So what is deep materialism?

We were recently asked this question!

Sarah  reflected:

We have created the phrase ‘deep materialism’ by drawing on the word ‘deep’ in ‘deep ecology’ (for example as in  the work of Arne Naess) and the word ‘materialism’ from ‘new materialism’(for example as in the work of thinkers including Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti, Elizabeth Grosz and Jane Bennett.

Deep ecology emphasises that all parts of the natural world, of which we are a part, have a deeply intrinsic value, and are not just  a resource for humans to use and own. By using the word ‘deep’ we also wish to emphasise and highlight that how we engage in the world we share needs to be addressed profoundly.

New materialism emphasises the liveliness or agency of matter, rather than seeing matter as inert and only humans as having agency. Many Indigenous cultures and knowledge systems around the world already have this conception  so using the word ‘deep’, rather than new has the advantage of avoiding the error and hubris of contemporary Western ways of thinking when something seen as ‘new’ has really been in existence but, being unacknowledge, has been ignored, denigrated or suppressed. 

In our collaboration we are exploring what bringing these different ideas together can contribute to caring for the world we share.

Alison elaborates:

Deep Materialism is a term that we are using in order to expand the lexicon of materiality and new materialism with a view to describing and promoting a shift in our relationship with the material world. This shift encompasses a reappraisal of the value of all matter, seeing no matter as ‘waste’ and accepting that as we too are made of matter, if we denigrate the rest of the material world then we too are diminished.


Deep materialism is  an acceptance of the responsibility of the micropolitical agency of the individual to seek out the provenance, and hence the ecological impact of, for instance, the material goods we take for granted, whether it be paper coffee cups, our clothing, our food, our furniture, as the   resources for the materials we use come from the natural world.

Deep materialsim also encourages engagement with circularity. For example, this small maple tree is growing in a pot. It has dropped its leaves after the first frost onto concrete below: leaves that would normally, if planted in the earth,  replenish the soil and feed the tree in the coming year.

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