and materiality.

1) Background and Academic Influence of Karen Barad

Karen Barad’s academic background is in physics and feminist studies, which uniquely positions her to integrate detailed scientific understanding with philosophical inquiries into identity, culture, and epistemology. She earned a doctorate in theoretical physics before moving into more interdisciplinary spaces, combining her scientific expertise with a critical examination of how scientific practices themselves are entangled with the material world they study.

Barad’s work is heavily influenced by philosopher and physicist Niels Bohr, whose ideas about quantum mechanics challenge conventional notions of separability and objectivity. Drawing on these foundations, Barad extends Bohr’s ideas into the social sciences and humanities, advocating for a radical rethinking of the nature of existence and knowledge.

2) Introduction to Agential Realism

Agential Realism, as formulated by Barad, proposes that the world is composed of phenomena that are the ontological inseparability of agentially intra-acting components. In this framework, agency is not an attribute of subjects or objects but is an enactment, a matter of intra-acting; it is through specific intra-actions that the boundaries and properties of the “components” of phenomena become determinate.

The key concepts of Agential Realism include:

  • Intra-action: This concept is central to Barad’s theory, positing that entities do not precede their interactions but rather emerge through these interactions. This contrasts with traditional notions of interaction, where distinct entities are seen as pre-existing their relational engagements.
  • Entanglement: Entities are entangled with one another in such a way that their identities are not individually determinable but rather are co-constitutive. Understanding phenomena requires recognizing these entanglements.
  • Material-discursive practices: This term reflects the idea that material and discursive elements are not separate but are interwoven in the fabric of reality, co-constituting and reconfiguring each other.

3) Implications and Integration with Discourse Analysis

Integrating Agential Realism into discourse analysis shifts the focus from examining language as a purely human activity to exploring how discursive practices are materially entangled with the world. Some key implications for discourse analysis include:

  1. Reconceptualizing Agency: Agency is redistributed from being a human-centric attribute to an emergent property of intra-actions. This perspective prompts discourse analysts to look at how texts, technologies, and human actions are dynamically interwoven and mutually influential.
  2. Discourse as Material Practice: Discourse is seen not only as constructing social realities but as physically partaking in the material configurations of the world. This approach encourages analysts to consider how discursive practices physically shape and are shaped by their material contexts.
  3. Challenging Dualisms: By rejecting rigid distinctions such as subject/object and nature/culture, Barad’s framework encourages a more integrated approach to understanding how knowledge is produced and reproduced through scientific, cultural, and linguistic practices.

Overall, Karen Barad’s Agential Realism provides a framework that deeply enriches discourse analysis by embedding linguistic and cultural practices within the dynamics of materiality, challenging and expanding the scope of what discourse analysis can address. This integration helps reveal the intricate ways in which discourses are not merely about the world but are active participants in its ongoing material-discursive becoming.

2. Diane Coole and Samantha Frost

Diane Coole and Samantha Frost are notable scholars within the field of New Materialism, known for their interdisciplinary approaches that blend political theory, feminist theory, and philosophy. Their collaborative work has significantly contributed to expanding the conceptual scope of New Materialism and its implications across various academic fields, including discourse analysis.

1) Academic Backgrounds and Collaborative Work

Diane Coole has a background in political theory and philosophy, with her research often focusing on phenomenology, existentialism, and feminist theory. Coole’s work frequently examines the intersections of politics, ethics, and the body, providing critical insights into the material dimensions of socio-political life.

Samantha Frost specializes in political theory and the history of political thought, with a strong emphasis on materialism and its philosophical underpinnings. Her research often addresses the relationships between human agency, biology, and politics, exploring how scientific developments influence political and philosophical ideas.

Together, Coole and Frost have emphasized the importance of rethinking traditional materialist approaches, advocating for a more dynamic understanding of matter and materiality that incorporates insights from scientific advancements and cultural theory.

2) Contributions through Edited Volume

One of their most significant contributions to the field is the edited volume “New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics”. This work compiles essays from various thinkers who explore different aspects of New Materialism, pushing the boundaries of how materiality is understood in contemporary theory.

Overview of “New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics”

This volume addresses crucial topics within New Materialism, including:

  • Ontology: Revisiting the nature of being and existence, with a focus on how material conditions and realities shape ontology.
  • Agency: Redefining agency in a way that moves beyond human-centered perspectives to include the agentic capacities of non-human elements.
  • Politics: Examining the political implications of a materialist approach, particularly how power dynamics are embedded within material relations and how these relations can be mobilized for political action.

The contributions in this volume challenge the traditional materialist focus on the socio-economic sphere alone, expanding it to incorporate scientific, environmental, and technological dimensions. This holistic view encourages a more nuanced understanding of how materials act and interact in the shaping of political and social realities.

3) Impact and Integration of Their Ideas with Discourse Analysis

The ideas presented in “New Materialisms” have profound implications for discourse analysis:

  • Material Dimensions of Discourse: The volume encourages analysts to consider the material conditions that enable and constrain discursive practices. For instance, how technological media (like social media platforms) not only disseminate but also shape the form and content of discourse.
  • Agency of Discursive Elements: By highlighting the agency of non-human elements, this approach leads to examining how objects, texts, and technological artifacts participate in discourse, influencing and being influenced by human interactions.
  • Political Implications: Understanding the material bases of discourse allows analysts to better comprehend how discourses contribute to maintaining or challenging power structures. This perspective is crucial in analyzing political discourses, particularly in contexts such as media, law, and public policy.

Through their work, Diane Coole and Samantha Frost have helped carve a path for discourse analysts to engage more deeply with the material underpinnings of language and society, enhancing the analytical tools available to explore the complex interplay between words, things, and actions. Their edited volume serves as a foundational text for those looking to integrate New Materialist perspectives into discourse studies, urging a reevaluation of the taken-for-granted assumptions about materiality, agency, and the political life of discourse.

3. Jane Bennett

Jane Bennett is a prominent figure in the field of political theory and a key thinker in New Materialism, whose work has significantly influenced contemporary philosophical and ecological discussions. Her interdisciplinary approach draws from political theory, philosophy, and ethics, with a particular focus on the agency of non-human elements in political and social contexts.

1) Academic Background and Areas of Focus

Jane Bennett is a professor of political theory at Johns Hopkins University, and her research involves the study of material culture, environmental ethics, and the role of human and non-human forces in public life. Bennett’s work is deeply influenced by a range of thinkers, including Baruch Spinoza, Henry David Thoreau, and Gilles Deleuze, among others. Her focus extends to how things, as lively forces, affect human decisions, cultural practices, and governmental policies.

2) Vibrant Matter

“Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things” is one of Jane Bennett’s most influential works. In this book, she advances the idea that non-human materials are not just inert objects passively awaiting the imprint of human culture but are lively forces that affect, and are integral to, human life and the broader ecological system.

Main Themes in “Vibrant Matter”

  • Vital Materiality: Bennett challenges the traditional view that matter is lifeless by exploring the vibrant, lively capacities of non-human things—from food to electricity to metals and beyond. She argues that these materials have agency and can influence human actions and decisions.
  • Political Implications of Non-Human Agency: Bennett discusses how acknowledging the agency of non-human materials can lead to more responsible and ecologically sensitive politics. She emphasizes the ethical responsibility of humans to engage more thoughtfully with the non-human world.
  • Distributed Agency: A key theme in “Vibrant Matter” is the distribution of agency among human and non-human actors. Bennett proposes that agency is not solely a human attribute but is a shared endeavor, complicating traditional ethical and political models that focus solely on human actors.
  • Assemblages: Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari, Bennett speaks of assemblages or ad-hoc groupings of diverse elements, both human and non-human, that exert influence. These assemblages challenge the notion of individual autonomy in favor of a distributed, interconnected approach to understanding agency.

3) Integration with Discourse Analysis

Jane Bennett’s ideas from “Vibrant Matter” weave into discourse analysis by reshaping how materiality is conceptualized within discursive practices:

  • Material Agency in Discourse: Bennett’s concept of vibrant matter encourages discourse analysts to consider how non-human objects (like texts, technological devices, natural objects) participate in the creation and circulation of meaning, not merely as tools or backdrops but as active agents.
  • Discourses as Assemblages: By viewing discourses as assemblages, analysts can explore how discourses are not solely human constructions but are materially co-constituted. This view shifts focus from purely linguistic analysis to include the ways material conditions and objects shape and are shaped by discourse.
  • Ethical and Political Dimensions of Discourse: Understanding the agency of material forces leads to a more nuanced approach in analyzing the political and ethical implications of discourse. For instance, considering the role of media technologies in shaping public opinion involves acknowledging these technologies not just as channels but as active components with political potency.

Jane Bennett’s contributions provide discourse analysts with a framework to interrogate the intersections between material forces and discursive practices, revealing the dynamic interplay that shapes cultural and political life. This approach enriches discourse analysis by broadening the scope of what and who can influence discourse and by proposing a more complex understanding of agency.


The contributions of thinkers like Karen Barad, Diane Coole, Samantha Frost, and Jane Bennett have been instrumental in developing New Materialism as a vital approach within discourse analysis. Their work challenges the conventional dichotomies between subject and object, culture and nature, highlighting the dynamic and reciprocal relationships between materiality and discourse. By redefining agency as a property emerging from the interactions between human and non-human entities, these scholars encourage a broader understanding of how discourses operate and influence the material world. This approach not only expands theoretical horizons but also enhances practical analyses in various fields, urging scholars to consider the material dimensions of discursive practices in a more profound and integrated manner. Through their innovative perspectives, New Materialism offers robust conceptual tools to navigate and interpret the complex interplay of forces shaping our world, making it an indispensable framework in contemporary discourse analysis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Karen Barad and what is her main contribution to New Materialism?

Karen Barad is a physicist and feminist theorist known for her framework of Agential Realism, which integrates quantum physics with philosophical and feminist insights. Her work emphasizes the entanglement of matter and meaning, challenging traditional distinctions between the physical and discursive.

What is Agential Realism?

Agential Realism is a theoretical framework developed by Karen Barad that posits that the world is made up of entanglements of matter and meaning. It challenges the notion of pre-existing boundaries between the social and material, suggesting that agency is a result of the interaction between the two.

How do Diane Coole and Samantha Frost contribute to New Materialism?

Diane Coole and Samantha Frost are noted for their interdisciplinary approach and their edited volume “New Materialisms,” which broadens the scope of materialist discourse to include the interconnections between politics, science, and feminism. They emphasize the dynamic and active role of matter in political and social contexts.

What is the significance of the book “New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics”?

This book is significant for compiling contemporary thoughts in New Materialism, presenting essays that explore the implications of an active, powerful material world for politics, science, and ethics. It highlights the shift from traditional materialist views that focus primarily on economic conditions to more dynamic, interrelated understandings of matter and meaning.

What themes does Jane Bennett explore in her work “Vibrant Matter”?

In “Vibrant Matter,” Jane Bennett explores the concept of vital materiality, arguing that non-human materials exhibit vibrant, life-like qualities that can influence political and ethical behaviors. She promotes a holistic view of matter, suggesting that humans are not the only bearers of agency.

How does “Vibrant Matter” impact discourse analysis?

“Vibrant Matter” impacts discourse analysis by encouraging analysts to consider the role of non-human actors in the creation and interpretation of discourse. It challenges the focus on human-centered agency and suggests a broader, more inclusive view of interaction that includes material forces.

Can you explain the concept of intra-action from Karen Barad’s perspective?

Intra-action, a term coined by Karen Barad, redefines the traditional notion of interaction. Instead of seeing entities as separate individuals that meet, intra-action suggests that entities emerge through their interaction – they do not exist as separate until they intra-act.

What role does feminist theory play in New Materialism according to these authors?

Feminist theory plays a critical role in New Materialism by highlighting the material dimensions of gendered experiences and challenging the cultural narratives that separate material reality from human experience. It brings attention to the body and the material environment as active participants in the construction of gender and power relations.

How do these authors view the relationship between discourse and materiality?

These authors view discourse and materiality as deeply intertwined, with each constantly influencing and shaping the other. Discourse is not merely about linguistic or symbolic representation but involves material interactions that have tangible effects on the world.

What critiques have been leveled against New Materialism, particularly in the works of these authors?

Critics of New Materialism, including the works of Barad, Coole, Frost, and Bennett, often point to its potential for diminishing the role of human intention and agency by over-emphasizing the autonomy of matter. Others argue that its focus on materiality might overlook the complex socio-political contexts in which discourse and material interactions occur.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *