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Marres, Noortje (2013)
Publisher: Sage
Languages: English
Types: Article
This paper contributes to debates about the ontological turn and its implications for democracy by proposing an experimental understanding of political ontology. It discusses why the shift from epistemology to ontology in STS has proved inconclusive for the study of politics and democracy: the politics of non-humans has been assumed to operate on a different level from that of politics and democracy understood as institutional and public forms. I distinguish between three different understandings of political ontology: theoretical, empirical and experimental. Each of these implies a different approach to the problem that non-humans pose for democracy. Theoretical ontology proposes to solve it by conceptual means, while empirical ontology renders it manageable by assuming a problematic analytic separation between constituting and constituted ontology. This paper makes the case for the third approach, experimental ontology, by analysing an empirical site, that of the ecoshowhome. In this setting, material entities are deliberately invested with moral and political capacities. As such, ecoshowhomes help to clarify two main features of experimental political ontology: 1) ontological work is here not so much relocated from theory to empirical practice, but distributed among actors and entities involved in them, and 2) normative variability does not just pertain to the enactment of things, but can be conceived of as internal to political objects. From these two features of experimental ontology something follows for democracy as an ontological problem. This problem does not dissolve in empirical settings, but these settings make possible its articulation by experimental means.
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