Agents Against Agency (AAA)

Rumen Rachev

This entry reconceptualizes what are the agencies that work against our traditional conceptions of agency and how agency turns agents into double actors: agents against agency. Following in the footsteps of the scholar Tim Ingold and his widely read essay on material culture ‘Materials against Materiality’ (2007), I ask how a similar approach can be taken to the matter of agency, and how agents variously may or may not be represented by agency. What does agents against agency imply? Can agents still be agents if they do not fit in or constantly escape the narrow alleys of prescribed or given agency? Rebels without a cause. Agents without agency. Materials without material culture. Where do agents plan to go without agency? Can they settle down and be governed by borders and material limitations? If agency is here to protect agents, why don’t they obey agency?

It is easier to understand and grasp material entanglements through material manifestations of the material world. Grab a cup of tea. How does the cup feel? Is it hot? Let it cool down. How about now? Is it heavy? Drink from it. And now? Different properties, different positionalities, different entanglements with the material flows of the tea cup and the liquid therein. Always the same cup, always not the same cup. How to grasp the agency of the tea cup when the agents in this scenario do not stand still or wait for agency to engulf them? The properties of hotness/coldness, the surface of the cup, the relationality between water-tea-cup, the assemblage of all the properties of the tea cup, all those agents enmeshed through different and various encounters and the struggle to fit through the agency dispenser. You press the button of this agency dispenser, but agents do not flow out of it. You try again and again, but alas, only the action is performed, but the agents do not come out. Why? The agents are already here. Not waiting to be given or prescribed agency. The agents perform their agentiality through particular intra-actions with/in the world. Agents do not just appear and perish in the dark. They emerge and submerge in different formations, without holding an agency visa permit. Through their material properties agents resist materiality and enable the condition of possibility to engage into material-discursive practices of differential mattering, or as Karan Barad puts it: “Mattering is the ongoing intra-active differentiating of the world.” (Barad in Kleinmann, 2012)

Synonym: agential, intermediation, intra-action
Antonym: non-agency
hypernym: actors-without-acting
hyponym: agentis

Ingold, T. (2007). Materials against materiality. Archaeological Dialogues, 14(01), 1-16.
Kleinmann, A. (2012). Intra-actions. Mousse, 34, 76-81. Retrieved from

COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.

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With the changing of societies on local, national and international scales owing to economic, ecological, political and technological developments and crises, a reorganized academic landscape can be observed to be emerging. Scholarship strives to become increasingly interdisciplinary in order to grasp and examine the unfolding complexity of ongoing ecological, socio-cultural and politico-economic changes. Additionally, academics forge... Read more or find out Who's Who

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