New Materialism

I approach this week’s reading on New Materialism with deep understanding of the work of Anne Fausto-Sterling. As such I feel most comfortable to direct my thoughts to the Samantha Frost chapter “The Implications of the New Materialisms
for Feminist Epistemology”.

The introductory paragraphs touch on the interesting history that feminism has had with corporeality.  Many early feminist writers expressed the need to move away from the physical body as the site of gender formation, moving gender into the realm of the social. I do not believe that this movement was ever intended to negate the impact of the biologically sexed world that exists, but to draw attention away from it long enough to introduce the concept of socially constructed gender and non-conforming physical bodies. With ‘New’ Materialism it seems that feminism is providing a space for the corporeal to exist again, but this time it is more than existing, it is granted a “distinctive kind” of agency. Upon first reading of this agency I became concerned that feminism was opening a higher-level philosophical question traditional left in the space of cognitive philosophers, rather than wishing to engage the body in interactions of political empowerment. New materialism expands the previous discourse involving the inscription of social constructs (and meaning) upon the body to include how the body is involved in this process itself. As Frost quotes Elizabeth Grosz, “what these bodies are such that inscription is possible, what it is in the nature of bodies, in biological evolution, that opens them up to cultural transcription, social immersion, and production, that is, to political, cultural, and conceptual evolution.” A question this brings to mind is: what inhibits the bodies from rejecting the inscription of cultural meaning? The primary concept that I draw from the new materialism framework is not allowing feminism to become stuck in the same cultural trap that other disciplines fall into. Why do we have to seek answers as being either cultural or biological? That method of thinking is too simplistic, too narrow to provide productive understanding of the processes which have led to the social problems that feminists seek to solve. At this point many fields have accepted that their simple models with simple explanations are not capable of fully answering questions, so it is reasonable that feminism would accept more possibilities as well. The attributes “complex, recursive and multi-linear” seem more like something that would be discussed in a computer science class than in feminism, but as Frost states, feminists need to retool to continue making useful contributions to theoretical frameworks regarding the construction of the body (and specifically gender).