Meeting the Universe Halfway

Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning

Meeting the Universe Halfway

Book Pages: 544 Illustrations: 1 table, 37 figures Published: July 2007

Author: Karen Barad

Cultural Studies, Science and Technology Studies > Feminist Science Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Meeting the Universe Halfway is an ambitious book with far-reaching implications for numerous fields in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. In this volume, Karen Barad, theoretical physicist and feminist theorist, elaborates her theory of agential realism. Offering an account of the world as a whole rather than as composed of separate natural and social realms, agential realism is at once a new epistemology, ontology, and ethics. The starting point for Barad’s analysis is the philosophical framework of quantum physicist Niels Bohr. Barad extends and partially revises Bohr’s philosophical views in light of current scholarship in physics, science studies, and the philosophy of science as well as feminist, poststructuralist, and other critical social theories. In the process, she significantly reworks understandings of space, time, matter, causality, agency, subjectivity, and objectivity.

In an agential realist account, the world is made of entanglements of “social” and “natural” agencies, where the distinction between the two emerges out of specific intra-actions. Intra-activity is an inexhaustible dynamism that configures and reconfigures relations of space-time-matter. In explaining intra-activity, Barad reveals questions about how nature and culture interact and change over time to be fundamentally misguided. And she reframes understanding of the nature of scientific and political practices and their “interrelationship.” Thus she pays particular attention to the responsible practice of science, and she emphasizes changes in the understanding of political practices, critically reworking Judith Butler’s influential theory of performativity. Finally, Barad uses agential realism to produce a new interpretation of quantum physics, demonstrating that agential realism is more than a means of reflecting on science; it can be used to actually do science.


In Meeting the Universe Halfway, Barad takes us carefully through the science, the science studies, and the critical theory that inform her arguments. One of the most impressive things about this book is her facility in each of these disciplinary modes of inquiry. She provides an excellent overview of science studies. . . . Barad writes . . . in a way that is accessible to the lay reader, but that nonetheless provides rigorous descriptions and illustrations. . . . Barad’s posthumanist performative ethics is among the most promising of posthuman philosophies for animal studies, one that promises to make the ‘post’ not just beyond humanism or the human-as-currently-conceived, but rather a ‘post’ to an anthropocentric world.” — Sherryl Vint, Science Fiction Studies

Meeting the Universe Halfway is an ambitious, thought-provoking, challenging book. . . . The book is a provocative, generative, contribution to our attempts to provide effective tools to describe and understand the rapidly changing world we are part of. It deserves wide analysis and discussion. My intent here is to argue that it merits the serious attention of historians, philosophers, sociologists of science, and science studies and STS scholars.” — S. S. Schweber, ISIS

“[A]n elegant mesh of detailed explanations of social theories, scientific concepts and new pathways of technological innovation; all explored and then rewoven to form the carefully constructed foundation for her theory of agential realism.” — Jennifer M. Wilson, Feminist Review Blog

“[Barad’s] background in theoretical physics enables her to open a much needed dialogue the sciences and the humanities, one which is as happy discussing social theories of materiality, as the waves and particles which constitute it.” — Vita Peacock, Opticon1826

“Among the numerous merits of Karen Barad’s finely researched and thought-provoking book is the fact that she writes with the authority of a theoretical physicist about a field that is all too often co-opted by non-scientists and used in ways that seem forced or artificial, not to mention misguided” — Lisa M. Dolling, Hypatia

Meeting the Universe Halfway is highly original, exciting, and important. In this book Karen Barad puts her expertise in feminist studies and quantum physics to superb use, offering agential realism as an important alternative to representationalism.” — Arthur Zajonc, coauthor of The Quantum Challenge: Modern Research on the Foundation of Quantum Mechanics

Meeting the Universe Halfway is the most important and exciting book in science studies that I have read in a long time. Karen Barad provides an original and satisfying response to a perennial problem in philosophy and cultural theory: how to grasp matter and meaning or causality and discourse together, without either erasing one of them or introducing an unbridgeable dualism. These theoretical abstractions come alive in Barad’s vivid examples; she shows that uncompromisingly rigorous analysis of difficult theoretical issues need not sacrifice concreteness or accessibility. Her methodological lessons from the diffraction of light and her convincing interpretations of familiar puzzles and recent experimental results in quantum physics also display how science and science studies can genuinely learn from one another. What other book could be a ‘must read’ in such diverse fields as science studies, foundations of quantum mechanics, feminist and queer theory, and philosophical metaphysics and epistemology?” — Joseph Rouse, Wesleyan University

“Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway makes fundamental contributions to science studies, philosophy, feminist theory, and physics—it is a rare book that can do that. This is an important, ambitious, readable, risk-taking, and very smart book, one to savor and grow with. Barad elaborates Niels Bohr’s philosophy-physics in the light of feminist science studies to propose an account of material-discursive practices in scientific knowledge. Eschewing all romantic appropriations of quantum physics that evade strong knowledge claims, Barad argues that Bohr’s interpretation of the experimental-theoretical nexus of quantum mechanics is crucial to understanding how observations and agencies of observation cannot be independent. ‘Agencies of observation’ are not liberal opinion-bearers, but situated entities made up of humans and non-humans in specific relationship. Reality is not independent of our explorations of it; and reality is not a matter of opinion, but of the material consequences of some cuts and not others made in the fabric of the world. As Barad reminds us, identities are always formed in intra-action. Ethical practices and consequences are intrinsic to the web. These issues are at the heart of debates about ‘constructivism,’ ‘realism,’ and the import of science studies, including feminist science studies, for configuring the nature of objective knowledge and the kinds of authorized actors in public worlds deeply shaped by science and technology.” — Donna Haraway, author of Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Technoscience


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Karen Barad is Professor of Feminist Studies, Philosophy, and History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has a doctorate in theoretical particle physics.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface and Acknowledgments ix

Part I. Entangled Beginnings

Introduction: The Science and Ethics of Mattering 3

1. Meeting the Universe Halfway 39

2. Diffractions: Differences, Contingencies, and Entanglements That Matter 71

Part II. Intra-Actions Matter

3. Niels Bohr's Philosophy-Physics: Quantum Physics and the Nature of Knowledge and Reality 97

4. Agential Realism: How Material-Discursive Practices Matter 132

Part III. Entanglements and Re(Con)figurations

5. Getting Real: Technoscientific Practices and the Materialization of Reality 189

6. Spacetime Re(con)figurings: Naturalcultural Forces and Changing Topologies of Power 223

7. Quantum Entanglements: Experimental Metaphysics and the Nature of Nature 247

8. The Ontology of Knowing, the Intra-activity of Becoming, and the Ethics of Mattering 353

Appendix A. Cascade Experiment, by Alice Fulton 397

Appendix B. The Uncertainty Principle is Not the Basis of Bohr's Complementarity 399

Appendix C. Controversy concerning the Relationship between Bohr's Principle of Complementarity and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle 402

Notes 405

References 477

Index 493
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3917-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3901-4
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