text/html; charset=UTF-8"> Barad vol 1
A Critical Discussion of Barad Vol. I:
The Quantum, the Queer and the Qualitative
Dave Harris

There are versions of this piece on Researchgate and Academia: DOI:


 ‘Did you never study atomics when you were a lad?’ asked the Sergeant, giving me a look of great inquiry and surprise.
‘No,’ I answered.
‘That is a very serious defalcation,’ he said, ‘but all the same I will tell you the size of it. Everything is composed of small particles of itself and they are flying around in concentric circles and arcs and segments and innumerable other geometrical figures too numerous to mention collectively, never standing still resting but spinning away and darting hither and thither and back again, all the time on the go. These diminutive gentleman are called atoms. Do you follow me intelligently?’
...‘you can safely infer that you are made of atoms yourself and so is your fob pocket and the tail of your shirt and the instrument you use for taking the leavings at the crook of your hollow tooth. Do you happen to know what takes place when you strike a bar of iron with a good coal hammer or with a blunt instrument?’
...‘Ask a blacksmith for the true answer and he will tell you that the bar will dissipate itself away by degrees if you persevere with the hard wallops. Some of the atoms of the bar will go into the hammer and the other half into the table or the stone or the particular article that is underneath the bottom of the bar'....
‘The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles'....
‘When a man lets things go so far that he is half or more than half a bicycle, you will not see so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at curb stones…‘The behaviour of a bicycle that has a high content of humanity,’ he said, is very cunning and entirely remarkable. ...[He/it] will walk smartly always and never sit down and he will lean against the wall with his elbow out and stay like that all night in his kitchen instead of going to bed. If he walks too slowly or stops in the middle of the road he will fall down in a heap and will have to be lifted and set in motion again by some extraneous party’
O’Brien, F (2007) The Third Policeman. London: Harper Perennial pp 85–92
Introduction and Apology

Barad’s work (Barad 2007, 2014) seems to have emerged as a favourite approach for qualitative researchers pursuing theoretical inputs, especially those in Education. Deleuze was once popular, and certain readings of deleuzian philosophy might well have pointed to similar posthumanist conclusions, but these had been neglected in the most common readings in qualitative research in favour of a humanist approach that stressed the creativity of human subjectivity. It is Barad's work that seems to have had the most influence so far, however. This is especially surprising, since Barad writes about science, previously held to be unable to grasp much of the qualitative dimensions of social life, at least without distortion.

I have set out to critically evaluate aspects of the work of Karen Barad and of those who have followed her. I am aware that trying to pursue a critical evaluation might disqualify me from the start, since there are arguments in Barad's work that such critique really belongs to the old notions of knowledge production dominated by naive positivism and male power relations. I think this approach ignores critical approaches like ‘immanent critique’, as argued below. The implication seems to be that we should just 'apply' Barad's concepts, although I find myself necessarily wanting to interrogate them first and make sure I do have an accurate understanding of what she might mean by terms like 'entanglement' or 'diffraction'. Without such an attempt at accuracy, applying her work seems to be little different from what has been called 'incantatory' writing, where somehow the spirit of Barad is just evoked. There is also the problem of theorising by homonymy, where the words in Barad's account are taken to be identical with the words in one's own understandings of events or arguments.

It might be necessary therefore to issue a kind of trigger warning that I will be developing a critical approach. I am a male. I am a conventional academic (retired). I do not wish anyone supporting Barad to feel in any way vulnerable. Nevertheless, I cannot accept that that intersectional identity automatically disqualifies me from being able to comment. It follows that in my view academic comment is not the same as personal comment, and that is perfectly possible to admire and respect individual writers while interrogating their work, and anyone reading Barad must be impressed by the depth of her scholarship. I draw here upon the Popperian tradition that argues that attempting to falsify people's work is more profitable in terms of cognitive gain than endlessly confirming it. The best example of this tradition, perhaps, is provided by the work of Martyn Hammersley (see for example Hammersley 1992, 2013; Hammersley & Traianoua  2014) who attempts to question the 'validity claims' in a wide range of educational research. I think this is constructive, because no one produces perfectly valid arguments, and pointing out where they might be repaired is entirely helpful.

I am particularly influenced by the notion of 'immanent critique', which tries to get to the bottom of claims to the strength of arguments of all kinds, not just empirical ones, but theoretical and philosophical ones as well. The technique is to interrogate claims made, to ask about the adequacy of those claims, to suggest implications, some of which might be unintended, that might follow from the claims, and, only then, if at all, to suggest alternatives. In this case, I have asked myself questions about matters such as the coherence of particular definitions, whether there are universal implications of using terms derived from quantum theory to explain social life irrespective of scale, or what the ethical implications of Barad's arguments actually might be in practice.

Of course this could be understood as still doing symbolic violence to Baradian work, but the symbolic violence is inevitable unless we are just to reproduce Barad’s texts. The form  that you find in academic life is not necessarily connected to the kind of male violence you find in family relations: I have argued myself that it is more like the kind of licensed and restrained violence found in contact sports, obviously with the assumption that this is not for everybody. I personally prefer more formal discussions where there is a neutral chair or referee to rule out any inappropriately personal criticism should it arise. It is inevitable that any critique, no matter how positive, also makes claims to superior understanding or validity, and one should be prepared for counter critique, or even help it by being as open as possible about background assumptions. In my case, this includes providing links to fuller summaries of various pieces (in the References section) which I have located on my personal website, so that anyone interested can open up my comments here to wider investigation.

Finally, I am aware that this discussion does not take the conventional form of a journal article. It is much longer, and summaries are more extensive. I might transform it into one (or two) conventional articles, but I am retired and have little appetite for that task at the moment. Any feedback at this stage would be very welcome.

I have subdivided the arguments into separate sections for convenience and to invite selective reading:

Section 1 The quantum world

Section 2 Machines
Section 3 Animals
Section 4 Sociology of Work
Section 5 Ethics and Difference
Section 6 Foundationalism

Volume II focuses on diffraction and examines Barad herself, and a number of diffractive readings

Section 1: The quantum world
Barad seems to have tried out the themes of her book in several earlier articles, such as Barad (2003). Much of Barad (2007) relates in more depth and detail the intriguing development of modern quantum theory, summarising the contributions of various of the main contributors in the early stages, and focusing especially on Böhr, the subject of her PhD and her ‘interlocutor over the years ‘ (Barad 2007, p. xi). This presents the reader with an immediate formidable task to grasp what must be for many of us very unfamiliar material and very unfamiliar forms of argument. Barad does her best to popularise, obviously at the expense of leaving out the clearly important but particularly inaccessible mathematical modelling that seems to have been involved, but this will inevitably become her own representation of quantum physics. We are very much in her hands, unlikely to be able to comment externally with our own informed readings and dependent on other popular representations, for example Penrose (2016), Cox & Forshaw (2012) Al-Khalili (nd), New Scientist eg Henderson (2018), and online sources such as Freiberger (2012). Barad (2016) suggests some more popular and accessible readings herself, including New Scientist and Wikipedia.

All of these accounts raise an immediate problem of the language to use to describe both the quantum and the normal macro world. Physicists will use mathematical models among themselves, of course, but the mathematical possibilities do not correspond precisely to ordinary states described in ordinary language. The Schrödinger wave equation, for example, seems crucial in understanding energy levels in the peculiar quantum world, and supporting concepts like ‘superposition’, but it is expressed in an equation which is highly inaccessible to non-mathematicians, with its combination of constants and ‘complex numbers’. Freiberger (2012) tells us that this equation ‘generally doesn't represent a straightforward wave in three-dimensional space...[and]...the question remains whether there is some sort of physical wave associated to it.’ Overall, she recommends that ‘it's best to suspend your intuition about what it really means to say that a particle behaves like a wave’. It is waves in the macro world, in light or in water, that have led to more popular understandings of terms like ‘interference’ and ‘ diffraction’, although other properties are less well discussed – refraction (see below), and also absorption, polarisation and scattering. Even there physicists might prefer to describe wave characteristics in terms of an equation. It is clear that there is normally substantial mathematical modelling involved.

There seems to be a tradition of playfully invoking ordinary terms to address quantum complexity, as Barad’s subsequent work shows:  there are the Joycean roots of the term ‘quark’, and both Barad (nd) and Barad (2017) tell us that Feynman described the behaviour of electrons as ‘immoral’  or as indicating ‘perversions’ for example. Barad (nd, p. 14) herself says she turned increasingly to 'different narrative registers' especially 'poetics as a mode of expression', and sees this as not moving away from thinking rigorously, but rather luring us to 'engaging the force of imagination in its materiality'. Other scientists like Bacon also used poetic imagery, Barad tells us, and we need imagination to sense the insensible and the indeterminate, to appreciate and help us touch 'the imaginings of materiality itself in its ongoing thought’. Conversely, she also explains that we have to acquire a technical language to fully grasp the arguments — 'I'm not making up my own metaphorical terms to help make this [mathematical procedures to manage infinite possibilities] more accessible' (nd p. 13).

It would surely be misleading to argue that poetic language alone was instrumental in scientific discovery. There remains an additional problem of playfulness or rhetorical flourishes (including personification and hyperbole), however, when we read statements such as that the past 'is literally swirling around with the radioactivity in the ocean [off Fukushima] ' (Barad 2017, p74).  Presumably she meant ‘literally’ poetically, not literally. These are literary flourishes necessary to communicate to a nonspecialist audience in the modern era, via a popular book, but ambiguity is one result.

The key issue of anthropomorphism focuses the discussion best, and I am not clear how to understand arguments like the ones she advances in her discussion of starfish (see Section 3 below), or in Barad (2014, p. 178) that there is  'an uncanny topology: no smooth surfaces, willies everywhere’, or whether calling electrons ‘queer particles’ (over several pieces) is sufficient to establish a link between quantum indeterminacy and human sexual indeterminacy, and if so, what kind of link it is. The same goes for frequent references to Derrida, hauntology, ghosts and difference: it is tempting to read them as simply metaphorical, but  Barad (2003, 2016) cites ‘materialist’ readings of Derrida which have influenced her, and says that consequently the results of the ‘which-slit’ experiments provide 'empirical evidence for a hauntology' (2016, p. 71).

There are many passages where ‘Nature’ is given a human character -- 'the vacuum is flush with yearning, bursting with innumerable imaginings of what could be', for example (Barad 2016, p. 13). There are occasions when scientific notions are directly replaced with human ones as a kind of more abstract personification – a pre-determined sequence of events in a laboratory is replaced with a comment that this is the same as the human notions of 'yesterday, today, and tomorrow' (Barad 2017, p. 67) or that explanations for the ways in which matter might be generated by fluctuation in the quantum vacuum can be seen as some sort of an explanation for  ‘birth, life and death’ (2017, p 78).

These examples play a central part in the entire work.  Specific sections are discussed below where Barad offers seeming contradictions and incoherencies as she moves between the human and the non-human, but the whole deployment of different registers, scientific and poetic, is what really carries the argument: we are told that 'all time–beings mourn', (Barad 2017, p. 86), that starfish philosophise, above all that Nature or matter is ‘agential’, possibly implying ‘capable of acting as an agent in the human sense’, although we might need to add ‘in effect’. This may be poetic licence, or it may be that a serious reductionism and denial of difference (ironically enough) is being smuggled in – detailed discussion is necessary.

The differences between the language of mathematics and science and ordinary language cannot be ignored because this risks what Lacan (1968, p. 9) called ‘argument by homonym’. This assumes that the same words mean the same thing in both specialist academic approaches and ordinary accounts. This possibility seems chronic in much of what follows. Insisting on using only our own familiar ordinary language will mean we must rely on metaphor, analogy, homonymy or interpretation. This introduces inevitably subjective judgments involving similarity, as Deleuze (2004) argued. As one example, the term 'complex' in the mathematical term 'complex numbers', mentioned above, has a specialist meaning not captured by the usual understandings of 'complex', but the similarities in terms can conceal this difference.  These tropes might also generate a sense of mystery and uncertainty as well. The discussion below suggests instead that we might need specialist languages instead, not only for the quantum world but in describing interaction with animals and machines.

To return to Barad’s summary,  Böhr’s quantum theory seems to offer some very challenging ontological arguments, especially those arising from experimental results where particles can be in two places at once -- 'ontological indeterminacy' — and Barad describes a number of experiments concerning the famous ‘2-slit’ observations that imply that electrons, for example, can exist both as particles and as wave functions: while particles produce characteristic 'bar' shapes, waves produce diffraction patterns in the recording apparatus when they overlap, giving Barad one of her main terms.

Overall, Barad gives Böhr the last word in the ensuing debates in the 2007 book, although she has subsequently discussed some alternatives (see Hollin et al. 2017). Some details are provided as we go through. She insists that it is not possible to disentangle, practically or conceptually, quantum particles, observations and the human-designed apparatus used to organise and perform the observations. ‘Entanglement’ has a specialist meaning in quantum theory, it seems, but it becomes a general term for Barad, possibly interchangeable with ‘intra-action’. We can only isolate aspects of this complex reality locally in order to intervene in some way to gain knowledge or take action – making an ‘agential cut’.

Böhr seems to have used a term common in philosophy at the time to capture this entanglement – we can only work with ‘phenomena’, things-as-they-appear-to-us, to use modern terminology. This postponed the problem of dividing the real from the subjective, as we shall see. The term clearly points in two directions – an idealist philosophy which investigates the structures of consciousness that create the real for us, like Husserl (1973), or a materialism which grants matter itself some agency in producing phenomena. Barad replaces Böhr’s ‘ideological’ commitment to human consciousness altogether with a more materialist ontology that also includes non-human agents, who lack consciousness, so that reality constitutes itself, and generates non-human agential cuts both to separate some characteristics from the entanglements and to unite others – ‘cutting apart-together’. (There is another interpretation of Böhr’s ‘philosophical turn’ as prioritising calculation, as we shall see.) There is an inevitable material entanglement of relata and relations, so profound that the two terms ‘constitute’ each other, not just logically but ontologically. She claims her work will complete Böhr’s ontology, in an approach that will feature heavily in subsequent work developing diffractive approaches, as we shall see. Barad makes clear that she is not naive enough to think she is being simply 'faithful to Böhr' but is diffracting his work 'through my agential realist understanding'.

Barad’s work generally acknowledges influences from earlier physicists, from social theorists including Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida and from current feminists. Barad (2014, p.186) begins by noting that 'Diffraction owes as much to a thick legacy of feminist theorising about difference as it does to physics'.  There is much wide-ranging scholarship to admire, and her commentary on Derrida is interesting enough to be included in a specialist Derrida journal (Barad 2010). There is some uncertainty about the actual sequence in which the works were read: Barad (2014) says that her work is situated 'in physics, feminist theory and feminist science studies' now, but her discussions in Santa Cruz (with feminists in the late 1980s) were more preliminary although she had already half finished writing the 2007 book. The 2003 article covers the main ground for the book too. Both Levinas and Derrida were first read by colleagues, diffractively of course, to develop a more compatible materialism (Barad nd).  Barad would perhaps deny there is any significance in the chronological sequence, and ‘diffractive reading’ can range back and forth in time,‘re-turning’ to earlier work to reformulate it and thicken description.

Whether later readings can ever be completely conceptually innocent is in doubt though. Some commentators refer to revisiting and rereading earlier work: for example, we 'read Whitehead today' taking into account 20th century physics and post-modern concerns (Sehgal 2014). This is inevitable, but it might also be seen as offering a methodological problem in accessing what earlier works might have meant at the time, missing a chance to encounter difference by installing older arguments under newer ones, somehow completing them, as if there were some underlying progress to the truth to be detected. The usual acts of interpretation are undesirable if they translate the terms of one account into terms in a more privileged colonialising one, but the issue is whether this special non-hierarchical diffractive reading escapes that tendency – further discussion ensues in Vol II.  It is unclear whether all the people Barad diffractively reads have actually discussed her work with her.

Barad’s later work extends the 2007 arguments by referring to more recent work in quantum theory and Quantum Field Theory (QFT). Barad makes the arguments as clear as possible for non-specialists, especially in Barad (2017), with the aid of useful diagrams, and she supplies additional reading, but there is no practicable independent way for non-specialists to assess her conclusions, of course. She extends superposition to involve states in time and well as space, which means that the usual concept of linear time are ’troubled’, although this might have been apparent already from popular readings of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which QFT apparently incorporates . For me, the most insightful part turned on discussions of the void or vacuum (Barad nd) and the quantum version which radicalises the conventional implication of nothingness. It seems the quantum vacuum features vibrations which actually produce (probably ‘co-constitute’ is better) a number of particles, both actual and virtual, which in principle continue to interact ad infinitum. Barad uses this astounding theory to advocate that touching is a universal constituent of mattering, which clearly extends to human touching and implications for self-other relations. However, I saw it as raising the issue of connections with deleuzian notions of the virtual and the immanent, and how material actualises from it, which DeLanda (2002) has described as operating in the more conventional terms of complexity theory.

The real issue is what sort of reading Barad’s is. It looks on the surface to be a classic example of interpretation of various authors, seeing each as offering a partial account of a more general process. We can see how this is done in Barad (2007) in more detail below. In later work, Böhr and Anzaldúa both reveal 'a contingent iterative performativity’ as the key general concept joining their work (Barad 2014, pp. 173–4), even though they are writing at different times and on different topics. More direct comparisons are also made – F. Grimaldi (1618–63) 'observes diffraction fringes — bands of light inside the edge of the shadow', with no sharp boundary separating light from dark, and, since Anzaldúa also describes colonisation in terms of darkness and light, they are somehow united. Barad (2017) renders similar:  Derrida on hauntology (also discussed in Barad 2010) , quantum theory on superposition in time and space, and the Japanese novelist Kyoko Hayashi’s technique of describing events non-chronologically and non-geographically – ‘travel hopping’ (Hayashi, 2010) . An argument based on the endless deferral and evocation of language, on experimental findings in a science laboratory, and in an imaginative part-fictional part-autobiographical narrative using rather common ‘broken narrative’ techniques are all somehow leading in the same direction. A key issue is whether Barad implies that it is the behaviour of subatomic particles that has directly influenced Derrida and Hayashi, or determined the actions of all of us,  just as the quantum vacuum produces material by ‘self-touching intra-action’ (2017, p. 79). More examples follow.

Barad herself still refers to interpretation in science: 'results in science are never incontrovertible, but rather are always open to question and to multiple interpretations and to the possibility of a reinterpretation' (2007, p. 310). Apparently, she even agrees that agential realism is '"vulnerable to empirical results… [and] could ultimately be proven wrong"' (quoted in Hollin et al 2017). Other physicists, like Penrose (2016, p.125), insist that with an impressive accumulation of observational data, conformity to mathematical models with a high degree of precision, and support from leading scientists: ‘the dogma [sic] of quantum mechanics is often taken for absolute truth, so that any phenomenon of nature is necessarily regarded as having to conform to it’. However, Penrose argues at some length that ‘[problems] cannot be dismissed at all lightly and that there should be, indeed, a profound limit to our quantum faith’ (p.126). To anticipate a point lower down about incoherence, quantum theory still seems testable, although it is less likely that the ‘thick legacy of feminist theorising’ is.

Barad does not offer us much discussion of the specific social or political factors that affect interpretations, including any that she might have incorporated into her diffractive reading, despite her background in ‘feminist science studies’, although there is a brief account of their impact on the  Stern-Gerlach experiments (see below), and she provides some autobiographical material on her own social background in the Preface and Acknowledgements to Barad ( 2007). Hollin et al (2017, p 1), for example, can see ‘frictions and unacknowledged affinities with science and technology studies [STS]’ here, and, as a result, ‘Barad’s uptake within this community has been patchy’ (10). Other theorists do seem to have been influenced by social contexts for Baradians – Whitehead, for example, can be forgiven his non-standpoint and impersonal  formal and scholastic ‘objective’ style (Sehgal 2014),  because he was conforming to the conventions of the day in order to engage in public debate, and those defects  can now be repaired by more feminist preferences. Even Böhr’s critical insights into the quantum world, seem to have been limited by his own humanist ideology and Heisenberg’s by his confused thinking (Barad 2010) but this is not explored. Barad’s own intellectual history and biographical details are provided in her Acknowledgments (Barad 2007, pp. ix--xiii) and provide general information about her commitments.

On more sociological matters, Barad does acknowledge that quantum physics is 'deeply entangled with the military-industrial complex' (2017, p.60), while ‘Newtonian physics helped consolidate and give scientific credence to colonialist endeavours' (Barad 2017, p 77). Some of the political and moral aspects of the discussions between Böhr and Heisenberg in 1940 are also mentioned in the general and abstract context of showing that physics and ethics are intertwined, via a discussion of a play by M Frayn based on their meeting (Barad 2007, pp. 3—24, 2010). Current ideological uses do not totally affect the theory at the familiar ‘pure’ level, though: ‘quantum physics opens up radical spaces for exploring the possibilities of change from inside hegemonic systems of domination' (p. 61). As it is, quantum physics seems to have appeared just under the force of its own cognitive power, unconstrained at the pure level by any of the usual social and political factors (except for Stern and Gerlach).

Böhr and recent quantum theory

Böhr was working in the 1920s –40s (he died in 1962) , and it is an obvious question to ask where his particular solutions are located now in the more recent history of quantum theory. This is clearly a specialist field, and, as before, I can only rely on the more popular accounts. What follows is heavily dependent on articles in New Scientist, Penrose (2016), and Freiberger’s (2012) three contributions in the online Plus magazine.

It seems that Böhr's decision to attempt to deal with measurement problems with his concept of the phenomenon has not survived particularly well, and that arguments are still lively about whether quantum theory has a 'real' existence, and the extent to which human observers can describe it.  If anything, the realists and representationalists seem to have regained some ground. Penrose (2016) renders Böhr as suspending questions of reality — he calls it resorting to 'philosophy' — in favour of getting on with the mathematical modelling that offered such promise. Henderson (2018) refers to this as the 'shut up and calculate' approach, and acknowledges the successes that the approach has produced. However, he cites a number of more recent physicists who are far more interested in the conventional question of whether the quantum world is real and objective after all, that is not dependent on human observation or measurement.

This interest is found in another popular article in New Scientist – Howegego (2019 – no page numbers) on whether quarks are real or just 'mathematical monsters', necessary to develop mathematical models of the behaviour of other larger particles but not actually there. In an account of the classic abductive (see Reichertz 2010) process of testing mathematical models against observational data and vice versa, Howgego (2019) says that led to early models led to unpalatable conclusions such as the possibility of infinite number of 'colours' for quarks, which apparently meant infinite spin, and thus an infinite number of quarks. Drawing back from this possibility led to a simplification of the model, which solved the problems temporarily by invoking mechanisms to reduce spin considerably in certain circumstances, or devising a way to let quarks themselves regulate their spin. One further development postulated the existence of a two-dimensional 'quantum foam' which would let regulated quarks emerge. This in turn 'implies that the quarks in these particles aren’t fundamental at all, but a consequence of the quantum foam’s behaviour. “It’s like a new state of matter, or a new state of quark,”' (Howgego, quoting Komargodski) There are suggestions of an emerging research programme, because there are apparently links with research on neutron stars and gravitational waves, but perhaps the main point for nonspecialists is that 'If there are circumstances under which quarks seem to be emergent rather than fundamental, does that mean that all quarks are little more than abstractions? If so, what is reality really made of?' Some think that quarks are real, fundamental objects, but others that quarks are not fundamental any more. The other implication might well be that quantum foam is even more fundamental than quarks, raising the issue of whether Böhr’s quantum theory is the basis of Nature after all: ‘Quarks may represent another rung on the ladder of reality, but we haven’t reached the bottom yet.’

What emerges for me is the restoration of belief in independent reality : 'Most physicists think that the standard model of particle physics doesn’t capture the full truth about reality, not least because we don’t know why it is like it is.’ (Howgego 2019). Henderson (2016, quoting Saunders) reports another argument, that: '“If quantum theory doesn’t tell us what goes on inside molecules and atoms...then we better find another theory that does.”' Saunders himself apparently adheres to the ‘multiple universes’ view, which suggests that particles (and observers) are actually appearing in other universes when they seem to be undetectable in this one.

Focusing back on Böhr’s apparent proposition that measurement itself is entangled with quantum behaviour, Henderson (2016) tells us that 'John Stewart Bell, [a famous physicist] once wrote, “What exactly qualifies some physical systems to play the role of ‘measurer’? Was the wave function of the world waiting to jump for thousands of millions of years until a single-celled living creature appeared? Or did it have to wait a little longer, for some better qualified system… with a PhD?”’ In particular, Henderson suggests that Böhr was prepared to leave the mysterious workings of the apparatus uninvestigated, or to 'black box' it in Latour's terms. This implies some autonomy for apparatuses for Barad, but more recent theorists have done much more to investigate what actually goes on to transform quantum phenomena into macro observations, including patterns on screens or other measurements.

Penrose describes this as searching for a process that limits the possible degrees of freedom in states of superposition or indeterminacy and so turns quantum events into macro ones, like patterns on a screen, involving the problem of scale, which Barad evades -- in Barad (2017, p.61), for example, she says that the normal geography separating macro and micro 'is but a marker of an imperialist and colonising worldview'.  Penrose (2016) is intended to be popular but is still highly dependent on a knowledge of mathematics and the relevant equations, such as the Schrödinger wave equation.  I have attempted to piece together only a patchy understanding of the problems these are intended to solve from an additional number of popular sources including Wikipedia and YouTube videos. Penrose does offer occasional ordinary language descriptions that punctuate the mathematical arguments. I am not claiming any particular authority for my account, however.

Specifically, Penrose begins with processes in nature that apparently limit the possibilities of transformation at the quantum level, which might include gravity, if the mass of particles is also a variable. Standard quantum theory apparently omits mass, but if we reconsider it, gravity, understood as in Einstein’s special theory of relativity, can affect quantum particles. This will ‘collapse’ the abstract quantum possibilities including indeterminacies and superpositions. This break in processes of quantum linearity to include macro states is one way to explain the puzzle of ‘quantum jumps’ from one state to another. It was the disturbing possibility of these jumps, Penrose argues, that led Böhr and others to suggest that they should be better understood as jumps in perception and consciousness. Penrose’s suggestion would limit the range of quantum processes,  which would operate only within a specific range of mass. He thinks that all the important technological applications of standard quantum theory would not be affected, but just discounting mass as a variable is better understood as a leap of faith in the universal applicability of quantum theory. If gravity is a factor, the apparently independent effects of the apparatus in producing effects could be explained as the apparatus and its environment being able to channel and focus the (relatively very weak) effects of gravity

Henderson (2019), in New Scientist, offers a good account for non-specialists. He has suggested that options to the Böhrian conception now include a postulated 'collapse wave' which triggers indeterminate quantum particles to take on a more determinate macro form. If objects are large enough, they are '"pinged"' by the collapse wave and assume ' their rightful place in macro reality'. Penrose’s suggestion that this might be connected to the actions of gravity is one of the reasons for all the excitement in the recent detection of 'gravity waves'. As an example of the potential of this explanation, Henderson explains that some recent experiments suggest that the collapse from superposition and indeterminacy takes place even with tiny macro objects in an extremely short period of time, but that investigations are still proceeding into the processes at work in that period. Henderson also suggests that there might be a further test, involving the possibility of detecting collapse waves in space. That this is a promising development is indicated by the funding that the project is attracting, from both the EC and the ESA.

You do not have to be a particular specialist to see possible implications for Barad. Her Böhrian model of the quantum world (and thus of Nature) is not the only one. Representational approaches are still in use. The mysterious intra-action, supported by Böhr's work and demonstrated by the apparently autonomous activities of apparatus like that in the two slit experiment might have been produced by Böhr’s pragmatic black boxing. That side-stepped many problems at the time and permitted very useful calculations to proceed, but those problems might now be explicable using realist ontologies after all. Barad attempts to develop Böhr into a fully fledged materialism, by ignoring the idealism still present in phenomenology, (and a mistake she says Böhr made in his epistemology which made his work
necessarily applicable only to the microscopic realm -- Barad 1998,p.120), but more recent attempts seem to have moved on much more substantially and the whole issue of materialism and reality is open to debate again.

However, there is still an argument for phenomenological accounts that stress the inevitable and indeed constitutive role of human subjectivity in the very processes of measurement. Schrader (2012) has a good but 'difficult' account of the continuing debates about 'Maxwell's demon' in thermodynamics which include  accounts based on the irreducibly 'immaterial' nature of human knowledge even in 1991. She also tries out Barad on agential realism for that debate.

The argument is not that Böhr’s approach has been completely superseded, nor Barad’s interpretation of it. In her terms, for example, the actions of gravity could still be seen as an agential cut, no doubt, with the agent now being gravitational force not the actual apparatus. Nevertheless, two general issues would remain. First, how mathematical or political possibilities ‘collapse’ in practice and why this has been ignored. This seems as important at least as the ways in which possibilities proliferate, and might be part of a more general trend in Barad to emphasise utopian possibilities rather than existing structures. Second, it is clear that agency in general can be preserved, but the level at which it is located is important, since agential cuts at a high level of abstraction level severely restrict the possibility of agential cuts at more specific levels. Barad has only a brief acknowledgment that 'the degrees of freedom of the instruments are bracketed' (2007, p. 346) by agential cuts made in the name of science. Gravity restricts the agency of apparatus, and, by analogy, social and political structures restrict the agency of human beings, at least in everyday life. In the realm of free thought, in mathematics or in matters of culture and identity or utopian speculation, agency might seem far less restricted. Empirical procedures, scientific tests or sociological investigations provide more realistic accounts of practical agency and its limits.

The main point is that even popular discussions show that Böhr's approach is actually testable. 'A confirmed collapse signal would wipe untold blackboards clean at a stroke', while 'If no new physics is found... the only consistent approach is to give up on realism altogether and retreat to something like Böhr’s view.' (Henderson 2016). There is no parallel here with feminist activism that can be easily defended against any proposition that it might be tested by referring to the male power relations in testing procedures. The ground can also be shifted in a way that makes activism and its consequences the most important issue rather than any conventions of theoretical or analytical rigour. Nor is there any authoritative panel of commentators to arbitrate on test results.

There are further examples in Barad’s book of what are either extensions of ground or what Popper (1976) would call ‘ad hoc hypotheses’ to shift the ground and rescue theories. For example, even if ingenious non-human mechanical apparatus seems to have played a determinate role on the development of quantum physics, so did thought experiments, requiring no non-human apparatus. Barad can retain coherence by suggesting that the term ‘apparatus’ should be extended to include human concepts, but the issue is whether this serves to extend usefully the idea of apparatus (originally associated with Böhr’s phenomenology) or rather to bail out the earlier discussion.  There are consequences as well. The more general proposition loses the rhetorical point about ‘agential’ emergent effects of machines specifically which arise independently of humans. It also means human conceptual constructions are reduced to technical cognitive matters – that concepts are only what Deleuze and Guattari  (1994) would call ‘functions’.  Apparatuses relate to the ‘objects’ under study, and that relation is always involved even in attempts to understand objects of study, but it is clear that apparatuses can offer minimal or maximal effects of their own. If they have a maximal effect we are describing methodological artefacts rather than real objects, and this is a lively issue, it seems in discussing possible effects of mathematical models. The development of quantum physics shows that the most ingenious steps are required in developing apparatus to eliminate that possibility, but it is not even raised as a problem in other cases, where concepts are deemed to be apparatuses without enquiries into their construction or corrigibility. Barad says that Heisenberg’s notion of an observer effect was denied by the eventual investigations into ‘quantum erasure’, but this cannot lead us to assume that observer effects, including unconscious biases and preferences as well as explicit commitments, never have a role to play anywhere. – this is the major problem with ‘scale’ it is suggested. In quantum physics, there was considerable public discussion of the design of the experiments and the apparatuses concerned, with a critical specialist public composed of other experts, and the possibility of rejecting results, but there is no equivalent in activist or ‘committed’ research of the kind found in the qualitative research discussed elsewhere.

Section 2: Machines

Barad's chapter 5 (2007) begins with expanding the importance of machinery to understandings of and operations on the human body. This is to apply the more general discussions about the entangled role of the apparatus in physics. The specific discussion is the considerable impact of the ultrasound scanner. The technology has become part of the medicalisation of gender and sexual reproduction, favouring both males and medical personnel, and sometimes involving blaming pregnant women for the fate of their fetus. Other commentators have made similar points, like Butler, but she suggests that culture and discourse are the most crucial mediators. For Barad, the technology itself has specific effects. Ultrasound technology both makes and remakes boundaries, including those between living and non-living creatures, nature and culture, but these philosophical implications are sidelined. The fetus is taken as the objective referent only for 'political and scientific reasons' (2007, p. 203). Ultrasound scanners are 'material-discursive' to cite another common term – they have material effects and permit discourses and these are entangled. Quantum entanglement has had a high profile as a result of possible technological applications including quantum computers where we might read the characteristics of one distant particle from another more local one—'information teleportation'(2007, p. 385). It is a serious possibility, and, significantly, several major institutions are interested. Quantum theory is no longer just theoretical, a sideline, Barad argues, but the metaphysical issues should also be equally prominent. Of course, it might be that, equally, the philosophical implications are a focus for Barad following her own ‘political and scientific reasons’, however.

The issue of human relations with machines has been much discussed, of course, and there are variants. Pessimistic sociologists, probably at least since Marx and Weber, have long argued that human beings are being reduced to machines, at least in their work activity. There is Haraway's famous argument about information technology permitting us to think of ourselves as cyborgs. We discuss briefly Actor–Network Theory (ANT) below, mentioned in Barad (2007). Machinism in Deleuze and Guattari is not explicitly discussed, but it might be implicit in her work, as we shall see. It might be noted that Kuhn had already pointed out that various ingenious mechanical devices in the macro world were required before scientific disputes could really be pursued into the empirical. There were crucial developments in optical instruments such as microscopes and telescopes, which raises undiscussed implications for Barad’s ‘reflection’ models as we shall see.

The most exciting interpretation of ANT implies that machines are agents in the full human sense, capable of affecting human history, although Latour (1999) insists that this is not really what he meant,  and blames the tendency on sociologists wanting to extend their favourite dichotomies between agent and structure. Instead, he was arguing that they should be seen as 'actants', which are not subjects but rather condensed components of networks themselves, complex interrelations of human obligations embodied in the technology as ‘affordances’, and then extending out to human users of the technology. These are rarely analysed but are treated instead as a black box. These actants have had decisive roles in the development of science at particular times, nevertheless. Latour sees a much wider application. His own initial iconcoclastic piece, written under a pseudonym for reasons given in the actual article, discusses the social and historical importance of a door closer (Latour 1988). More popular ‘applications’ include work on the social changes produced by the development of the domestic electric cooker (Silva 2002) or by modern climbing equipment (Rossiter 2007). As largely unexamined black boxes, these machines display astonishing qualities that seem especially 'emergent' to the novice user , unexpected ‘competencies’ and unintended consequences where they seem almost to act on their own.
It might be possible to consider these as ‘affordances’ as deliberate, designed in by engineers to exceed the  normal requirements and expectations of users – to increase safety margins, for example -- and often making them inaccessible to ordinary use.
This has one important consequence which Latour develops further than Barad.  Black boxing machines also acts as a constraint if only because it takes resources to unbox them , and thus they constrain options in the future. Latour also points out that engineers design machines with users in mind, trying to prescribe or 'position' users, to use a term in Cultural Studies (Latour 1988 deliberately compares engineers to novelists) . That does not always work, but modern machinery include a lot of experience in the technique and often incorporates other apparatuses already in use -- 'upstream' work (Latour 1988,p. 307) Sometimes, they prescribe use in the form of  a 'chreod' (p. 380) or necessary path for people encountering them. There are pressures and constraints that stop us opening black boxes to rethink infinite possibilities. We are rarely free to open up the infinite possibilities. Even experimental scientists find it difficult to open black boxes and it is often easier to take them for granted (Latour 1987 takes the example of the DNA model proposed by Watson and Crick), so that it is almost impossible to disagree in practice with a successful claim.  In 'Big Science' especially,  t
he only way to respond to laboratory evidence is to develop bigger and better laboratories, and this is clearly resource-heavy and often practically impossible. The results of  'fact writing' are buttressed with networks of supporters, resources, authorities and previous work as well.

Deleuze and Guattari have a much broader notion of machinism which extends the notion of affordances to cover those not introduced deliberately. To be brief, if we think of a machine in its most general sense, it is a device to combine forces to produce actual effects. Not all of these forces are available in the actual empirical world, but remain at a virtual level, until actualised or made empirical. This process can be described as potentials being realised, but the virtual is already another level of reality itself, deleuzians insist, and prefer the term ‘actualisation’. In this general sense, the whole universe is a machine, as the basic forces of physics are focused by attractors in order eventually to produce matter from energy. Human consciousness can also be seen as machinic in this sense, a term which Deleuze and Guattari prefer to the usual alternatives of humanism and structuralism. In Deleuze & Guattari (1984)  there were universal desiring machines which fundamentally organised and shaped our underlying desire into specific desires. At a more specific level, there were machines ‘plugged into’ the desiring machines, such as writing machines which produced literary works even though those appeared under signatures like Proust or Kafka. Specific patterns of human interaction also produced machinic specific effects, as in Guattari’s (2014) analysis of the 'four – eyed machine', where the common Anglo-Saxon face-to-face model of psychoanalysis produced particular effects, especially Freudian transference.

In Deleuze & Guattari ( 2004) the term desiring machine was replaced with another — the assemblage. This term also has unfortunate associations in suggesting that it is only human beings who assemble components which include humans and nonhumans. It is equally possible to refer to sections where assemblages seem to be self assembling, apparently an implication rendered better in the French term agencement. There are several specific and accessible examples. DeLanda (1999)  for example, has written a short paper showing how atoms and molecules assembled themselves into more complex forms, including compounds, with a particular role for metals, possessing properties permitting catalysis, long before human beings actually emerged. This may be what Barad means by 'Matter's dynamism is inexhaustible, exuberant and prolific' ( 2007 170). There is also an occasional flirtation,especially in Guattari (1995), with the idea of self emergence, autopoeisis, popularised by Maturana and Varela. Other simple examples do include human agency, still not of an individualised kind though, such as the actualised assemblage formed when the stirrup was invented, permitting horses and human beings to be combined in particularly effective military ways in particular political circumstances.

There is also a specific implication of deleuzo-guattarian machinism in terms like 'machinic phyla'. This points to the potential of machines which await development, ready for human beings to discover them and develop the technology to exploit them. Engineering really takes off once human beings are able to 'diagram' the machines in suitably abstract terms. Again DeLanda (1991) provides a simple example by pointing to the ballistic similarities in the way forces are produced and then constrained in weapons like blowpipes, gunpowder cannons and modern ballistic missiles, with experience combining eventually with mathematical models. All these weapons occupy a particular machinic phylum. Exploring the phyla is a major source of human creativity, especially via mathematics, with an obvious implication for the potentials of information technology particularly.

None of these examples imply any kind of humanisation of machines, no animistic underlying shared spirit, although some writers seem to think this is what Barad is arguing. They include some of the feminists she met en route to her development of diffraction: Anzaldúa apparently believes 'in an ordered, structured universe where all phenomena are interrelated and imbued with spirit' Wyatt might be suggesting animism: he says (Gale & Wyatt 2016)  ‘The parked car had reversed into me . The 4x4, right there beside me as I stepped from the pavement but which had been mere background – brute passive matter – in my mission to place bag in bin was clearly – how shall I say? -- agentic’. In a later piece Gale &Wyatt (2018): 'I came to a crossroads. The crossroads stopped me. (I was going to write: ‘I stopped’, but that conveys too strong a sense of ‘my’ agency.) The crossroads-and-I held the body-I-call mine steady. Paused me. ...The left turn to Trinity chose me.’ Wyatt immediately concedes that this ‘sounds grandiose: the left turn to Trinity and I found ourselves together.)’

Section 3: Animals

Some domestic animals might usefully be considered as machines, of course, at least in Latour’s sense. This is not to denigrate them. Humans have modified them and may soon be able to construct them, so these animals can certainly no longer be seen just as ‘natural’. Those in closest contact with humans have imposed obligations on us and affected our behaviour – making us into herdsmen or more successful hunters or imposing duties of care. Other animals are less well connected, of course and have remained relatively ‘wild’. I am not sure if classifying them like this would meet with Barad’s approval or whether she would see that as colonising or representing the animal kingdom with embedded power relations.

Barad (2007) begins with a discussion of human bodies. There is a connection with Foucault and the notion of an apparatus as a disciplinary mechanism, as in various surveillance regimes. Again we have to extend the analysis especially as modern technology 'provides for much more intimate, pervasive, and profound reconfigurings of bodies, power, knowledge and their linkage' (p. 200). We need to replace the notion of biopower with '"technobiopower"' and take the necessary step to see apparatuses, objects and subjects as inherently combined in phenomena. Here we could usefully read Foucault and Böhr together, diffractively, with Foucault rounding out the discursive aspects of technology, and Böhr on the processes of materialisation, especially with nonhuman bodies. (This ‘additive’ model of diffraction is discussed below and in Vol II).

The specific discussion is the issue of ultrasound in the fetus, combining Butler's emphasis on discourse with a quantum physics understanding of 'how even the very atoms that make up the biological body come to matter' (2007, p. 208) generating 'mutually informative insights'. In particular, we might think more about the specifics of both fetus and the apparatus and how they become objects. This combination might also suggest a political way to escape social norms relating to the body, since bodies are not fixed by their physical properties but are becomings, 'a congealing of agency' (210). We must not just reduce materiality to discourse, if only because there are material constraints and exclusions and material dimensions to power. At the same time, there is a gap between the general physical characteristics of bodies and norms. The argument recalls Deleuze and Guattari on the potentials of ‘body-without-organs’ and how this is virtual entity is actualized, organized, into socially acceptable forms.

This allows in principle for some rebellious agency. She says that at least feminist politics is not just a matter of being able to exploit contradictory norms. There is a more active and grounded possibility of intervention and enactment, a matter of 'making iterative changes to particular practices', and again that includes machines. Ultrasound is enfolded into new practices and exploring these will change our understanding of bodies and alter some previous workable boundaries, for example between surfaces and depths or volumes. Feminists should be involved in the technical debates — 'there is a need to understand the laws of nature as well as the law of the father' (p. 222).

It is worth entering a reservation here, though, prompted by my reworking of Goffman on 'role distance' (for another piece). Butler is right to focus on human aspects and ignore technological affordances if she is focusing specifically on human culture and the way it constructs sex and gender. It is there that we find resources for particular kinds of dimensions to performance -- irony, mockery, subversion, camp -- which offer the best possibilities of liberating feminist politics. As far as I can see, Barad does not want to extend these forms to the non-human -- plants or machines do not perform ironically, even if it can sometimes seem that way. Peculiarly human characteristics may be in danger of being discarded in favour of a technologism. I am unclear about whether Barad agrees with Butler that performativity is all there is, (while wanting to add non-human forms), or whether she is suggesting some additional foundational ontology of indeterminacy existing at the quantum level underpinning human performativity -- if the latter, Butler argues that such ontologies only disguise their own constitution  in performance and distract us from the most effective forms of femininst politics.

Philosophising starfish

There is a long discussion (370f) of an experimental study of a particular starfish, a brittlestar, Ophiocoma wendtii ,which apparently has no conventionally-defined eyes or brain (Aizenberg et al 2001) . I read Aizenberg et al and the commentaries cited by Barad for myself, and I admire Barad’s excellent summaries.  The brittlestar still seems to react to light, however, and biologists eventually realized that its skeletal structure could also be a kind of compound eye, of particular value in its actual environment. This was confirmed by an inspection of the microscopic structure of one dorsal arm skeletal plate made of calcite. Barad describes the study in detail, including how the armplates were removed from the animal, then ‘cleansed of organic matter’ and ‘polished’, as Aizenberg et al put it (2001, p. 819), before being examined. No-one considers the ethics of this specific experiment, nor whether these operations might have artificially enhanced the lens-like capacities. The experimenters later pursued a possible application of the results by producing artificial crystals based on the structure of the ones appearing in starfish. The two studies validate each other because there is a ‘possibility that the mechanistic implications proposed in this study are directly relevant to the formation of analagous structures in the biological world’ (Aizenberg et al 2003 p. 1207). Barad assumes that the team can be seen as supporting her ontology as a result, although this is not actually clear.

Aizenberg et al (2001) are quite cautious in actually reporting their own work. There is only a 'lensing effect' (2001, p 820), and after being able to confirm this by comparing observations to predicted results, they note that this still only strongly suggests ‘a conceivable compound–eye capability’(p.821). There is 'only limited evidence that the lens apparatus operates at a distance' (821) as would a fully developed eye, and some less central  issues remain 'poorly understood and controversial'.

However, Barad also cites other commentaries based on the reports of the experiments, expressed in newsletter-type short announcements in Nature or Science, in an article in the New York Times, and during a broadcast on National Public Radio. Barad says that the terse Aizenberg report follows convention and shows ‘understatement (or at least reserve)’ (2007, p.373), and that more comment is justified to develop their conclusions. Aizenberg et al (2001, p. 821) actually conclude that brittlestars show the 'remarkable ability of organisms, through the process of evolution, to optimise one material for several functions'. This can also provide 'new ideas for the fabrication of "smart" materials'. However, Barad quotes the reporter on National Radio saying the Aizenberg study shows that ‘”Even the most primitive creatures might have the edge over modern science”’ (2007, pp. 372–3).

Sambles, in another example, (2001, p. 783), in a very brief summary of about 800 words, reports Aizenberg et al. discovering that ‘a species of brittlestar, Ophiocoma wendtii, possesses a remarkable microlens array’. It is remarkable mostly because ‘The construction and operation of microlenses have strict [technical] requirements’. His own conclusion is: ‘Human ingenuity came up with microlens arrays only a few years ago... Once again we find that nature foreshadowed our technical developments.’ Barad renders this as saying that ‘The brittlestar [has]...superior ingenuity, which exceeds the current technological ingenuity of humans’ (2007, p.372).

Whitfield, also quoted by Barad is more effusive still in a news item in Nature: ‘Near-perfect microscopic lenses in brittlestars' bones are more sophisticated than anything humans can produce, say engineers keen to copy the trick.’ He quotes Aizenberg et al. (2003): ‘The tiny crystal balls "were too similar to lenses to have been formed by chance"’ and Sambles: ‘"It's astonishing that this organic creature can manipulate inorganic matter with such precision - and yet it's got no brain"’. Barad (2007, p.373) quotes ‘ a Discover Magazine reporter’ who ‘juxtaposes a statement by Aizenberg...with a pull-no-punches opening line: ‘Until now, engineers have only dreamed of such perfect microlenses...Aizenberg is inspired: “This is very clever engineering”, she says’.

Overall, Barad’s account sounds a little naive for an STS scholar – a scientist working for Bell just happened to be investigating starfish and then went on only subsequently to explore commercial applications? Subsequent scientists found themselves philosophising about the results, again apparently innocent of any need to publicise their chosen specialism and compete with other specialisms in the struggle for resources. There seems to be no discussion of any political or ethical issues proceeding from engineering applications – it is not clear if there are any miitary applications arising from developing lenses like this, for example.

Barad does acknowledge that press reports have different rules from science reports and can be ‘very upbeat about the discovery’ or even ‘rachet up the experiment a notch’ (2007, p.374). Nevertheless, much of her own commentary draws on these reports, or even exceeds them. She develops implications for the representationalist approach, where the observing subject can detach herself from the separate objects of reality and easily (which might be the crucial point) represent them with a name. The Cartesian legacy means we put our faith in representations instead of matter, thinking that we have better access to representations. Optical metaphors thus came to dominate philosophy. The starfish rebukes the notion of 'epistemological lenses or the geometrical optics of reflection', however (2007, p. 375). Its visual system is embodied, so that being and knowing entail each other.

As it has no brain, there can be no knowing subject brittlestar. The animal can break off a damaged body part and regrow it, so it has flexible bodily boundaries like everything else including us. This leads to a very strong claim that the reworking of its bodily boundaries can be seen as 'discursive practices—the boundary drawing practices by which it differentiates itself from the environments with which it intra-acts... materially enacted'. It displays some predictable activity in its responses and thus 'plays an agentive role role in its differential production' (2007, p.376). It shows that the body is a performance. Embodiment is more active than just a matter of 'being of the world in its dynamic specificity' (2007, p.377). The starfish also shows 'great diversity in sexual behavior and reproduction', and some can reproduce asexually by regenerating bodies out of parts.

Barad even says that 'rethinking embodiment in this way will surely require rethinking psychoanalysis as well'. Here, she references 'possibilities for lost limb memory trauma'. It would not be freudian psychoanalysis, of course, which at the very least requires human language for its ‘talking cure’. The only application I can think of at the moment is ‘ego adjustment’ for patients by letting them observe starfish stoically coping with limb loss, or perhaps persuading them that limb loss is better understood as a new kind of embodiment, or that embodiment has always entailed an idealised body.

Barad in full flow sees brittlestars as diffraction gratings. A recognition like this is not confined to human cognition, since even a brittlestar can recognize a predator and can differentially respond in ways that matter for its survival. In the laboratory, ‘"humans" and "brittlestars” learn about and co- constitute each other through a variety of brittlestar-human intra-actions'(2007, pp. 381 - 2). If that argument involves euphemism, subsequent points look more like simple anthropomorphism. They are so exaggerated that they might be written playfully as a provocation. I have suggested that quantum physicists can indeed be playful. This is risky ground, however. Zizek asked his audience – ‘Is she [Barad] serious?’ (Zizek 2012), followed by ‘Is she a lesbian?’, and was accused of possessing a 'blatant sexist and homophobic attitude' (Geerts & van der Tuin 2016, (no page numbers). Barad is herself quite capable of operating playfully in order to provide light relief for non-physicists, however, claiming to travel in time in one case by giving an account of Young’s work as if she were there, in 1803 (Barad 2014). The moderator for the discussion is also playful and humorous in suggesting that studies of relations between humans and animals might usefully be applied to parent-child interactions: Barad replies that she will discuss ‘butch mothering’ later. Readers must judge for themselves whether the remarks that follow are also playful. There is also the remark in Barad (2012) that anthropomorphism is being embraced but rhetorically, as a way to challenge anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism.

I also like Dalziell (in Kirby 2107). After reviewing some experiments on slime moulds (different one from Barad), she quotes some of the scientists who argue that there really are signs of intelligence in this simple creature(s). There are also signs of complexity and indeterminacy in the relations between human individuals and the social in Sociology -- eg Durkheim (a long-overdue citation). But they have to report their findings playfully, and put key terms like 'decision' into quote marks. This is professionally necessary to get published, it seems. Dalziell says they should bite the bullet, and at least consider whether there really is intelligence at work,and if so, how it might be related to human capacities --maybe it is proto-consciousness, biologically engineered, embodied, and an early form of human consciousness? Maybe it is as Kirby suggests, a singularity produced as much as human consciousness by the possibilities of virtual multiplicities. Barad needs to come clean too.

'Brittlestars literally enact my agential realist ontoepistemological point about the entangled practices of knowing and being. They challenge our Cartesian habits of mind', says Barad (2007, p. 379) and show us that knowledge making is not mediated but is rather 'a direct material engagement... a part of the world in its dynamic material configuring'. Apparently they make stimuli intelligible (to themselves?) through intra-actions again. Knowing is not exclusive to humans, Barad argues, but only after considerable reductionism: the fundamental components of human knowledge are sense stimuli. Only after this can our own participation in practices of knowing be seen as 'part of the larger material configuration of the world and its ongoing open-ended articulation' attuned to processes of differentiation, within determinate boundaries. Since the animal is engaged in a struggle for survival, this bodily diffraction is 'not about any difference but about which differences matter' (2007, p. 378). The canny creatures 'know better than to get caught up in a geometrical optics of knowing'.

The whole argument seem to just simply assert that ‘recognition’, ‘predator’, ‘response’, ‘communication’ and ‘co-constitution’ mean the same things for brittlestars and humans. ‘Intra-action’ loses its rhetorical distinction with interaction by this controversial generalisation – how the difference between the two terms might be observed in starfish-human relations is not clear, but it is surely controversial to describe a relation where one creature has an appendage removed by another in an experiment as ‘intra-action’, except in the most abstract technical sense. There can surely be no notion of equality in interaction, or the full recognition of otherness in each participant which the term sometimes suggests.

Collective purposive rational action to exclude possibilities and focus interventions has played a major part in the development of science and technology. It clearly has a place in practical politics if we have to decide, say, whether a particular poverty-relief programme achieves its goals or not It also plays a major part in everyday life, and to ignore it is to risk partial understanding (in both senses). Intra-action acknowledging all the possible components would be as dysfunctional in everyday life as it would in science. It is probably only intimates that will require intra-action in practice: to take Schutz’s example, a pretty anonymous ideal-type and functionally focused interaction will best suit both parties when the mail person delivers the mail. No doubt the specific mail person and I could explore our deeper connections until we established a more intimate relationship, but no-one can have full relationships of absolute otherness with everybody we encounter. Nor indeed with every thing. Relevance systems would operate to prioritise, behind our backs if necessary, whatever we declared our ethical position to be. To deny this would risk reproducing a main characteristic of ideology where calculative interests are represented as general moral proclamations, and specific interests are pursued in the misleading form of universal ones.

It is not clear how the Aizenberg team operated, but exercising responsibility toward starfish in practice probably meant adhering to Bell Labs’ ethical policy. It is not clear whether this would have conformed to Barad’s ethics and whether the study should be invalidated if it did not. It seems like a classic scientific study as well, using standard experimental techniques and mathematical formulae, assuming precisely a distance between the scientific human subjects and inert objects. No quantum effects seem to have been discussed. Above all, the entire argument is based on Barad’s account of other accounts. It seems Barad did not experiment on starfish herself, so reports could easily involve processes of written representations or even representations of representations: the data themselves do not seem to have been produced by diffractive approaches by the experimenters or reporters themselves. Somehow, Barad’s subsequent diffractive reading alone overcomes all these epistemological and ethical problems in this case.

Now that the boundaries of the human are being reconfigured, we should be able to do better, developing or perhaps unfolding 'post humanist ethics, an ethics of worlding' (2007, p. 392). It is not clear if this is an inevitable next step as the latest incarnation of Nature, or whether we should indeed consciously choose to take it. Post-humanist ethics seem much more extensive than earlier kinds. Our responsibilities are essentially embodied, not just a cultural matter, but grounded in Nature itself. Responsibility to others, including nonhuman others, is a primary mode of objectivity as well as subjectivity (2007, p. 392). Our responsibilities are extensive. We are responsible not only for the other but for the 'lively relationalities of becoming of which we are a part'.'Responsibility is not ours alone', nor does it just extend to other human beings, because we must now be responsive to all entanglements, including relations with things that are far off and in the past: these are never out of touch, except as an act of exclusion: the need to be hospitable runs ‘through all being and non-/being' ( Barad nd. p 9).  In Barad’s work, exclusion seems to be a minor issue, not worth discussing, but it seems crucial in actually operating on and in the world, of course. Hollin et al also argue that exclusion of alternatives pose the most pressing ethical issues.

Queer animals

Barad (2012) adds to the examples of queer animals and discusses 'social amoeba', some stingrays  and a particular kind of dinoflagellate
Pfiesteria piscicida. Lightning and, of course, suabtomic particles in the quantum world are examples of queer inanimates. They are deemed to be queer because they display ambiguities when compared to conventional classifications like 'individual' and 'social' or 'animal' and 'plant'. They also display surprising behaviours. Stingrays seem able to anticipate receiving inputs to certain receptor cells by activating those cells before any input is actually generated. This is rendered as '"some mysterious clairvoyancy"' (2012, p.36) by a certain V Kirby, who is cited and quoted widely (I haven't read any of her work yet [I have now here], and likened to a fortunate coincidence of research interests emerging as different candidates, including Kirby herself)  defended their work to a funding panel. Kirby detects an 'infectious algorithm [that] had already brought us together before our actual meeting'. Kirby has been influential in offering a materialist reading of Derrida, Barad tells us, which turns on a claim that Derrida's argument  that there is no outside of the text can be read as  '"there is no outside of nature"''Barad 2012 Note 60, p.50) .Barad also cements this reading of Derrida by repeating the claim that the quantum eraser experiments have given Derridavian  'deconstructionism empirical traction' (p.44)[That particularly ignores the differences,much against the 'spirit' of Derrida, between the sort of deconstruction Derrida does -- very detailed examination of philosophical writings to spot them moments where {phal}logocentrism intrudes -- and quantum physics,which still maintains some corrigibility]

I have some more extended notes on Kirby  (both V and J) here

The other examples of queerness include summarising an argument in Schrader that the
Pfiesteria displays such ambiguous behaviour, compared to some comventional understandings of indidviduality and causality that we must conclude that  'its very species being is indeterminate'. In particular,  properties and characteristics formerly though of as fixed can transform into one another, so that the possible toxicity (for fish) is affected both by present environments but also by the history of the organism. The term history implies '"a biochemical memory"' (Barad 2012,p.38 quoting Schrader), which, if it exists, would not be like human memory at all, of course. This in turn means there is a temporal dimension in their relations with their environment. This is rendered as '"the effects of indeterminable intra-action that have led to Pfiesteria's current material mode".  It also implies a performative capacity in the dinoflagellate, a particularly goal-oriented one: its behaviour seems to vary according to what needs to be done. It might be possible to suggest that additional causals could be built into more complex models of the organism's behaviour, but for Barad and Schrader the only alternative is to se the creatures as making 'choices… not simply deterministic causality, acausality, or no causality' (39). Schrader says the organism is so dangerous potentially, that there is not time to wait for further analysis becasue there are 'real-world concerns at stake', although the real-world implications of thinking of the animals as making choices are not at all clear. 

I read this article by Schrader on Pfiesteria piscicida for myself (and I am grateful for her making it available). I am also reading another piece by her on Maxwell's Demon -- gripping stuff. This was my immediate reaction to the Pfiesteria piece:
There are some ingenious experiments that have been done on this creature, and it does seem very complex, with different versions taking quite different forms, including toxic and non-toxic forms. It seems particularly difficult to define what sort of creature it is, and to reconstruct its life-cycle. Understandably, a lot of biologists are particularly interested in how and why it gets toxic and kills fish, and again there are all sorts of ingenious experiments trying to isolate the causals — it's not just environmental cues, because one variable is whether or not it has killed fish before, and whether killable fish are actually present. Even the biologists concerned seem to want to talk about things like 'memory'.

The usual paradox presents itself though, whether this is an epistemological uncertainty, which could in principle be pinned down to complex systems of determinants, or whether this is an ontological indeterminacy, somehow mirroring the indeterminacy of quantum particles and showing the same characteristics like 'complementarity' between the different forms. The first variant is perhaps represented best by a huge complex diagram with all sorts of lines of different lines joining the components. This nearly gets accepted when Schrader talks about a Pfisteria 'complex' with several actual variants — that sounds a bit like Kirby in a deleuzian phrase. Elsewhere, the processes are described as 'synchronisation', not quite as mysterious, and even Schrader lapses into listing the main suspect variables or even using the term determinations.

However, Schrader mostly opts for the second possibility, understandably loyal to Barad and trying to work in all sorts of Derridvian implications about hauntings and traces. I'm not terribly convinced that we need Derrida to describe what goes on in ordinary human consciousness and language as recapturing subjective time [I think personally that Bergson would be just as useful,and,via Deleuze,  'duration' already links subjective time and material reality] , although he would of course refer to linguistic systems. But only linguistic systems -- so is the argument that Nature is also a text with a system of signs? [Does Nature write in the same way as humans in Derrida's sense?].

The main interest, though, is the way all this is argued. There is almost a kind of prime knowledge tactic where complex scientific experiments are discussed, and arranged in a kind of narrative of increasing complexity and mystery. Then Baradian terminology starts to get applied to the discussion. This is really a rhetorical shift, but Schrader wants to suggest that it follows necessarily from the difficulties faced by the conventional approaches. As before, sometimes those conventional approaches are straw men, with simple positivist notions of cause or identity that are fairly easily shown to be inadequate. Underneath the persuasion, I suspect that it is really a matter of argument by residue — even the finest current biology cannot solve the problem, so we somehow must switch the paradigms altogether and talk about matters that seem even more mysterious and unsolvable, like whether this dinoflagellate is actually 'performing' or 'enacting' its various transformations.

Reviving Kuhn's discussion, it can be seen that there is an interesting asymmetry here. The ambiguities of
Pfiesteria behaviour seem to have provided some conventional biologists with a problem, but scientists can accept Kuhnian problems as puzzles to be resolved by further work, without abandoning the whole paradigm. Something like this is suggested in Barad(2012) (Note 5, p.47):  'Amoebozoa are now considered by most to form a separate kingdom-level clade', quoting a Wikipedia entry. Introducing the bizarre notions of amoeba 'making choices' is clearly not the only alternative, even if puzzles remain. In other cases, of course, puzzles escalate into serious anomalies that do challenge paradigms, and this is illustrated best of all in quantum theory for Barad when decisive experiments like the 'quantum eraser' seemed to offer such serious disturbances of conventional notions of time and space that it looked as if it was possible to actually alter the past. Barad thinks this it  is conclusive evidence for Böhr's account that it could explain this apparent anomaly, at least better than Heisenberg's account.But as we saw above, Böhr's account is still under challenge. If Kuhn is right, the issue will not be resolved until a host of other factors intervene, including social and political ones: empirical observations are never conclusive, no matter how bizarre the observed behaviour of Barad's queer critters. Another key factor will be the plausibility of the theoretical apparatus deployed,and here Barad has departed from Böhr, of course, pursuing the mysterious 'diffractive reading of insights from physics and poststructuralist theory through one another' . Whether this can be coherent is discussed below, but it is already possible to suggest that physics (in the form of the quantum eraser experiment) is unable to provide any empirical evidence or traction for Derrida's concepts, whether the metaphysics of presence of différance, because they simply were not were not designed to do so.

Bagemihl's (1999) book
is only lightly cited in the 2012 article on queer performativity, but I did manage to get hold of a copy.  Here is my summary of (some parts of) that:

It has some problems of compatibility with Barad's account, and some problems of its own anyway. The argument is that homosexual and bisexual behaviour is very common among animals, which means it must have some biological and (limited) cultural origins. If other primates display such common and frequent behaviour, that makes human displays of sexual diversity 'natural' as well as cultural. The explanatory mechanism is 'biological exuberance' where an excess of sexual energy has to be discharged in a range of polymorphous sexual activities, since the opportunities for heterosexual contact are never enough to exhaust this exuberance.

Bagemihl admits that there are problems in sustaining this argument. For example sexual activity among wild animals is hard to observe at the best of times. Domestic and captive animals display the same kind of behaviour, however. But there are notorious problems in defining sexual activity, of course. Bagemihl opts for some delightfully operational definitions, such as genital rubbing or mounting, and he also considers as sexual activities various contacts with objects as well. Perhaps the most controversial points arise when he claims that studies have identified sexual pleasure arising from these contacts, possibly even orgasm, and these are defined operationally too as erected organs (among mammals) or screams and cries.

It is pretty clear that we are entering positivist territory here with these operational definitions, and the solemn observations based on them. I could not remove from my mind the image of an earnest zoologist hiding in a bush with binoculars in one hand and a stopwatch in the other, producing quantitative data about the frequencies of genital contact among female Bonobo. It is not surprising that there is a reference to the classic positivist studies of human sexuality by Masters and Johnson. What this sort of positivism is doing being quoted as support by Barad is a mystery.

Bagemihl''s arguments vary. The most common one is paratactic onslaught, where point after point, summary after summary is hurled at the reader, ranging across a wide variety of sexual activities and animal activists. Bagemihl acknowledges that there is a problem of aggregating all this data, but that does not stop him suggesting that it does all aggregate together, whether we are talking about dolphins, chimpanzees, plovers, or polar bear, and discussing activities ranging from playful propulsion to mixtures of aggression and maternal care. There is absolutely no way to check this sort of argument — even one of the animals examined in detail in the 'bestiary' yielded about 20 references in zoological journals. We are simply in his hands, and now and then, he summarises things for us and points us in the right direction of the underlying truth, in a classic form of 'academic realism'.

Strangely, there is also a lengthy section on the wisdom of indigenous peoples in recording and commenting on animal sexuality in particular. Although such wisdom is not at all based on the sort of scientific observation and recording that he values in zoological studies, it still has to be made compatible. This is common, of course in some qualitative research which also values indigenous wisdom. The findings in this wisdom somehow anticipate scientific ones — native classifications of species, for example, include individuals unknown to science until recently; acute observations of the habits of polar bears among the Inuit, long enshrined in myth, have been confirmed by recent studies; apparently irrationally sexually ambiguous characteristics of cassowaries have been confirmed once zoologists realised that the birds possessed cloaca. Of course, there are significant differences between indigenous wisdom and science as well, especially in terms of the origins of these findings, the methods, and their social and religious significance, but these can be ignored. I've already argued that this kind of approach could easily be seen as science colonising indigenous wisdom, correcting it, or doing some other form of symbolic violence to it. Amusingly, Bagemihl claims that indigenous peoples have even developed a kind of quantum theory, long before the Western heroes studied by Barad: if we choose to interpret some of their myths in that way, we will find confirmation, no doubt.

The most common other form of argument is anthropomorphism. Bagemihl warns against this, and detects it even in academic zoological commentary. But it creeps in to his own account, not least in the descriptions of sexual activity. I've already mentioned dubious examples of being able to identify 'pleasures', but there are several other examples as well

There are rhetorical manoeuvres to introduce generalisation and therefore relevance to human affairs. Take the arguments about left-handed polar bears. Inuit and other indigenous peoples regard polar bears as predominantly left-handed, and there is a symbolic connection with sexual ambiguity. As anyone familiar with Lévi-Strauss knows, there are often terms required to mediate between apparent polar opposites — so that substances that are 'cured' or smoked can mediate symbolically between the raw and the cooked, or substances like honey have significance in that they are not raw, but have been processed by animals not humans. It is not surprising to find a considerable mythological and social function for these mediations in mechanical solidarity, and in this case, of course, we are talking about plants and insects, not sexually ambiguous mammals or birds. Bagemihl wants to argue that just as recent scientific observations of polar bears have confirmed a predominance of left-handedness, so the attribution of sexual ambiguity might also be valid.

That problem of extending validity can be seen in other arguments as well. For example, Bagemihl argues that sexual behaviour is not easily isolated from a whole context which will include factors such as the age and rank of the individuals involved. The strongest form of his argument is that sexual behaviour is the dominant one in the combination of factors, but this is nearly always inferred, never actually demonstrated. Perhaps some extra positivism, in the form of factor analysis or cluster analysis might help here? The weakest form of his argument is much more reasonable — that sexual behaviour should be as important for zoological studies as any other kind of behaviour, such as aggression, tool use, hunting or social bonding. Again the most robust form of this argument is that sexual behaviour has been important in the development of a lexicon of signs and gestures among primates like the bonobo, because there is such variety of behaviour that the animals need to develop some form of communication to coordinate and choose among the possibilities.

The main issue for our purposes is the implication of all this for human behaviour. There is a clear agenda in Bagemihl, and in Barad, to support liberatory sexual politics in humans, including the acceptance of 'deviant' behaviour and the rejection of the argument that only heterosexual conduct is 'natural'. Whether we need these endless studies of birds and mammals to make that point is not clear. Old-fashioned symbolic interactionism, perhaps in the form of the studies of sexuality by Plummer (in Brake 1982), long argued that human beings can either sexualise or de-sexualise any encounter with any person or thing, but this would give culture far too much weight for the new materialists, and lead to human exceptionalism.

But human exceptionalism in sexual matters is just not that easily dispelled. We have to operate in two directions. First we make animal sexuality much more variable and diverse, even cultural in some cases. Then we reduce human sexuality back to the same combination of biology and culture. The abundance of sexual energy in animals seems to have caused in some sense this sexually diverse behaviour, perhaps rather mechanistically as they seek release. Applying this to human beings would be much more controversial, however, implying, in effect that homosexuals gratify themselves with people that come to hand because they cannot sufficiently access the 'proper' object of their drives. Not only would it seriously reduce the cultural capacities of human sexuality, the role of fantasy that has been so important in some studies, but it will also reduce the political implications as well. These are summarised for me by quoting one of the last comments in Barad's account of queer performativity, about queerness:  'Queer politics, if it is to remain queer needs to be able to perform the function of emptying [human] queerness of its referentiality or positivity, guarding against its tendency to concrete embodiment,and hereby preserving queerness as a resistant relation rather than as an oppositional substance' . The whole emphasis in Bagemihl is on the functional integration of animal queerness as it provides the innovation needed for mechanical solidarity -- a resistant relation requires a politics. It is hard to see any equivalent for this in animal queerness. Biological exuberance suggests a biological basis underneath it all, even allowing for some role for culture – that is biologically determined too, or at least affected by evolution. That seems to be attributed by outside observers, and there is also running throughout Bagemihl, a motive for such observers in trying to classify and domesticate more aspects of animal behaviour, precisely to resolve queerness rather than celebrate it.

 It is easy to sympathise with arguments that animals have surprising and sometimes adorable qualities and that we must act responsibly towards them. Less charming or dangerous animals are not discussed which might suggest there is an implicit aesthetic dimension to add to the ontological, epistemological and ethical dimensions: we intra-act only with pleasant animals. Approaching malarial mosquitoes or rabid dogs could be simply trying to ‘learn about and co- constitute’ us, or challenge ‘our Cartesian habits of mind’, but it would be rather risky to intra-act extensively with them. There might not be a too difficult ethical choice for us if they approached our children. It is not clear that we should we take any more than a highly abstract  responsibility for decidedly unpleasant animals like the bacteria in skin infections, perhaps musing for a few moments before destroying them in the name of a higher ethical interest.

Further paradoxes and concrete dilemmas are discussed in Schrader and Johnson (2017) on 'killability' (see Schrader). These include scientists working on environmental pollution who may well have to 'sacrifice' or stress animals in a laboratory in order to discover effects; farmers who raise livestock precisely in order to kill them; taxidermists preparing educational displays who kill animals in order to make 'lifelike' representations and preserve their specimens by killing any insects or animals that might damage them; microscopic animals that are only recently detectable (so we did not realise until recently that we were responsible for them). The practitioners in laboratories develop procedures to solve their sense of responsibility in various ways,including distancing themselves from the animals they study or developing comforting ritualistic 'ethical codes'. It might be possible to detect some popular ethical theories in these discussions -- that a good end justifies some unpleasant means, or that the greater good must be pursued at the expense of individual welfare. We seem to need to fill out Barad's abstract 'response-ability' with these very human perhaps exceptional forms of reason: Buller in this collection argues that even Derrida agrees that p
rohibitions against killing is unique to human beings, and we also uniquely know that '"there will never be sufficient reason"' for Haraway.

It might be suitable at this point to compare Barad with the discussions on animal communication in Deleuze and Guattari (2004), and especially in Guattari. These are lengthy sections of the overall argument, and much of the discussion turns on breaking down the usual simple distinctions between human beings and animals, especially on the issue of language use. Animal behaviour is much more sophisticated than we think, and in particular animals seem capable of learning from their environment — the song of the Australian Finch for example is not totally determined by instinct, and other birds can adopt the songs of their rivals and companions. (Guattari 2011) .One implicit goal might be to rebuke Lacan. Lacan (1993) on animal communication says that animals can change direction as a lure when hunted, but this is different from human activity: 'an animal does not feign feigning' [it cannot play at the second level, where true tracks are to be taken as false] nor can animals deliberately efface their tracks, because to do so would imply that they are able to subjectively interact with signifiers. For speech to become true speech, it requires 'the locus of the Other, the Other as witness' (1993, p.684), something clearly located elsewhere. This is the real guarantee of truth, not its simple correspondence with reality, and the origin of fictional truths. (1993, p.683). One such fictional truth attributes subjectivity to animals. The metaphor is glossed over by using technical terms. Human beings do not learn by experimenting with stimuli in order to get the right result — the fulfilment of desire is the real response. Similarly, responding to others really involves 'to recognize him or to abolish him as subject' (Lacan 1968, p.64).

Deleuze and Guattari, want to go on to argue that Lacan’s view of human language is too limited. We need to develop a whole new semiotic, to take into account the important non-semiotized affects deriving from the objective world which can also influence the human world. They have in mind the work of Hjemslev in particular. Whatever the specific virtues of Hjemslev, the existence of alternative semiotics direct us to the more general issues and potentials of semiology itself. This will be a particular rebuke to Lacanians who take French structural linguistics as the only model for semiotics, and sometimes even claim that it is a natural one. Everything else that Lacan discovers in Freud develops from seeing structural linguistics as the very model of human consciousness.

Leaving aside the specifics, deleuzians seem to have a point at least in suggesting that if we are ever to properly communicate with animals, we will need a new semiotic to do so. It might be as complex as the developments in linguistics, involving 'non-signifying' terms, that we needed to communicate with machines — the development of programming languages, machine codes, and binary mathematics. For that matter, the paradoxes of quantum physics seem most acute in any ordinary-language account of the data – but there is also a special non-signifying language available there too in the form of advanced mathematics. This language is inaccessible to most of us so we cannot judge its success.

Human language for Deleuze and Guattari might indeed be dominated by the pragmatics of ordinary human language and ‘sensori-motor’ activity, and be partially explained by structural linguistics, although even there it must leave out certain affects, and remain blind to political elements such as 'order words'. But it would be even more controversial to claim that this conception of language could just be extended to animals. Yet Barad seems to think there is a direct way of translating animal behaviour into normal human language, and does not change the conventional terms to describe exchanges with animals – especially the term ‘communication’. As a fan of Derrida she must know that human terms will carry unavoidable implications – ‘ghosts’ – which will add additional meanings to animal behaviour, never just simply describe or fix it . This risks incorporating an unacknowledged humanism or structuralism into our dealings with animals, sidelining their differences in a colonizing imposition of ‘sameness’ via ventriloquist anthropomorphism. We should at least indicate our reservations by placing terms like ‘communication’ inside brackets, ‘<<communication>>’, or under erasure as in Derrida, and write it with strikethrough ‘communication’ .

Much more work seems to be required: do animals have their own language(s) and can we learn them, or should we be teaching them new a-signifying languages like the ones used to ‘communicate’ with machines? There have been some experiments using varieties of sign language with hand-reared primates.  Behaviourism seems to offer the most technical progress so far, despite its ethical deficits.

Section 4: Sociology of Work

Chapter 6 starts with summarising Fernandes (1997), which I subsequently read as a classic ‘theoretically-informed ethnography’ (Willis and Trondman 2000) of work relations in a jute mill in Calcutta. Considering this sort of material is a bold move by Barad, and a necessary one because she explores the social level of relations nowhere else, except the science laboratory. She will inevitably attract criticism from sociologists like me for not fully grasping the context and the theoretical inputs. My point is rather to see this as a test for her arguments about quantum phenomena at social scales.

I noticed that Fernandes draws upon several mainstream social theorists, including Bourdieu, Giddens on spatial dimensions of interaction, and de Certeau on shop-floor resistance, but a major resource seems to be an approach associated with Hall, based on a gramscian notion of a ‘dialectic of hegemony and resistance’ concerning the everyday political negotiation of social categories and identities. Although Bourdieu is mentioned on cultural and social capital, his work on class closure and distancing, (Bourdieu 1986) which seems equally relevant, is not cited, however, nor is Parkin (1979)  or Murphy (1986) or anyone else in the ‘social closure’ tradition (see Barbalet 1982)

Feminist writers like Haraway or Harding are cited on the politics of identity and the difficulties of representing difference in research. A ‘genealogy’ of specific disputes, not at all a matter of ‘co-constituting’, reveal that social class, gender and various ‘community’ factors like caste, honour and religious practices are drawn upon rather opportunistically as resources to guide management divisive strategies (on worker retrenchment for example), and pragmatic union and worker political alliances constructed to resist these strategies. A self-critical discussion addresses the problems and benefits of trying to research these activities, focussing especially on the political consequences of binary divisions or ‘pure’ analytic categories.

The flawed categories include those trying to explain the characteristics of Indian social divisions in terms of binaries such as traditional/modern, or precapitalist/capitalist. There are critical implications specifically for previous determinist analyses of social class based on Marx, although Fernandes also rebukes Weber for assuming that social groups, status or class, form unitary identities. Fernandes does not consider 'social closure' approaches based on Weber's notion of 'party'.

Barad begins her discussion with an excellent summary of Fernandes’s main points, and then relates the study to her own concepts, which do not appear in the original study. This might be seen as similar to the process of developing a more general and somehow implicit ontology, as Barad did to Böhr. Barad argues that Fernandes’s  focus on shopfloor dynamics instead of abstract structures illustrates a notion of 'space of agency' (2007, p. 225) where there is both determinacy and indeterminacy. Processes of class closure and struggle are 'contests over space, time and movement' (2007, p.228). We can identify disciplinary regimes that structure time and space and produce stratifications of the workforce. These combine with stratifications of gender and community. The resulting structures arise from what Foucault calls ‘”immanent forces relating to subject-formation”’ (Barad p 229),  which can be grasped as 'an intra-acting multiplicity of material-discursive apparatuses of bodily production'. The term ‘apparatus’ helps us think about the machines used in jute processing, and how they are connected to political and cultural systems (but in specific processes of deskilling and worker retrenchment or wider tactics of ‘winning consent’ in the actual study).

Fernandes cites Giddens in arguing that there is a spatial dimension to human interaction, and the ways in which (residential and working) spaces are laid out embody political and social relations. Fernandes argues that examples might include the physical separation of managers’ wives from women workers of lower castes. On the shopfloor, machines are located in different places so that spatial positions of workers on the factory floor 'mark class, gender, and community' (Fernandes p. 163). These positions are nor permanently fixed, however, but indicate that space is 'a "practised place"' [quoting DeCerteau], never static. However, it seems an unevenly structured practice, with management holding most of the cards to discipline the workforce – management records output, monitors the workforce to prevent sabotage and so on. Fernandes cites Foucault’s notion of a disciplinary regime here, although she says this particular regime does not produce isolated self-regulating individuals but rather separated and conflicting interest groups.
For Barad, the machines (and buildings) do not just embody social relations but have their own 'machinic agency'. Fernandes herself does not use these terms. Machines are topological and can configure relations and identities topologically. Sometimes a machine 'refuses to work' [!] (2007, p.237) and this can initiate subsequent events like conflict between the workers or accusations of mismanagement, sometimes as unintended consequences. Overall, this confirms her earlier more general view of machines: they can agentically configure relations such as those described as intersectionality, specifically gender and ethnicity. Machines and humans produce an entanglement which helps constitute the components, she claims. Similarly, gender, class and community are enfolded and 'produced through one another', and aspects are material and discursive. As a result, Fernandes’s study illustrates for Barad that in intra-action we find 'nonarbitrary nondeterministic causal enactments through which matter–in–the–process–of–becoming is iteratively enfolded into its ongoing differential materialisation'(2007 p. 234), just as in quantum theory. Material conditions do more than support discourses, but provide their own unfolding and this should be fully considered. Barad suggests Fernandes’s study shows that possibilities are realised each time in configurations, so matter is itself agentive. Overall, the jute mill can be seen as 'an intra acting multiplicity of material–discursive apparatuses of bodily production' (2007 p. 237).

Barad briefly aligns Fernandes with EP Thompson’s famous discussion about the necessary attention to the processes of class formation in industrial Britain. The context seems to involve Thompson’s subsequent denunciation of the theoreticism of marxist structural accounts like those in Althusser. There is no real discussion of this issue, however. One interesting option would be to pursue the arguments of, say, Poulantzas (1975), that apparent self-sufficient complexity can itself be explained as the result of ‘many determinations’ emanating from the three or four ‘levels’ Althusserian modelling provides. Structural dimensions are present in actual Fernandes too, underneath all the surface complexity. Fernandes explains that these are necessary if we are not to end with just a set of confused categories (1997, p.11) Instead, she aims at a general 'analytical framework that can generate generalities without creating a hierarchy of cases'(p. 11). Strict economic determinism is not supported (nor is it by Althusser or Poulantzas) ,but there are still hints of a wider social determinism,or possibly historicism,  arising from Gramsci’s notions of the struggles in modern capitalism as a series of wars, and Hall’s extension of gramscian approaches into cultural studies. Social boundaries, and specific political struggles are 'the product of hegemonic practices and discourses' (1997, p. 6), as Barad herself notes (2007, p.242) . There are even three underlying 'tiers—structure, consciousness and political activity' (Fernandes 1997, p.10) , which are not too far from Poulantzas. Categories are formed 'through both temporal and spatial processes' (p. 162) but these are not the mysteries of quantum time processes but the familiar linear time and historical sequence and Cartesian space, as the actual case studies reveal.

Barad’s reinterpretation of Fernandes’s work emphasises the complexity and the processes. It is not based on any further empirical studies of Indian jute mills, it seems. It is not clear that Fernandes herself assisted in Barad’s re-reading. This might point to a controversy discussed in Vol II on diffractive readings and how much symbolic violence they permit to the primal texts that are to be diffracted. It is also controversial in generalising away from the specific contexts and events which Fernandes stresses. Barad seems open to the sort of critique that Marx made of earlier political economists – they saw human labour and exchange in general, naturalised terms, as essential to human activity throughout the ages. To take an obvious example, some economists argued that it was ‘natural’ for humans to work in the natural hours of daylight, which meant a working day in factories of 12 hours or more at times. Work and exchange are quite different in the specific circumstances of capitalism, however – humans work to produce and exchange commodities specifically, and both of these capitalist variants feature systematised forms of exploitation embodied, so to speak, and concealed in the actual practices themselves. To see the specific variants as just further examples of a wholly natural and timeless human activity is to apologise for them and conceal their effects.

For Barad, general, ‘topological’ analysis of the specifics can open up possibilities for change and we can reconfigure other possibilities, so ontology can support liberating political practice, including 'subversion, resistance, opposition, and revolution' (2007, p.218) . Barad might be right in suggesting that there are no limits to possibilities (p. 246) in principle, but that still leaves the limits to possibilities in specific practice. She stresses the infinite possibilities of queer combination in Barad (nd) and Barad (2017) and far too briefly acknowledges that 'there are an infinite number of possibilities, but not everything is possible' (2017, p.78). It is debatable if her principled abstract and utopian approach offers the best chance for resistance and political change when we are faced with 'global neocolonialism… The uneven distribution of wealth and poverty' (2007, p.218), which precisely limit the possibilities.

I think this problem of ignoring specifics indicates a more general one with Barad's sociology. It is very limited and seems to be generalised from the science laboratory.  In that laboratory, there are what gives every appearance of being autonomous individuals able to decide what to do to take risks and accept responsibility. This must have appeared to be particularly the case in the era of classic quantum theory, where famous individuals developed insights and perspectives of their own, with their names attached to them. Böhr and Heisenberg were members of a team even in those days, ranging from lab assistants to directors of institutes who organised matters such as funding, although thought experiments are notoriously inexpensive, and it was not common to acknowledge others in the team as we know from various controversies about neglected members. Barad does not mention the team members. The laboratory as metonym for social relations in general provides other insights for Barad -- that we need to take responsibility and pay attention to details, for example (originally recommended as a way to proceed in quantum erasure experiments to overturn Feynman’s account – Barad 2017, for example). 
The discussion in Barad (2012) is also interesting for revealing a context for Barad's problematic notion of responsibility/response-ability. Scientists made progress when they stopped tgrying to impose determinstic models on a particular organism's behaviour and a better approach invovled  'providing opportunities for the organism to respond' (p.38)  -- in other words devoting more time to observations and reserving judgements about their significance. In Barad ( 1998) it is clear that the rejection of 'interaction' in favour of 'intra-action' also has its roots in scientific understandings and laboratory practices, especially the older notion of doing science as an all-knowing human subject manipulating entirely passive material. I argue that interaction in Sociology has never had this highly limited notion but has always covered a range of relations with others,seeing them as passive objects sometimes, say in behaviourism, but also as fully equivalent human subjects,sometimes with surprisingly subjective and creative responses to social situations -- as in 'symbolic interaction'.

In Barad 2007 (pp.161--4) there is a very brief acknowledgement of the importance of 'class, nationalism, gender', funding issues and the ability to be sponsored by famous scientists, but this is confined to one decisive experiment by Stern and Gerlach. In an amusing account, Barad relates describes how the detection apparatus worked only when Stern handled the machinery. Stern was precariously employed at the time and could only afford to smoke cheap ‘sulfurous’ cigars. The fumes on his breath converted the silver on the detecting plate into silver sulphide, which was a better detector. If this is to be taken as generally instructive, social class seems to work only by affecting individual’s bodies (and then only temporarily).

Relations between humans and apparatus in laboratories are also quite special. The ingenious experiments involving which-slit detectors had emerged after years of thought and practice and were so independent of the humans involved that they had developed to a stage where they could arbitrate between different theories. Barad (2010) tells us that they produced results that decisively settled the controversy between Böhr and Heisenberg over whether it was epistemological uncertainty or ontological indeterminacy that produced the findings. The whole activity was designed in a way that was protected from immediate industrial political interests, relying on the considerable autonomy of the institutions in which they worked. As a model for social relations, activities in the laboratory are clearly inadequate. Those interactions between individuals are special, and the relations between the individual, the technological, social and the political is quite different in other situations. In particular, social interactions are controllable in laboratories, so much so that decisive experiments can be arranged to rule out observer effects.

The emergence of quantum theory must have indeed looked like an unusual level of investigation of the old classical physics. My memories are being taught that are very remote, but I do recall it fitting pretty well what Barad calls the reflection model. The natural world seemed to be an inert object that we studied. The results of study did indeed always generate the same — the same underlying laws or formulas. Epistemology itself was limited to positivist practices of running through agreed methods in the form of a checklist that we followed in writing up.

Reproducing those characteristics and applying them to the whole of social life and intellectual activity displays clear limits.  Doing the same with quantum theory also has problems. We see some of them in the discussions of Fernandes. The relations between workers and machines in the jute factory are quite unlike the relations between experimenter and which-slit apparatus. Machines still appear to be autonomous, but they gained this from a definite political relation embodied in the factory form. People on the factory floor are much more restricted in terms of the ways they are expected to relate to these machines — they more or less have to obey them, especially in the rate at which they work. Intra-action seems inappropriate to describe having your work dominated by machines, even allowing for the occasional chance that might arise to sabotage or relocate the machine. Interactions might be a more apt term here – exchanges are not unlimited, and not devoted to pursuing knowledge, but rather to maximising surplus value. There are serious constraints of custom, power and, if necessary, law to regulate those interactions. Machines do not have the capacity to change thinking as they do in science laboratories, and although it is true that they embody human relations, those are relations of power. Productive machines in factories and expert systems generally incorporate what Marxists call dead labour, the skilled labour of the operative, and the labour of supervision and regulation. What gives them their apparent autonomy from the workers' perspective is that they are the private property of factory owners, and so appear alien and alienating.

Latour's discussions of machines, is more general and considers those  designed carefully to do various aspects of human work, not just factory labour. He is a sociologist (among other things),and so his work is located at the level of the social,and his analyses are based on machines already deeply interwoven with social processes and relations. That extends to current knowledge-producing machines in cases like the CERN accelerator.  These are not at all like the ingenious apparatus in the 1930s laboratory, because they embody definite purposes and intents by both owners and designers, and those include the disciplining of human reactions. Human reactions are carefully designed in, 'prescribed' in the vocabulary of Latour 1988, and this prescription can vary considerably in terms of how restrictive it is, as we saw. In the machines in the jute mills, the designers seem to have focused carefully on regulating the inputs of human beings, simplifying them and deskilling them to the maximum extent possible at the time,and this is almost the complete opposite to the one used in the quantum eraser experiments. To take examples not discussed by either Latour or Barad, we are now familiar with machines designed for leisure use that permit a wide range of playful human interventions and that reward skilled understanding of the conventions which the machines use. But those machines are still designed to present an optimal path, a chreod, for users.

The everyday world, experienced by scientists as well as laypersons, is structured by constraints and opportunities, ranging from mild expectations of good conduct to legal requirements, and by social relations of various kinds, some indeed self-constituting and some oppressive, and many that are to be negotiated or that will change over time. The story of self and other does not need to be outlined at the level of electrons and virtual particles because we are all familiar with it. Everything changes when we consider social situations not individual relations between scientists or between individuals and Nature. It also changes when we step outside of carefully controlled laboratory conditions to everyday life.

I am not at all sure how a Baradian would cope with these constraints and expectations. Urging us to be responsible and to take responsibility for every-thing would impose an almost impossible burden of obligation in everyday life, and guilt when this cannot be discharged. The demand to take responsibility might just have meant urging scientists to sign up for feminist activism (Barad 2003), but it has expanded to include everything other or Other. Guilt at inactivity seems most likely. Barad does not discuss guilt, because in the laboratory it can be put on hold or excluded altogether. I assume responsibility and guilt are managed in a rather brisk bureaucratic manner by ticking a box that says you have complied with the relevant ethics policy.  Social situations are quite different, not least because those involved in social relations can let us know how they feel and can impose constraints on us. There is no bureaucratic procedure to absolve us. We rely on social conventions or negotiate individual cases, and this is always messy. 

I can see why some vegetarians refrain from eating meat because they feel in some way responsible for food animals, but I do not see how they could exist at all if they were simultaneously and somehow equally responsible for plant foods. I don't see how I could breathe as naturally and unselfconsciously, or possibly even as frequently, as I do if I felt myself responsible for the fate of the oxygen atoms that I was using in respiration. How on earth could anyone sleep at night if they felt responsible for the nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere of Jupiter? I suspect there is a familiar social coping strategy implied in all this. This responsibility is purely abstract and gestural, a moral expression, a virtue to be signalled when appropriate, and then people cheerfully carry on managing their responsibilities in the familiar forms of denial or 'bad faith' — I feel bad about food animals, but I would not want to push farmers into unemployment, and subjectively, if I buy meat in a packet in a supermarket, I can easily forget that it is a piece of an animal, or convince myself that as it has been killed and butchered already I might as well eat it as have it thrown away.  I do not suppose that lopping off an arm of a starfish would cause much remorse – Barad seems to express none – probably by a convenient reassertion of the argument that they are not as sensitive to pain as us, or that the ends justify the means.  On other occasions, it is a relief to find that we are powerless to intervene in a matter how responsible we might feel, or to put the responsibility on others. All of these are quite understandable and normal.

These examples show, of course that what might be ethical conduct for one person is not necessarily beneficial to other people.   Barad's abstract individualism ignores social consequences, and individual obligations and guilt, although these are really at the heart of ethical and political problems. To cite an old and influential Utilitarian argument, policies can never make everyone happy and so they should pursue the maximum happiness of the maximum number of people, even while minorities also have rights. On another tack, to borrow Foucault, the exercise of power has both positive and negative consequences, and it is difficult to first detect these and then rank them. Barad seems to want to somehow suggest a position that floats above these difficult areas into abstract ontology. She looks at quantum experiments in the laboratory, but then offers only the most general and abstract discussion of the exclusively negative consequences in the development of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons –we just leap from Böhr’s laboratory to Nagasaki to Fukushima as if the only connections were ontological ones.

At the level of politics, abstraction tends to leave things pretty much as they are. Confessing to a general responsibility, before shrugging and carrying on anyway avoids the challenge of actually trying to work out what can be changed. Sweeping abstract ethical statements are far less relevant than active micropolitics in the sense of Guattari and Rolnik (2008). We need to analyse 'stereotyped relations of personal life, conjugal life, romantic life, and professional life, in which everything is guided by codes'.  We need a new pragmatics [at the level of analysis as well as action].  Abstract or symbolic guilt is an effective regulator of desire. If there is a first rule of micropolitics, it is 'be alert to all the factors of culpabilization; be alert to everything that blocks the processes of transformation in the subjective field'.  We need to overcome the problems in escaping, since it is always difficult.  In particular we need 'the social analysis of the attribution of guilt' (2008, p.191).

Other social situations feature now and then in Barad's accounts, and they are also not always typical. She talks a lot about colonisation, for example, and records the oppressions felt by women, often from ethnic minorities, in marginalised situations — in ‘borderlands’. This leads to a simplified oppressive view of the social world, as when male rulers always adopt a policy of divide and rule, or differences harden into exclusionary categories as in apartheid.  It is worth pointing out that Fernandes’s study, which is cited as showing the importance of ‘divide and rule’ also displays several other favourite hegemonic techniques including incorporation of critics. There are many other situations which are by no means as clear-cut, of course, where mixtures of sameness and difference are far more contingent and flexible, far less subject to social constraint and far more open to negotiation. Even football fans at the height of football spectator violence in the 1980s, for example were capable of managing flexible ‘segmented’  identities, seeing themselves as in conflict with local rivals if there is a 'derby' but forming alliances with local fans if there is a game at the national level (see Dunning et al. 1986). Sexual conduct is another example where flexible identities have been encouraged and have flourished, and the same goes with many identities associated with leisure (developing identities as idealised selves in the stuff on hobbies for example – see Kjølsrød 2003). There is even much more flexibility at work especially in loosely coupled organisations.

The result is that the clash between radicalised difference and openness grounded in quantum theory as opposed to dominating social situations described by women who have been oppressed and excluded is far too limited. The normal ambiguities of social life might be a far more promising field for investigation than the utopian speculations about full respect for difference and full responsibilities for everything.

At the end of the next chapter, 7, which outlines these early debates, Barad develops her own general overall perspectives. She offers a variety of justifications for going into general philosophy. It is immediately clear that we are not going to rely on the same densely interconnected empirical and mathematical forms of reasoning that produced quantum theory, although they have produced an authoritative set of conclusions up to this point. She makes a familiar claim of providing more explanatory power, saying that her philosophy loses nothing from Böhr’s focus but adds more general implications, including implications for the macro world, for social and cultural realities, a whole unified ontology. At one point, Barad says this is a direction based on empirical evidence provided by quantum physics, but it remains unclear whether this implies some kind of quantum determinism, a more flexible set of limits on the macro world with many more possibilities, or whether this is some kind of model or metaphor to encourage us to reject rigid definitions of the natural.

Section 5: Ethics and difference

It is the similarities between nonhumans and ourselves that seem to provide support for Barad’s general ontology. It is one that works by denying the importance of differences after all, so that possession of a brain makes no difference to knowing. There is however, one area for Barad in which starfish are not the same as human beings: although 'we are not the only active beings...this is never a justification for deflecting our responsibility on to others' (2007, p.390). Starfish do not seem to have this responsibility for themselves or for us. Much of Barad’s (2007) book could be seen as denying the usual claims of distinctive difference for human beings compared to other things, to preserve the positive otherness of machines or starfish. Barad (2017,p. 86) has a particularly ambivalent argument: we are human not because we are ontologically distinct from non-humans or sub-humans, but because of 'our relationship with and responsibility to the dead, to the ghosts of the past and the future'. However, a note on the same page suggests that this is not exceptional to humans after all 'since all time–beings mourn'.

Barad argues that we should extend ethical questions to our relations and not limit ourselves to some notion of mechanical intervention with animals, or objects. However, we do not choose responsibility—in a phrase repeated several times, it is 'an incarnate relation that precedes the intentionality of consciousness' (discussed below). Confusingly, ‘responsibility’ means different things, as Barad recognises by also coining the neologism ‘response-ability’ (and, on one occasion ‘respons-ibility’, Barad 2010, p. 265 – doubtless a typo). The latter seems to imply a capacity to make a response of some kind rather than an ethical obligation to act responsibly. Barad tends to elide the two, however, to support a naturalistic ethics.

Neologisms play a considerable rhetorical role in her arguments. ‘Intra-action’ has been widely adopted, for example, although whether the full implications are accepted is less clear: the word has a nice ring to it, alluding to friendly cooperations among equals with no social hierarchies. Strangely ‘interference’ remains unmodified though. There are many experiments with a technique I first came across reading French structural linguistics involving different syllabic stresses in words – ‘e-motion’ and ‘e-merge’ or ‘dis/continuity’ for example. The use of forward slashes seems to be to challenge binary distinctions, also indicated perhaps in hyphenating words like ‘material-discursive’. I can see that that would apply to ‘e-merge, although I still cannot see the point of ‘e-motion’, unless it is to imply a connection between electrons and emotions. This could be playful argumentation again. The alternative is to see it as a form of utopian idealism, where changing words is sufficient to change worlds.

Being the product of an ‘incarnate relation’ (see below) might be seen to absolve us from any particular human ethical responsibility. We do seem to have additional human responsibilities, after all, though. We are not just 'pawns in the game of life' (2007, p172). Humans are not the only agents, but they do have a role; we must 'intra-act responsibly in the world's becoming' (p. 235). Also, 'generally speaking, the results don't simply announce themselves; rather, one has to analyze the data in some way' (p. 312). But on the other hand these human activities are still somehow part of Nature: 'we are a part of that nature that we seek to understand'(2007, p. 26); acts of knowledge making are 'social-material enactments that contribute to, and are a part of, the phenomena we describe'. Thus 'Responsibility is not ours alone' (393). The book just offers some compromises too 'we are [only partly] responsible for the cuts that we help enact', even though we do not choose these cuts. We are ‘an agential part of the material becoming of the universe’ (2007, p. 178), yet we still need to choose to meet the universe halfway, 'to take responsibility for the role that we play in the world's differential becoming’.

'Post-humanism' therefore becomes 'a thoroughgoing critical naturalism' (2007, p.331), where humans and the activities of knowing, including scientific knowing, are natural processes of engagement with the world. There are some unfortunate precedents for such ethical naturalism, however, not least those values associated with Nietzsche. Ethics is not just 'a super imposing of human values onto the ontology of the world’ (Barad 2010, p.264).The argument seems to be that because difference and heterogenity are entangled with everything and everyone, we must acknowledge this instead of denying or repressing it. Barad (2010, p. 264) elaborates: we have relations of obligation because we are bound to the other and are ourselves 'enfolded traces of othering', and 'ethicality entails non-coincidence with oneself'. Derrida is cited to remind us that humans have a responsibility to their ancestors and to those to come, and this gets drastically extended, in Barad (nd, p. 9): 'Ethicality entails hospitality to the stranger threaded through oneself and through all being and non-/being', being open to 'a cacophony of whispered screens, grasps, and cries [from] an infinite multitude of indeterminate beings' (Barad nd, p. 9) a very burdensome debt to discharge.

It will be an impossible debt to discharge in practice, I have already suggested, because we cannot be equally responsible in the usual sense to all the others deeply entangled with ourselves and with nonhuman life, because this is sometimes a contested entanglement. We seem obliged to extend hospitality to every stranger, including dangerous ones. We never seem to have to choose between strangers, on the basis of need, deserts or rights, or rather, when we do, we can find no guidance from Barad’s ethics. In practice, this will almost inevitably lead to an ethical tokenism, where we humbly acknowledge our debts, and then proceed without practical lives none the less. It might be that we do not have a personal kind of responsibility but rather some Hegelian notion that human reason has been produced by Spirit’s Reason as a kind of development of self-consciousness.

Thiele (2016) sees Barad’s ethics as a matter of seeking and welcoming difference, which also gives it a feminist inflection.  We have already seen that this has an ontological basis in the entangled inseparability of self and other. There is a paradox in insisting that everyone and everything must be treated in the same way by recognising their differences: we see this when Barad (2017, p. 65) reminds us that 'Not all differences are the same', and asks 'What differences do differences in production [of jute] make for the production of different differences' (2007, p.227). It follows that some hierarchy must exist among differences – some might be linked in a hierarchy of entailment so that one difference must entail another. Some might be more important politically. Barad herself clearly prioritises gender differences, possibly with those displayed by ethnic inequalities, while class differences are relatively neglected. There is an indifference to different differences in favour of a common origin of abstract difference -- differences are not natural or externally determined for Barad but are the result of agential cuts. Barad also prefers to think of the differences produced by cuts as iterative, sequential and constantly 'enacted in the ongoing ebb and flow of agency’ (2007, p. 338). The problem is that this overpredicts change and is inadequate to explain the continuity of those power differentials that she also identifies.

For some of the feminists considered by Geerts and van der Tuin, there is a view of women’s difference which is limited to a phallogocentric, prescribed range of unthreatening alternatives, while others want to explore what might be seen as real, positive or unconstrained differences. We might develop ‘a "singular model" of subjectivity versus a patriarchal "model of the two" that leaves the differences between the subjects intact’ More generally, there are differences in feminist theorising of sexual/gender difference, with some leading to demands for equality, and others to women having ‘ specific rights on the basis of sexual difference.’(Geerts & van der Tuin no page numbers). There is also the ‘carnal aspect of heterosexual love’, which requires the "erotic attraction" between two sexually different subjects to be sustained while both subjects recognize each other as equals in their difference. Quoting Irigaray:  "each must be a place" for one another, without destroying "the interval (of attraction) between the two". It might be different again in same-sex love. Apparently, Beauvoir thinks same-sex relationships might better deliver carnal love between women as the place where alterity is respected, and here each woman can be "subject and object at the same time".

In practice Barad’s exhortation to be responsible and ethical in our dealings with the world looks much more like an abstract commitment, a black box, just as it is in qualitative research. There are some general recommendations: we can proceed by distributing agency to include nonhuman forms. However 'not all possibilities are open at each moment'. We must be aware of oppressive operations of technology, for example where reproductive technology might be used to create hybrid embryos. Here, genetic material is nonhuman agency, and the technology unlocks its potential. Both hegemonic and counter hegemonic implications arise and we should continually remind ourselves of accountability and responsibility. However, consequences are also important and may complicate the ethical position. There might be both costs and benefits to the development of particular technologies, for example gene editing, and some of these will not emerge until after conventional, even positivist, research has been undertaken on the effects. It will not be easy to gauge overall political consequences either, and difficult to see in advance if they will be (counter) hegemonic.

Seeing personal political and ethical commitments as an integral component of validity means it is practically impossible for outsiders to distinguish between technical concepts and social judgments. Barad needs to explain in more detail how she has balanced her rival allegiances herself. She says, in  her 2014 article (p.181) that it would be wrong to see it as an narrative produced by an ‘I’ 'since this position is counter to diffracting. There is no ‘I that exists outside the diffraction pattern, observing it, telling its story. In an important sense, this story in its ongoing (re)patterning is (re)(con)figuring me’. However, this also implies no personal prejudices, biases, misunderstandings or special interests arise from the standpoint of the specific character Prof K Barad.  The autobiographical section in Barad (2007) is more informative, but in a general sense. There may be no god’s eye view, but professorial style, based on undoubted expertise, is also apparent in the combination of excellent impersonal summaries and impassioned appeals to welcome the other. Barad’s expertise is apparent, of course, in the conventional ‘author’s notes’ attached to her articles.

In a university context, there is a committee to decide ethical matters of course, but outside there is only a presumably amateur grasp of ethical issues. Barad does not seem to recommend expert technical input into discussions of ethics, Levinas apart. It ends with something quite like male heroics after all, where the researcher alone bears all the risks and obligations but courageously sets out undaunted nevertheless. In actual cases, like the examples with dangerous animals, zero-sums are often involved, there are competing ethical responsibilities, and Barad has not made clear how we might detect which specific way quantum physics might point in those cases. Politically, insisting on a general ethical responsibility while not providing any guidance about how to be ethical in practice might lead to a generalised radical rethinking about the links between humans, machines and Nature, as Barad hopes, but it could equally well lead to a general otherwordly piety, to tokenism or to opportunism, or even to dominant ethical systems supported by power relations.

There is also a tendency to set the whole discussion in terms of a debate with various straw persons. Thus the excessive individualism attributed to humanist perspectives is probably only confined to the most naive examples of classical economics or neoliberal political theory, but that stands for individualism in general. The limited notion of interaction which is to be replaced with the neologism intra-action probably belongs to that tradition with its sovereign individuals. By contrast, sociological critiques of classical economics and neoliberal political theory have always stressed the social nature of interaction from the beginning. The way in which contractual relations, for example are underpinned by shared cultural norms and understandings was argued by Durkheim. Weber defines social action, as action oriented to others. This leaves open the possibility of other kinds of action too, especially ‘purposive-rational’ kinds.

Barad favours intra-action so much compared to its simple binary opposite that she elides all the forms of interaction into the most naive version, a matter of isolated individuals operating directly on the world, and it is this that Barad insists that it must be abandoned in favour of intra-action. In the social world, intra-action itself might be ambiguous if human interaction is strategically designed to look intra-active. Some apparent interaction might be made with intra-active intent – early pedagogical instruction for example. As with other binary-like divisions, the choice of intra- or inter-action, to describe human behaviour at least, conceals a number of options between the two poles.

Section 6 Foundationalism

There has been some enthusiasm for post-modern approaches, especially those in the work of Lyotard, and some qualitative researchers of an earlier generation have been inspired by his argument that there is now considerable 'scepticism towards metanarratives' in both political and academic quarters. The obvious example given the context is the ways in which Marxism withered away as an organising metanarrative in French academic and political life. This led to renewed interest in Nietszche and Spinoza instead of Marx and Hegel, for example in deleuzian work.

Perhaps it was not appreciated that this scepticism can be extended towards any metanarrative, however. Barad offers a metanarrative, with a whole array of foundational concepts as we have seen, and with a claim to have an extremely general if not universal applicability for them. Linking with feminism makes it a classic metanarrative offering liberation from phallogocentric positivism.

There are always technical problems, identified best, perhaps in the work of Hindess and Hirst who undertook to test out the applicability of the marxist foundational concept 'mode of production' against a range of historical examples in Marx himself. They concluded that it was not possible to 'apply' foundational concepts without a combination of incoherence and dogmatism. Specific cases are clearly more complex than foundational concepts, and 'applying' the concept must involve selectively and often unsystematically neglecting aspects of this specificity. Some specific cases will be managed differently from other specific cases, and characteristics will be just arbitrarily categorised as relevant commonalities or irrelevant specific differences. This is the technical meaning of the term ‘dogmatism’: it might also be seen as essentialism, which is inherently tautological, for Deleuze.

It will take detailed analysis to pursue this with the work of Barad, but there are already hints of it in the sceptical discussions of examples covered just above. We might highlight some possible incoherences, for example, in the very attempt to combine scientific investigation and feminist activism. Barad’s conclusions are certainly far removed from the experimental findings with which she begins her discussions, and require additional interpretation of particular accounts, not based on experimental findings, followed by explorations of what is entailed.  To sharpen a comment by Kirby (2017) (which might originally have been a comment by Meillassoux),attaching a prefix 'co-' to a word like 'constituting' only
produces an illusory philosophical principle. We might make the same point about the other terms in Barad -- the forward slash in 'material/discursive' or the jamming together of words as in 'spacetimemattering'.
A less confrontational approach might involve attempts to reconstruct the arguments in detail, to see how potentially conflicting or incoherent matters are actually theorised and reconciled. We might be able to detect in her arguments the process of ‘abduction’ developed for example in Reichertz 2010), which is neither induction nor deduction but a creative combination of the two, following implications as they arise. We might start with a notion of a phenomenon, for example and then have to think out some implications, like how phenomena actually also produce the apparently fixed objects of experience. A notion like ‘agential cut’ might be necessary, but then there are implications for the phenomenon and the location of agents in it. This can be solved by making any component into an agent, including non-human ones, but then human exceptionalism has to be addressed and the agency of objects, machines and animals investigated. Attributing agency to animals, starfish, say, will involve necessary interpretations of empirical behaviour, coming to see behaviours like avoiding sudden looming shadows as agentic avoidance of predators. These attributions are consistent with the other theoretical work, providing a mutual justification. Finally, phenomena have a quantum level of operation, building on the arguments established by Böhr so we can introduce all the openness and unpredictability as further examples of agency. The concept of ‘intra-action’ is entailed by this quantum openness and indeterminacy, demonstrated best in the quantum vacuum. The issue of scale then has to be addressed to connect the quantum with the ordinary world – and so on. 

Tracing the entailments in an argument is not easy – they might follow logically from each other, or along the lines of theoretical or empirical adequacy, appearing as either hypotheses or deductions, to use an older vocabulary: they can mutually support or act as a test for one another. I am not saying that this is the actual track of Barad’s arguments – she says she starts ‘in the middle’ of chains of argument like this, the abstract and the empirical wings can be explored in any order.

Responsibility as an incarnate relation

As an illustration, there is a phrase that turns up in several places (Barad 2007, 2010, 2014) concerning ‘responsibility’, whose problematic status is discussed above in terms of whether it indicates human exceptionalism or not. The phrase is that responsibility is 'an incarnate relation that precedes the intentionality of consciousness'.  It is worth trying to pursue in more detail the dense argumentation that supports this statement. It can be seen as echoing the ambiguities displayed in Section 5 of this Volume about whether human beings were determined by ‘Nature’ or distinct in their ethical responsibilities.

The 2007 book has this phrase in a section close to the end entitled ‘Towards an Ethics of Mattering’, which begins with citing Levinas, or rather a reading of Levinas by Ziarek. This is described as a ‘materialist‘ reading (Barad 2010) remedying Levinas’s humanism: I have not read it yet and so I cannot comment on whether this is a valid reading or not, but the point is that Barad’s subsequent arguments depends on it.  Levinas apparently argues that responsibility is the primary mode of subjectivity, so ethics itself has an existential base.  For him ethics always involves a relation of responsibility to the other. The ethical subject is not the usual one 'but rather an embodied sensibility which response to its proximal relationship to the other through a mode of wonderment that is antecedent to consciousness' (Barad 2007, p.391). This can be linked to feminist work on how ethical significance is crystallised in touch (explored further in Barad nd), where Ziarek also appears. Levinas is interpreted by Ziarek to mean that embodiment is not about seeing the body as just a surface for the inscription of culture, nor just as the biological body, but '"the condition of relations to objects but also a prototype of an ethical experience”' (Barad, p.391, quoting Ziarek). Continuing to cite Ziarek, nor is the body the object of self reflection because the self is always embodied.  The embodied self is 'the pre-logical, pre-synthetic entwinement of thought and carnality, or what Levinas calls "being in one's skin"', Ziarek concludes (Barad, p. 391)

Barad says that this means (assuming we accept Ziarek’s reading and Barad’s subsequent abridgment of it) that we cannot escape responsibility, because this is 'a prior ethical relation', referring to '”non-coincidence within oneself”', which therefore becomes the basis for ethical relations to others — 'before all reciprocity in the face of the other, I am responsible' (Barad 2007, p. 392). Therefore responsibility is an incarnate relation that precedes the intentionality of consciousness, that is it is a general relation, inevitably embodied in this Levinas/Ziarek sense, not something found in the normal consciousness, not confined to or energised by conscious human relations. It is ontologically prior, ‘”prior to every engagement”’ (still quoting Ziarek, Barad p. 392).

Now Barad wants to take another step in extending alterity to include other-than-human as an aspect of ‘non-coincidence with oneself’. This might involve extending beyond Levinas/ Ziarek. Barad  then argues that if we were to take this step, it would mean that responsibility is not just a matter for human embodiment, that it is not just about human encounters because ‘the boundaries of the human… are continually being reconfigured’. This is why humanist ethics won't suffice and why we need post-humanist ethics, 'an ethics of worlding' (2007 p. 392). A similar argument follows when Ziarek says that  Levinas says that culture does not add extra attributes onto some representation of the thing, but that '"the cultural is essentially embodied thought expressing itself, the very life of flesh manifesting"’ (Barad p.392, quoting Ziarek). Barad goes on to suggest that we might extend again, and think of this as being 'true of nature as well… that nature expresses itself, that nature is not the other of thought or speech' (p.392).  She cautiously switches to subjunctive mode with these extensions of argument — 'what would it mean', or 'what if we were to acknowledge'.  If all this were to be granted, the materiality of everything as well as human embodiment 'always already entails "an exposure to the Other"' (I think the capitalised Other includes more than human others). If we could acknowledge that, then 'responsibility is "the essential, primary and fundamental mode" of objectivity as well as subjectivity'

Barad offers in support of these initially cautious and conditional arguments that in agential realism she has already argued that matter is indeed a dynamic expression or articulation of the world in its becoming, and that all bodies come to matter through the performativity of the world. Intra-activity produces differential enactments of boundaries, properties and meanings. An especially important part of this argument in favour of agential realism is that differentiation is not radical exteriority but 'agential separability' as much about 'making connections and commitments' as 'othering or separating' (2007 p. 392). Matter is always entangled with the Other before any such intra-action cuts it: intra-action co-constitutes parts of phenomena. This applies to objects as well as subjects, so (extending Levinas) as above, the other is not just in our skin but in our material bodies and 'this is as true for electrons as it is for brittlestars as it is for the differentially constituted human'.

Now we have argued for the relationality of matter, Otherness and human beings and the dynamic agency of all three we can conclude that overall, the human subject is neither the locus of knowing nor of ethicality because we are always already responsible to others with whom we are entangled even if 'not through conscious intent' but rather through 'ontological entanglements that materiality entails' (p. 393).
This seems to be a binary again – this is consciousness in the usual sense of self-awareness, which is classically unaware of anything affecting it, and there is no human unconscious for example, especially not in a social form.  Agential cuts do not separate in a way that persists in social formations, totally, nor do they individuate.

Ethics is not about the right response to others as exterior but about a very abstract 'responsibility and accountability for the lively relationalities of becoming of which we are a part' (p. 393). Everything is consistent, if Levinas has been managed by Ziarek anyway, and if we accept what has already been argued about intra-action and non-human agency. However, we end with an extremely abstract and ambiguous ethics as argued before based on our responsibility for everything, all the things that have constituted us, our ‘inheritance’, all the infinite others and Others that relate to us, universally, not only in the past but in the future. The argument gains relevance and focus only by equating this abstract ethical stance rather arbitrarily or opportunistically with feminism or queer politics.

Deleuze notes that this could be tautological – specific similarities are chosen on the basis of some assumed and deduced onto-epistemo-ethical essential qualities, but then the presence of those qualities is itself justified by ‘finding them’ inductively in specific examples. Sometimes Barad’s argument claims its force from extending Böhr into a general ontology and predicting the consequences; sometimes it seems to be inferring universal qualities like intra-action from considering research in animal laboratories, uses of advanced medical technology, or the politics of jute mills. One approach supports the other, and there seems to be no attempt to test generalisations against examples that might correct them, not even a possibility of doing so, which indicates dogmatism.

Overall, dogma can produce ‘lazy theorising’ where essential characteristics are just ‘recognised’ in empirical cases without any more analytic effort, and we might be able to detect this in Barad’s discussion of Fernandes. Deleuze's own approach has been criticised along these lines, for example. Badiou (2000) argues that the emphasis in Deleuze is really on the 'univocity of being', a phrase that he actually uses in Difference and Repetition. In other, simpler, words, the mechanics of the emergence of actual being from virtual being are universal and affect everything. However Badiou argues that this approach produces a certain indifference to empirical variation and actual cases, including cases of difference — all equally are produced by the voice of Being in the same way. Despite Deleuze's attempts to undertake concrete analysis, say of the cinema, only the same underlying concepts are allowed to triumph.

Zizek's similar account makes a particularly sharp point — that Deleuze's approach would not be able to distinguish philosophically the liberating fluid and nomadic political and personal developments he supports from the fluidity, flexibility and diverse flows of modern global capitalism. It might be possible to make similar comments about Barad’s abstractions – no doubt Wordsworth’s poems, the activities of starfish and Trump’s foreign policy could all be analysed technically as agential acts, managing complex entangled phenomena with cultural, political, mathematical, historical technological and geographical components (more so in some cases than others), but this is probably the least interesting and relevant quality they possess. All the interesting and important differences in quality stem from discussing specifically human matters such as understandings, relevance systems, intentions, purposes and consequences, intended and unintended, and we find none of those specified in Barad’s ontology.

I have now read a bit of Ziarek --  a chapter in a general book reviewing Levinas for feminism. That article proceed via a reading of Levinas by by irigaray, which substitutes  the general notion of  the relation to  the other to a specific encounter -- erotic love.  This moves from Levinas's choice of non-erotic 'fecundity' as the key social relations showing the effects of passion ( a passion to get a stake for the future in offspring). This requires rejecting Levinas's patriarchal and Christian underpinnings. What seems to remain is L's ethics which are grounded in the specific recognition of others at very heart of human subjectivity, in the way language addresses others as soon as it tries to communicate -- like Derrida here.  This leaves 'ipseity' with a particular contradiction between sensibility and language. A sense of self develops first via language, maybe as a mirror relation, then gains additional meaning from encounters with others. The other is internalised, part of the human body itself (incarnated --more Christian heritage?) --ie not just in consciousness. This leads to tensions ( 'torsions') . Quite similar to Lacan says Zairek. Quite similar  to D&G on 'order words'. I thought -- interlocution always has a prior orientation to the other. Quite similar to Derrida for that matter, in his critique of Husserl saying that we cannot dispense with others in speech or consciousness. Not dissimilar from symbolic interaction with with its abilities to take the role of the other and this learn about social life ( maybe especially in Peirce's pragmatism?)

I'm not sure this is easily applied to animals, though. They interact with others, of course, but not as full Others -- as prey,as mates, as rivals, as food item etc. If there is no human language there can be no self or self-and other relations,no mirrors. If ethics is incarnated in animals it must be via a different process not discussed in Levinas? It is a Barad 'extension'?

A context for post-human materialism

It might be possible to sketch out a context, at least for the emergence of feminist post-humanism and the popularity of Barad’s work among qualitative researchers nevertheless.
Barad’s early interests certainly turned on trying to get feminists interested in STS,but she was also working with physicists in her University. The issues seem to have arisen first in science studies (now known as STS) addressed by Barad before she wrote the great book. In particular, Hollin et al (2017) suggest that Barad aligned herself with those who wanted to re-divide STS, after much work to integrate the various earlier subdivisions (sociology of science, history of science etc). The new split would hive off a specialist feminist STS. There is a hint of inter-disciplinary tensions in Barad (Jeuleskjaer & Schwennesen 2012), either in her Faculty at the time or in the Science & Technology Studies Group. She was in the interesting position of working with physicisist in her University and feminists and notes a difficulty when feminists wanted to form a group called 'Femininst Critiques of Science'. The physicists seemed dismissive and did not welcome such critique and Barad faced a problem of credibility with her colleagues,possibly even some lack of cooperation. The group's name was changed to 'Feminist Studies of Science'. Barad goes on in her interview  to argue against critique as a general approach in academic discussion, in favour of affirmative diffraction, and again this specific case has been taken as a general principle by later Baradians  to be followed in all academic discussions.

This is not meant to be dismissive, just to recognise that there are many social and political issues intertwined, entangled if you prefer, in academic programmes. Denying these in the hope of persuading readers that there are only pure disinterested motives, to pursue the better argument, say, is only likely to lead to cynicism.

The popular approaches in qualitative research that preceded the turn to quantum physics clearly ran into serious difficulties associated with the earlier adherence to 'social constructivism'. Apart from anything else, it became apparent to Denzin that anything could be seen as socially constructed, and that even Bush could use the term critically to undermine his opponents. The ensuing relativism might be managed by insisting on a particular kind of politics or ethics as additional external criteria, but this can look like an arbitrary and incoherent ‘bolt on’.

As we can see in another section, feminist theorists also saw a chance to overcome the relativising and relativist tendencies of feminist standpoint epistemologies and to respond to criticism by Lather (2000) or ST Pierre (2008) . Lenz Taguchi (2012. p. 277) wants to end that tolerance for multiple interpretations, 'which in fact means that anyone can "own" the reality of the event', or that only people with ‘epistemic privilege’ can. In this way interpretive and multiple discourse analysis 'merely produces socially constructed alternative points of view, satisfying only for those who have the power to "play" with alternatives'. More specifically, Geerts and van der Tuin ( 201) can see a way to end generational divides in feminist theory by diffractively reading De Beavoir and Irigaray, discussed below. Several diffractors have seen a possible reconciliation between different educational theories or the factions inside Education Studies that embody them, including  Hill (2017) ( further discussion in Vol. II).

Earlier generations of sociologists in particular had been rebuked for taking science as a model for their characteristic research and argumentation. This might have been the result of ‘physics envy’ (Hollin et al 2017). Positivist science was also heartily condemned as oppressive, of course. Richardson is perhaps the most prominent advocate of the importance of narrative even in science, which permitted new alliances to be made across the earlier division between the academic camps of science and humanities, but rather in favour of humanities. The particular versions of science in quantum physics seem to restore a necessary openness and indeterminacy that could be seen to parallel flexible cultural politics, while also offering a mathematical and empirical rigour to compete with or even replace positivism.

The ecological movement might also been responsible for challenging excessive anthropocentrism, and urging us to respect the rights not only of animals but of 'the planet' itself, and to be unusually sensitive to neglected aspects of 'the environment'. These tendencies might have also emphasised the elements of personal commitment as a welcome, even necessary, feature of particular kinds of qualitative research. There is a possibility of a pleasurable cultural politics, what hostile critics have scornfully termed ‘virtue-signalling’

It is important to realise that these debates go on in the context of academic micropolitics, both within and between universities and research institutes. What is at stake is the ability to develop one research programme against its rivals in the competition for resources and prestige. For Lyotard (1986) this is the main motor of theory choice and development. Science is performative in this specific zone of academic micropolitics as well. This context is not often discussed in considering rival academic approaches, but several commentators have insisted on its relevance, especially Bourdieu (1988) .The need to keep generating a sense of the new – parology in Lyotyard’s terms – is what might be fuelling the constant search for authoritative philosophical backing for qualitative research. This is not to reduce academic endeavour to micropolitics, but to point to an important and often neglected dimension of it.

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