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Thermodynamics, matter, politics

Barry, A; (2015) Thermodynamics, matter, politics. Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory , 16 (1) pp. 110-125. 10.1080/1600910X.2015.1032992. Green open access

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While there is a burgeoning literature on matter in social theory, there has been a surprising lack of interest amongst social theorists in the importance of the concept of energy in natural scientific accounts of matter. In this context, I examine how the work of Isabelle Stengers challenges social theorists to take thermodynamic accounts of energy, in particular, seriously. The paper develops three arguments: firstly, while social theorists have often wanted to add social relations to matter, in doing so they have ignored physical scientists’ own analyses of relations, including thermodynamics; secondly, that thermodynamics offers a different way of theorizing matter-energy than that suggested by vitalist approaches to political ecology; thirdly, that the thermodynamic concept of energy is necessarily linked to the practice and politics of measurement. At the same time, I argue that Stengers’s account of thermodynamics both illuminates her understanding of politics, and points to its limitations.

Type: Article
Title: Thermodynamics, matter, politics
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/1600910X.2015.1032992
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.1080/1600910X.2015.1032992
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Energy, Politics, Thermodynamics, Measurement, Cosmopolitics, Vitalism, Stengers, Whitehead
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Geography
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1493554
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