Interrogating the founding gestures of the new materialism

Dennis Bruining

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In this article, I aim to further thinking in the broadly ‘new materialist’ field by insisting it attends to some ubiquitous assumptions. More specifically, I critically interrogate what Sara Ahmed has termed ‘the founding gestures of the “new materialism”’. These founding rhetorical gestures revolve around a perceived neglect of the matter of materiality in ‘postmodernism’ and ‘poststructuralism’ and are meant to pave the way for new materialism’s own conception of matter-in/of-the-world. I argue in this article that an engagement with the postmodern critique of language as constitutive, as well as the poststructuralist critique of pure self-presence, does not warrant these founding gestures to be so uncritically rehearsed. Moreover, I demonstrate that texts which rely on these gestures, or at least the ones I discuss in this article, are not only founded on a misrepresentation of postmodern and poststructuralist thought, but are also guilty of repeating the perceived mistakes of which they are critical, such as upholding the language/ matter dichotomy. I discuss a small selection of texts that make use of those popular rhetorical gestures to juxtapose the past that is invoked with a more nuanced reading of that past. My contention is that if ‘the founding gestures of the “new materialism”’ are not addressed, the complexity of the postmodern and poststructuralist positions continues to be obscured, with damaging consequences for the further development of the emerging field of new materialism, as well as our understanding of cultural theory’s past.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-40
Number of pages20
JournalCultural Studies Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • new materialism
  • constructionism
  • representationalism
  • materiality
  • poststructuralist feminism


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