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Resistance, Materiality and the Spectre of Cartesianism. A Contribution to the Critique of Feminist New Materialism.

Journal article
Authors Evelina Johansson Wilén
Carl Wilén
Published in Journal of Resistance Studies
Volume 4
Issue 2
Pages 54-83
ISSN 2001-9947
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Department of Sociology and Work Science
Pages 54-83
Language en
Subject categories Philosophy, Ethics and Religion, Sociology


An important camp within the emerging field of resistance studies has been characterised by a tendency to study and theorise matters of culture, language, and discourse at the expense of matter itself. For researchers interested in feminist resistance, feminist new materialism – with its focus on the entanglements of ‘natureculture’, matter, the body, sexual difference, agency, and change – might appear to offer productive theoretical tools that can help shift the focus towards materiality. Through a reading of selected works of influential feminist new materialists, this article critically analyses how resistance can be articulated within the theoretical scope of feminist new materialism. While the authors agree with the identified gains of a material turn within resistance studies and in relation to feminist resistance, it is shown that new materialism is of little help in this regard. In a first step, it is argued that the new materialist attempt to undermine the modern and postmodern forms of Cartesian dualism ends up reproducing its fundamental premise through the equation of difference and independence on the one hand, and of identity and unity on the other. In a second step, the authors argue that the failed attempt to challenge Cartesian dualism gives rise to two theoretical problems with important implications for feminist resistance. On the one hand, in its efforts to transcend older versions of materiality as unalterable and constant, feminist new materialism comes to privilege change and the register of historical specificity at the expense of limits and the register of the transhistorical, in a way that disguises resistance rooted in the relatively stable condition of vulnerability. On the other hand, in its attempt to supersede the difference between nature and humanity by granting agency to matter, feminist new materialism is led to sacrifice intentional action in a way that undermines core aspects of the emerging field of resistance studies.

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