Expanding (On) the Ontological Turn
The ontological turn in social theory is a phenomenon of growing relevance, involving a number of disciplines (philosophy, political theory, sociology, geography, anthropology, humanities, STS, feminist studies, etc.) under a variety of labels (material turn, co-production, new materialism, affirmative biopolitics, speculative realism, etc.). In spite of significant differences in focus and approach, a broadening scholarship is gathering around recognizable tenets:
- a rejection of the traditional dualisms of modern and post-modern thinking (subject/object, language/matter, knowledge/world, etc.) in favour of accounts of reality as the contingent manifestation of an incessantly becoming, “vital” and agential materiality;
- the idea that the “real” and the “political” are directly connected, in the sense that the building blocks of reality are not given, manifesting themselves in multiple, and often contested, ways;
- a major concern for techno-scientific advancements, in respect to which both realist and constructionist accounts of the biophysical world and the human are deemed inadequate;
- a case for the emancipatory implications (for both humans and nonhumans) of non-dualist, post-humanist ontologies, and a farewell to critique as inconclusive, ineffective discourse deconstruction in favour of affirmative, embodied, “ontological” struggles.
The burgeoning success of the turn to ontology makes it difficult to raise fundamental criticisms. Most discussions focus on specific points of contention without questioning the received wisdom. The session aims to promote a more open debate, collecting contributions which, through literature discussion or case studies, address the conceptual and empirical, theoretical and political, strengths and weaknesses of the ontological turn.