The problem of materialism: practice and the materiality of the body in Butler, Marx and Sartre

McMenamin, Claire (2013) The problem of materialism: practice and the materiality of the body in Butler, Marx and Sartre. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The investigation of the central problem of this thesis - the status of the body in a materialism refounded in practice - is motivated by two current trends in contemporary modem European philosophy. These are, on the one hand, Judith Butler's political theory of the body, which evacuates ontological and materialist dimensions; and, on the other, the increased popularity of 'new' materialisms and speculative realism, which focus on questions concerning the inaccessibility and/or nonhuman agency of the material domain. This thesis proposes that these approaches often elide or cannot account for the status of the body and its practical activity. Butler's model renders the materiality of the body a quasi-Kantian thing-in-itself, accessible only through the materiality of the signifier; whilst, in their attempt to move beyond analyses of human finitude to access reality, certain contemporary materialist and realist approaches "theologise" the material domain in a way that sets it beyond the harnessing capacity of human practice. This thesis proposes instead that the philosophical and political questions concerning the status of the body are most productively addressed within a materialist framework that places a certain conception of 'practice' at the core of its ontology. It begins its analysis by exploring Karl Marx's innovative refoundation of materialism in an ontology of practice, situating it historically in relation to the work of his contemporary, Friedrich Albert Lange. It then considers the constitutive ambiguity of the 'metabolism' between practice and material environment within this refoundation of materialism. Showing how this ambiguity is often "resolved" or undermined by Marx, the thesis argues that Jean-Paul Sartre's later work- particularly The Critique of Dialectical Reason - allows a development of this constitutive ambiguity in Marx and a reconsideration of a diversity of practices in relation to the "situated" body. Practice in Sartre is explicitly theorised as particularised and embodied, rather than abstract and universal, such that we can think the individual subject within this reconceived practical materialism. Rediscovering the practitioner as embodied is to rediscover the diversity of the qualitative and concrete at the root of a materialist framework, allowing us to address materialist feminist criticisms of Marx and Marxist theory for its lack of a resistant individual subject.

Actions (Repository Editors)

Item Control Page Item Control Page