29 August 2014

Special issue Parallax on onto-epistemologies and the critical humanities

In July a special edition of the journal Parallax was published, edited by Dr Birgit Kaiser and Dr Kathrin Thiele. In ‘Diffracted Worlds – Diffractive Readings: Onto-Epistemologies and the Critical Humanities’, several scholars engage in a theoretical exercise, rethinking the concepts of ontology and epistemology (the questions of being and knowing). Inspired by the ideas of Donna Haraway, who emphasised the mutual interdepence between meaning-making and matter, the authors provide worldviews in which the question what something is, is inherently entangled with how we try to understand it.


In her article ‘The Promises of Monsters’ (1992), Donna Haraway introduced the metaphor of ‘diffraction’. By referring to this concept from physical optics, which is used to describe the interference pattern of diffracting light rays, she argues for an epistemology in which differences are not seen as oppositional and radical. Scientific ways of knowing should no longer take the shape of reflective, disinterested judgments. Moving away from a representationalist epistemology, Haraway proposes a move to “mattering and embedded involvement”.

Diffraction is attractive – also to this special issue of Parallax – as alternative vocabulary and different technology for critical inquiries: as an image of thought and – or better even – ‘as’ a praxis of analysis that foregrounds differentiality and provides alternatives to the hegemonic, reflective mode of epistemology in the academic world today.

The authors

Birgit Kaiser is Assistant Professor in Comparative Literature. In her work on literatures of the 18th to 21st century, she pays particular attention to affectivity, aesthetics and subjectivity and critique.

Kathrin Thiele is Assistant Professor for Gender Studies in the Graduate Gender Program, Department of Media and Culture Studies. Her research interests include continental philosophy, feminist theories of difference, and posthumanist studies.

Together, Kaiser and Thiele initiated the international academic network Terra Critica, which brings together scholars specialising in critical and cultural theory.

Besides an introduction and two chapters from the editors, ‘Diffracted Worlds – Diffractive Readings: Onto-Epistemologies and the Critical Humanities’ features contributions from Karen Barad (University of California) and Melanie Sehgal (Europa Universität Viadrina). Several scholars from Utrecht University contributed as well, including Dr Iris van der Tuin and Prof. Kiene Brillenburg Wurth.