New Materialisms: Nature, Culture, Environment

Professor: Stacey Balkan
Institution: Florida Atlantic University
Course Number: CST7309

Course description:
Interest in matter—its entanglements in human and more-than-human ecologies—has lately increased amongst scholars in the Humanities eager to exercise a “more ecological sensibility” (Bennett). Feminist philosopher Elizabeth Grosz has proposed that we view nature “in terms of dynamic forces, fields of transformation and upheaval, rather than as a static fixity, passive, worked over, transformed and dynamized only by culture” (Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power, 2005). Part of a cluster of thinkers who constitute the New Materialist turn of the early twenty-first century, Grosz and others aim to unsettle the partitioning of human and nonhuman matter so central to
modern intellectual practice.

The so-called Cartesian revolution of the early modern period, articulated in René Descartes’s 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy, is often credited with enabling new taxonomic categories—primary and secondary expressions of matter, subject and object, Human and Nature— that would make possible the exploitation of natural resources and the human communities imaginatively tethered to them. Less a formal species designation than a restrictive category denoting a small segment of the population, the “Human” as such is a vexed referent for a particular type—European, male—against which the category of the nonhuman is made possible. As a course in New Materialisms, such categories—human and nonhuman, animate and inanimate—will be our central preoccupation. We will read broadly and across disciplinary divides as we seek to understand the place of the no-longer-embodied human in the Anthropocene. We thus begin with a brief overview of our dystopian present, and the role of what Didier Debaise calls the “cosmology of the moderns,” before moving on to discussions about the agency, ontology, and nature of matter.

As this is a course not in “New Materialism” but “New Materialisms,” we will ultimately move beyond the initiating categories of the field to explore materialist critiques of energy and the networks of extraction and consumption that fuel “modern” culture. We will then close the semester with various dispatches from the “World of Matter” collective along with a few useful guides to “world-making” in the Anthropocene (Streeby). Course readings will include work by Stacy Alaimo, A.R. Ammons, Jane Bennett, William Connelly, Diana Coole, John Bellamy Foster, Samantha Frost, Donna Haraway, Eben Kirksey, Andreas Malm, Karl Marx, Jamaal May, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Muriel Rukeyser, and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.

ASLE_Syllabi_Balkan_New Materialisms (PDF)