A Buddhist Perspective on Karen Barad's Critique of Methodological Reflexivity

When and Where

Thursday, February 15, 2024 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Zoom / JHB 614
Jackman Humanities Building
170 St George Street, Toronto ON M5R 2M8


Wendi Adamek (University of Calgary)


Yehan Numata Program in Buddhist Studies 2023-24

In Meeting the Universe Halfway, feminist philosopher Karen Barad proposes methodological prescriptions based on their reading of Niels Bohr. In contrast to Werner Heisenberg’s epistemological “uncertainty principle,” they characterize Bohr’s approach as “complementarity.” They claim that Bohr’s approachproductively specified ways that certain quantities become determinate using different apparatuses. They thus claim that Bohr’s approach is ontological and term their own extrapolation “agential realism.” Instead of realism about objects, “agential realism” concerns ways that conditions, apparatuses and their co-specified objects interact. There are relevant Buddhist epistemological comparands, like theories about the āyatanas and the principle of apoha. Barad’s “diffraction” mode also has resonances with Buddhist uses of emptiness/codependent-arising. My aim is to discuss Barad’s critique of reflexivity-as-representationalism in relation to their “ethics of mattering.” They argue that meaning and matter/ing are entangled because co-specification of apparatus and object always includes agential choices/cuts and intentions. Yet throughout the book there seems to be an unstable relation between calls to recognize agential intra-action in terms of historically specific network effects, critiques of individualism and humanism, and critiques of how/who makes “cuts” that assign individual responsibility. While it goes without saying that Buddhist theories of karma mark a specific incommensurability between Barad’s propositions for an “ethics of mattering” and Buddhist soteriology, I feel compelled to put this incommensurability into dialogue over the issue of the uses of reflexivity.




University of Toronto, McMaster University


170 St George Street, Toronto ON M5R 2M8