Barad, Bohr, and quantum mechanics
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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OriginalversjonSynthese. 2021, . 10.1007/s11229-021-03160-1
The last decade has seen an increasing number of references to quantum mechanics in the humanities and social sciences. This development has in particular been driven by Karen Barad’s agential realism: a theoretical framework that, based on Niels Bohr’s interpretation of quantum mechanics, aims to inform social theorizing. In dealing with notions such as agency, power, and embodiment as well as the relation between the material and the discursive level, the influence of agential realism in fields such as feminist science studies and posthumanism has been profound. However, no one has hitherto paused to assess agential realism’s proclaimed quantum mechanical origin including its relation to the writings of Niels Bohr. This is the task taken up here. We find that many of the implications that agential realism allegedly derives from a Bohrian interpretation of quantum mechanics dissent from Bohr’s own views and are in conflict with those of other interpretations of quantum mechanics. Agential realism is at best consistent with quantum mechanics and consequently, it does not capture what quantum mechanics in any strict sense implies for social science or any other domain of inquiry. Agential realism may be interesting and thought provoking from the perspective of social theorizing, but it is neither sanctioned by quantum mechanics nor by Bohr’s authority. This conclusion not only holds for agential realism in particular, it also serves as a general warning against the other attempts to use quantum mechanics in social theorizing.