Synopses & Reviews
In Vibrant Matter
the political theorist Jane Bennett, renowned for her work on nature, ethics, and affect, shifts her focus from the human experience of things to things themselves. Bennett argues that political theory needs to do a better job of recognizing the active participation of nonhuman forces in events. Toward that end, she theorizes a “vital materiality” that runs through and across bodies, both human and nonhuman. Bennett explores how political analyses of public events might change were we to acknowledge that agency always emerges as the
effect of ad hoc configurations of human and nonhuman forces. She suggests that recognizing that agency is distributed this way, and is not solely the province of humans, might spur the cultivation of a more responsible, ecologically sound politics: a politics less devoted to blaming and condemning individuals than to discerning the web of forces affecting situations and events.
Bennett examines the political and theoretical implications of vital materialism through extended discussions of commonplace things and physical phenomena including stem cells, fish oils, electricity, metal, and trash. She reflects on the vital power of material formations such as landfills, which generate lively streams of chemicals, and omega-3 fatty acids, which can transform brain chemistry and mood. Along the way, she engages with the concepts and claims of Spinoza, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Darwin, Adorno, and Deleuze, disclosing a long history of thinking about vibrant matter in Western philosophy, including attempts by Kant, Bergson, and the embryologist Hans Driesch to name the “vital force” inherent in material forms. Bennett concludes by sketching the contours of a “green materialist” ecophilosophy.
“Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter is an important work, linking critical movements in recent continental philosophy, namely a vitalist tradition that runs from Bergson to Deleuze and even, on Bennett’s reading, to Bruno Latour, and (on the other hand) a ‘political ecology of things’ that should speak to anyone conscious enough to be aware of the devastating changes underway in the world around us. There is good reason Bennett’s book has, in short order, gained a wide following in disparate areas of political theory and philosophy.” - Peter Gratton, Philosophy in Review
“For the sake of assuaging harms already inflicted we have always cobbled together publics that deal with vibrant matters of floods, fires, earthquakes and so on. For the sake of preventing unseen future harms, Bennett’s book argues that we need to take a closer look at how we are embedded in a web of mutual affect that knows no bounds between living and nonliving, human and nonhuman. It is in this refreshingly naïve ‘no-holds-barred’ approach that Bennett’s work has much to offer for a reconsideration of our role as thinking, speaking humans in a cosmos of vibrant matter that we continually depoliticize even in our efforts to ‘protect’ and ‘save’ the earth . . . a highly recommended read.” - Stefan Morales, M/C Reviews
Theorizes the political agency of things and natural phenomena—such as trash, food, weather, and electricity—to examine how non-human elements exert force on human politics and social relations.
About the Author
“Vibrant Matter is a fascinating, lucid, and powerful book of political theory. By focusing on the ‘thing-side of affect,’ Jane Bennett seeks to broaden and transform our sense of care in relation to the world of humans, non-human life, and things. She calls us to consider a ‘parliament of things’ in ways that provoke our democratic imaginations and interrupt our anthropocentric hubris.”—Romand Coles, author of Beyond Gated Politics: Reflections for the Possibility of Democracy“Vibrant Matter represents the fruits of sustained scholarship of the highest order. As environmental, technological, and biomedical concerns force themselves onto worldly political agendas, the urgency and potency of this analysis must surely inform any rethinking of what political theory is about in the twenty-first century.”—Sarah Whatmore, coeditor of The Stuff of Politics: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life“This manifesto for a new materialism is an invigorating breath of fresh air. Jane Bennett’s eloquent tribute to the vitality and volatility of things is just what we need to revive the humanities and to redraw the parameters of political thought.”—Rita Felski, author of Uses of Literature