Karen Barad
Karen Michelle Barad

(1956-04-29) 29 April 1956 (age 65)
Alma materStony Brook University
Notable work
Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolContinental philosophy
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Santa Cruz
Main interests
Theoretical physics, feminist theory
Notable ideas
Agential realism

Karen Michelle Barad (/bəˈrɑːd/; born 29 April 1956)[3] is an American feminist theorist, known particularly for their theory of agential realism.


They are currently Professor of Feminist Studies, Philosophy, and History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz.[4] They are the author of Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.[5][6] Their research topics include feminist theory, physics, twentieth-century continental philosophy, epistemology, ontology, philosophy of physics, cultural studies of science, and feminist science studies.

Barad earned their doctorate in theoretical physics at Stony Brook University. Their dissertation presented computational methods for quantifying properties of quarks, and other fermions, and in the framework of lattice gauge theory.

Barad serves on the advisory board for the feminist academic journals Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.[7][8]

Agential realism

According to Barad's theory of agential realism, the universe comprises phenomena, which are "the ontological inseparability of intra-acting agencies". Intra-action, a neologism introduced by Barad, signals an important challenge to individualist metaphysics. For Barad, phenomena or objects do not precede their interaction, rather, 'objects' emerge through particular intra-actions. Thus, apparatuses, which produce phenomena, are not assemblages of humans and nonhumans (as in actor-network theory). Rather, they are the condition of possibility of 'humans' and 'non-humans', not merely as ideational concepts, but in their materiality. Apparatuses are 'material-discursive' in that they produce determinate meanings and material beings while simultaneously excluding the production of others. What it means to matter is therefore always material-discursive. Barad takes their inspiration from physicist Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum physics. Barad's agential realism is at once an epistemology (theory of knowing), an ontology (theory of being), and an ethics. For this, Barad introduces the neologism ontoepistemology. Because specific practices of mattering have ethical consequences, excluding other kinds of mattering, onto-epistemological practices are always in turn onto-ethico-epistemological.

Much of Barad's scholarly work has revolved around their concept of "agential realism," and their theories hold importance for many academic fields, including science studies, STS (Science, Technology, and Society), feminist technoscience, philosophy of science, feminist theory, and, of course, physics. In addition to Bohr, their work draws on the works of thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, and Walter Benjamin, among others.

Barad's original training was in theoretical particle physics and quantum field theory. Their book, Meeting the Universe Halfway, (2007), includes a chapter that contains an original discovery in theoretical physics, which is largely unheard of in books that are usually categorized as 'gender studies' or 'cultural theory' books[citation needed]. In this book, Barad also argues that 'agential realism,' is useful to the analysis of literature, social inequalities, and many other things. This claim is based on the fact that Barad's agential realism is a way of understanding the politics, ethics, and agencies of any act of observation, and indeed any kind of knowledge practice. According to Barad, the deeply connected way that each "thing" is entangled with everything else in materially specific ways means that all intra-actions reconfigure the entanglements. Barad's innovative and far-reaching formulation of intra-action, which challenges the usual notion of interaction which assumes a metaphysics of individualism, offers a new formulation of causality. There are not things that interact but rather through and within intra-actions there is a differentiating-entangling so that an agential cut is enacted that cuts things together-apart (one move) such that differences exist not as absolute separations but in their inseparability (i.e., "agential separability" as Barad calls it). Nothing is inherently separate from anything else, but separations are enacted within phenomena. This view of knowledge provides a framework for thinking about how culture and habits of thought can make some things visible and other things easier to ignore or to never see. For this reason, according to Barad, agential realism is useful for feminist analysis and other forms of political and social thought, even if the connection to science is not apparent.

Barad's framework makes several other arguments, and some of them are part of larger trends in fields such as science studies and feminist technoscience (all can be found in her 2007 book, Meeting the Universe Halfway):

These points on science, agency, ethics, and knowledge reveal that Barad's work is similar to the projects of other science studies scholars such as Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, Andrew Pickering, and Evelyn Fox Keller.

Selected bibliography


Chapters in books

Journal articles

See also


  1. ^ Dolphijn, Rick; Tuin, Iris van der (1 January 2013). New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Open Humanities Press. ISBN 9781607852810.
  2. ^ Barad, Karen (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press. pp. ix–xiii. ISBN 9780822388128.
  3. ^ "Barad, Karen Michelle". Library of Congress. Retrieved 20 February 2015. (Karen Barad) data view (theoretical physicist; b. Apr. 29, 1956)
  4. ^ "Feminist Studies: Karen Barad". University of California, Santa Cruz.
  5. ^ Barad, Karen (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822339175.
  6. ^ "Activities: matterrealities (workshop), Karen Barad @ Lancaster, 5-7 November 2007, with art by Fiona Jane Candy, Paul Coulton, Irene Janze, Jennifer Sheridan". Palcom.
  7. ^ "People". catalystjournal.org. Retrieved 2017-08-22.
  8. ^ "Masthead". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 2012-08-22. Retrieved 2017-08-22.