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Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (a John Hope Franklin Center Book)

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ISBN-13: 978-0822346333
ISBN-10: 0822346338
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter is an important work, linking critical movements in recent continental philosophy, namely a vitalist tradition that runs from Bergson to Deleuze and even, on Bennett’s reading, to Bruno Latour, and (on the other hand) a ‘political ecology of things’ that should speak to anyone conscious enough to be aware of the devastating changes underway in the world around us. There is good reason Bennett’s book has, in short order, gained a wide following in disparate areas of political theory and philosophy.” - Peter Gratton, Philosophy in Review


“For the sake of assuaging harms already inflicted we have always cobbled together publics that deal with vibrant matters of floods, fires, earthquakes and so on. For the sake of preventing unseen future harms, Bennett’s book argues that we need to take a closer look at how we are embedded in a web of mutual affect that knows no bounds between living and nonliving, human and nonhuman. It is in this refreshingly naïve ‘no-holds-barred’ approach that Bennett’s work has much to offer for a reconsideration of our role as thinking, speaking humans in a cosmos of vibrant matter that we continually depoliticize even in our efforts to ‘protect’ and ‘save’ the earth . . . a highly recommended read.” - Stefan Morales, M/C Reviews


“Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter is an admirable book for at least three reasons. First, it is wonderfully written in a comfortable personal style, which is rare enough for academic books. Second, Bennett makes an explicit break with the timeworn dogmas of postmodernist academia. . . . The third point
that makes this book admirable is Bennett’s professional position: Chair of
Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. That someone in a Political
Science department at an important university could write as candid a work
of metaphysics as Vibrant Matter is an encouraging sign. Perhaps philosophical speculation on fundamental topics is poised for a comeback throughout the humanities. “ - Graham Harman, New Formations


Vibrant Matter is a fascinating, lucid, and powerful book of political theory. By focusing on the ‘thing-side of affect,’ Jane Bennett seeks to broaden and transform our sense of care in relation to the world of humans, non-human life, and things. She calls us to consider a ‘parliament of things’ in ways that provoke our democratic imaginations and interrupt our anthropocentric hubris.”—Romand Coles, author of Beyond Gated Politics: Reflections for the Possibility of Democracy


Vibrant Matter represents the fruits of sustained scholarship of the highest order. As environmental, technological, and biomedical concerns force themselves onto worldly political agendas, the urgency and potency of this analysis must surely inform any rethinking of what political theory is about in the twenty-first century.”—Sarah Whatmore, coeditor of The Stuff of Politics: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life


“This manifesto for a new materialism is an invigorating breath of fresh air. Jane Bennett’s eloquent tribute to the vitality and volatility of things is just what we need to revive the humanities and to redraw the parameters of political thought.”—Rita Felski, author of Uses of Literature


“For the sake of assuaging harms already inflicted we have always cobbled together publics that deal with vibrant matters of floods, fires, earthquakes and so on. For the sake of preventing unseen future harms, Bennett’s book argues that we need to take a closer look at how we are embedded in a web of mutual affect that knows no bounds between living and nonliving, human and nonhuman. It is in this refreshingly naïve ‘no-holds-barred’ approach that Bennett’s work has much to offer for a reconsideration of our role as thinking, speaking humans in a cosmos of vibrant matter that we continually depoliticize even in our efforts to ‘protect’ and ‘save’ the earth . . . a highly recommended read.”
(Stefan Morales, M/C Reviews)

“Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter is an admirable book for at least three reasons. First, it is wonderfully written in a comfortable personal style, which is rare enough for academic books. Second, Bennett makes an explicit break with the timeworn dogmas of postmodernist academia. . . . The third point
that makes this book admirable is Bennett’s professional position: Chair of
Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. That someone in a Political
Science department at an important university could write as candid a work
of metaphysics as Vibrant Matter is an encouraging sign. Perhaps philosophical speculation on fundamental topics is poised for a comeback throughout the humanities. “
(Graham Harman, New Formations)

“Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter is an important work, linking critical movements in recent continental philosophy, namely a vitalist tradition that runs from Bergson to Deleuze and even, on Bennett’s reading, to Bruno Latour, and (on the other hand) a ‘political ecology of things’ that should speak to anyone conscious enough to be aware of the devastating changes underway in the world around us. There is good reason Bennett’s book has, in short order, gained a wide following in disparate areas of political theory and philosophy.”
(Peter Gratton, Philosophy in Review)

About the Author

Jane Bennett is Professor of Political Theory and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics and Thoreau’s Nature: Ethics, Politics, and the Wild, and an editor of The Politics of Moralizing and In the Nature of Things: Language, Politics, and the Environment.

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Product Details

  • Series: a John Hope Franklin Center Book
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (January 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822346338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822346333
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.8 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Schaberg on June 11, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I recently taught Jane Bennett's book "Vibrant Matter" in a class on Environmental Theory, and I found it intriguing, challenging, and completely rewarding. My students really seemed to enjoy grappling with Bennett's concepts and the way she weaves a variety of texts and examples together throughout the chapters. Even when Bennett's questions are left unanswered, this is a productive tactic: many of my students took up her open-ended questions in their papers, extending her observations and complex formulations and applying them to local matters. Bennett's book worked very well alongside Timothy Morton's book "The Ecological Thought," Jennifer Price's book "Flight Maps," Arun Agrawal's book "Environmentality," Kathleen Stewart's "Ordinary Affects," and Donna Haraway's book "When Species Meet" (among a few other shorter texts that we read in between these). While definitely demanding at times, the narrative of "Vibrant Matter" is so articulated and strong that the book stands out as a philosophical/theoretical *story*, of sorts. (This was another aspect of the book that made it very teachable.) Bennett's book is speculative and picaresque, but absolutely rigorous and totally genuine. "Vibrant Matter" may frustrate readers looking for step-by-step instructions for a 'political ecology' -- but if readers want a fantastic book to think with, a book that piques philosophical imagination and merges it with ecology, then "Vibrant Matter" is it.
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148 of 191 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Sutter on May 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
I had thought that the point of political theory is to reflect on and improve real-world politics. This book presents political theory as something to be hung in a Tribeca loft and made the subject of bon mots - preferably borrowed from French literary theorists.

I was moved to read the book in the context of the March 2011 tsunami that struck the northern coast of Japan. I myself saw the devastation there during a subsequent visit, and, like many people here, have been wondering about what new direction Japan might take in light of it. A passage in the author's (JB's) preface looked promising: "Because politics is itself often construed as an exclusively human domain ... I will emphasize, even overemphasize the agentic contributions of nonhuman forces ... in an attempt to counter the narcissistic reflex of human language and thought. We need to cultivate a bit of anthropomorphism - the idea that human agency has some echoes in nonhuman nature - to counter the narcissism of humans in charge of the world" (@xvi).

This turned out to be the last page I flagged. Later on, JB asks exactly the question I had in mind: "What would happen to our thinking abut nature if we experienced materialities as actants [a term JB borrows from Bruno Latour, whose characteristic will-to-cleverness seems to inspire JB throughout], and how would the direction of public policy shift if it attended more carefully to their trajectories and powers?" (@62). The failure of the book is that no attempt is made to answer this second question.

As a philosophical rumination, the book does venture into some interesting territory. JB's discussion of a Kafka story I didn't know, "Cares of a Family Man" (Ch.
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I think this book--maybe more than any other--set the bar for the new work on vitalist materialism and object oriented ontology. It is not necessarily the most integrative book you will read on vital matter. It drifts around and some of the author's commitments are only sketched out and then--later--loosely realized, or just generally affirmed. But her overall claims and direct approach kept coming back to me. I've used this book in an advanced seminar and the students took to it more quickly than I did. I think it set the tone for work that was to come. An important read--and fun to think through.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Roger Todd Whitson on May 7, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't agree with everything that Bennett says, but I do believe that Vibrant Matter encapsulates some of the most important (and most practical) applications of the object-oriented movement to date. Her discussion of the politics of the 2003 blackout, for instance, truly shows why thinking about matter as having agency matters. It's all-too-easy to try to locate fault within the consciousness of (usually one) person. Bennett shows us how metal, worms, and other seemingly non-human things effect our everyday lives. This is a vital book for the future of philosophy and political theory.
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By mlynnsmiley on April 29, 2014
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Such a wonderful book. Jane Bennett has changed my views on "things" in a most profound way that has affected both my scholarship and my personal attitude toward the world of materials.
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