SAAP 2016

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Pragmatism, New Materialism, and the Study of Institutionalized Racism: An Agent Ontology Approach

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This theoretical and methodological tension between a need for specific epistemic foundations that can leverage calls for anti-racist action and an aversion to endorsing any particular version of those foundations for fear of getting caught in the trap of essentialized racial identities is by now a well-rehearsed debate. Some scholars are looking to the “New Materialism” of philosophers such as Karen Barad for alternative ontological frameworks that avoid this analytic bind. This paper outlines a critical contribution pragmatist philosophy can make to these efforts to reframe contemporary anti-racist scholarship and activism. Working from T.L. Short’s commentaries on Charles Sanders Peirce’s theory of signs, attention is drawn to Peirce’s idea that non-human agency includes the presence of non-conscious purpose. This is contrasted to the rejection of intention and purpose in the agential realism of new materialists. Its potential to transforms the analysis of oppressive social dynamics like racism is explored.


Jerry Rosiek    
University of Oregon
United States


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