Comparative Literature: Unguessed Kinships: New Materialism, Relational Ontology and Ecology

Course content

Along with a growing resistance to anthropocentrism, a number of related strands of theory like actor-network theory (ANT), object-oriented ontology (OOO), and New Materialism have attempted to rethink the relation of human and non-human entities in recent years. The idea that these relations are determined by entanglement and kinship rather than superiority and inferiority leads to a dehierarchization, unsettles clear-cut boundaries between the human and non-human as well as the organic and inorganic, and thus also generates new understandings of how matter matters. In this regard, a redistribution of notions of agency becomes central. Counteracting the traditional idea of matter being “dull,” “passive,” and “dead,” Jane Bennett, for example, argues that agency is not limited to living human beings (or plants, animals, etc.) but can also be ascribed to, or is even an intrinsic property of inanimate entities. In her book Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, she explores the potential of “vibrant” materials for political theory and ecological philosophy. The heightened focus on material and corporeal entanglements as well as the claim that agency, dynamic force, and energy often flow across conceptual boundaries and interrupt some of our most prominent cultural dualisms also makes New Materialism a matter of feminism, queer theory, and race.

In a combination of lectures and seminars during the first six weeks, we will get an overview of the major strands of theory relevant for the topic of our course and read texts by some of the most important authors: Bruno Latour (ANT), Graham Harman and Timothy Morton (OOO), Jane Bennett and Karen Barard, as well as chapters from the anthologies New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics and Material Feminisms.

We will then turn to analyses of specific matters and phenomena from this perspective like stone (Jeffrey Jerome Cohen), electricity, metal, trash (Jane Bennett), or mushrooms (Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing), and also attempt our own approaches: after a combination of lectures, seminars, and collaborative brainstorming workshops, students will present a new materialist examinations of a matter of their choice in small groups.

The last part of the course will follow the format of the second and will be dedicated to the question of matter, materiality and entanglement in literature and art. How are the relations between human and non-human entities and matters reflected in different artforms? What about the materiality of literature and art itself? To what extent can matters like words or paint have agency and form alliances with human beings?


Comparative Litterature and Modern Culture


Classroom teaching, lectures, group work, student presentations

Examples of literature:


Bruno Latour. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005 (excerpts).


Graham Harman. Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects. Peru, IL: Open Court, 2002 (excerpts).


Timothy Morton. Humankind: Solidarity with Non-Human People. Brooklyn: Verso, 2017 (excerpts).

Jane Bennett. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2010.


Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman (ed.). Material Feminisms. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2008 (excerpts).


Diana Coole and Samantha Frost (ed.). New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2010 (excerpts).


Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015 (excerpts).


Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2015 (excerpts).


Mel Y. Chen. Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2012 (excerpts).



Students are required to obtain Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. The other materials can be found at KB or will be uploaded to Absalon.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 280
  • Exam
  • 84
  • English
  • 420


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester

Spring 2022
Study board of Arts and Cultural Studies
Contracting department
  • Department of Arts and Cultural Studies
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator
  • Stefanie Heine   (14-7576676863706b67306a676b7067426a776f306d7730666d)

Stefanie Heine

Saved on the 21-12-2021

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