Emergence (of new materialism)

Jelena Djuric 

New materialism is a theory in emergence and, as such, it may additionally serve as a vehicle to engage and enlighten the phenomenon and concept of emergence. Equally, new materialism is a field of plurality, a family of ideas which are variously connected and complementary to one another. Accordingly, following the general theory of emergence, the selection and combination of different elements can lead to the emergence of a higher level or new unforeseen qualities.

Various distinctions that describe the characteristics of emergence theory are still developing. They are principally used for explaining new properties that emerge when things link or are linked together. Separately, and without interactions between them, synergies which are followed by new level of organization, won' t emerge. That is why emergent phenomena are not reducible to their parts and they require new concepts. Such concepts are a synergy that refer to the constructive activity of parts in the process of an emergent whole.

Emergent properties can be observed and categorized through global structures or integrated networks. However, our limits of knowledge, for example, the inability to obtain all relevant information, prevents many emergent properties from being grasped. Overcoming that would itself be an epistemological emergence, differentiated from an ontological emergence, but the full understanding of a system can never be fully described in terms of its components because new and irreducible levels of complexity and organization continually arise at integrative synergistic levels.

New materialism, considered in relation to emergence, could result in the development of more than one approach (i.e. levels of conceptual organization), with different levels representing different contexts and sets of rules governing its constituent parts. Integrative levels, of different complexities, organized by the integrity of synergistic connections.

Emergence in human systems has produced new technologies, towns, politics, as well as conscious capacity for self-reflection and corresponding world views. One such worldview could arise from the quest of new materialism. However, in searching to understand emergence through the theory of new materialism we confront the paradox of how to define new materialism while it is not known how it will emerge and evolve? A deep problem of knowledge production exists in the generality of concepts by which understanding is always an abstraction of a concrete reality. Thus, if concepts never thoroughly represent things, then, understanding or the process of knowledge production, is rather a pause in the flow of events, of emergence itself.

Can we derive a concept of emergence from the experience of a self evident property of reality, a reality that is attributed to matter / energy? It is consistent with Gestalt theory's suggestion that we intuitively form holistic ideas to counter the chaos and unknowability of the world. However, following a Kantian thesis on scientifically apprehensible phenomena (as opposed to incomprehensible, noumenal, "the thing in itself") modern science rejects metaphysical questions and so called "rational understanding", taking only falsifiable hypotheses into account. In such dissociations of knowledge production, technoscience "takes over" with its emphasis on calculability and measurability which has in turn led to the transformation and destruction of the natural environment. Furthermore, technoscience, with its reason tied to instrumental rationality, becomes evermore powerful with the development of AI and its reduction or replacement of human values. However, by enabling senses of wholeness, human and ecological values may diverge and emerge from instrumental ones. As Bruno Latour writes, there is a choice to be made between modernizing and ecologizing, and it has to be done with an awareness that every new shake in our understanding of science puts in danger the whole apparatus of modernization (2013, p. 8). "Facing Gaia" requires the establishment of another coordinate system which serves life's variety and a richer ecosystem of values, a more sustainable worldview and deeper relationship with the world (Latour, 2017). Technoscience and climate change are the fundamental contexts from which new materialism emerges.

A new materialist worldview doesn't have to mean abolishment of spirituality, it can posses a sacredness aligned to immanence, whereby, transcendence does not have to oppose the world. Proffering instead of modernization's dualisms, imposed on a world that is broken by relationships of subjugation, that matter should be thought of as a starting point, as nurture for the soul, for nature, and as a dynamic of creative flow magnetized by complementary polarities and embellished by the world's diversities.

The emergence of new materialism could be influenced by understanding that matter as such is not the origin of abuse, and that it only happens in the name of ideas (and also ideals) which are followed by unconscious interests and passions. The very connection of passions and materialism is not unfounded and bears a meaning, as the spirit without passion would have nothing to transform. However, if the emergence of new materialism turns out to serve only instrumental rationality and a technology for the devaluation of human values, such materialism, with an end in itself, remains wasted.

New materialist theory in emergence should enable poetics of a living earth, living nature, living universe, life force, science, jobs, spirituality, and the emergence of new organization and networks. It should be a ground for relations between beings who discover and share visions of wellbeing of the whole world. In line with the science of complex adaptive systems, from which the theory of emergence was born, the theory of new materialism should not try to find a critical mass of followers but rather seek critical emergent relationships. It can be the ground from which may arise relationships, visions, and common actions of kindred spirits developing new knowledge and practices which will flow until the sudden appearance of a new system based on a higher level of consciousness and organization emerges.

Bruno Latour (2013) An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass.
Bruno Latour (2017) Facing Gaia. Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. Polity Press: Cambridge.

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

Here you will find background material, current activities, calls for papers, working group information, and project outputs.

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

News Show More

Information relating to activities undertaken, including conferences, training schools, short-term scientific missions, and annual meetings, are archived here.

Filter activities by:
Training School7

Show More
Working Groups

Working Groups focus on four key areas of research

Working Group One

Genealogies of New Materialisms; examines and intervenes in canonization processes by compiling a web-based bibliography, coordinating the OST 068/13 8 EN... Read more

Working Group Two

New Materialisms on the Crossroads of the Natural and Human Sciences; seeks to develop new materialisms at the boundaries of the human and natural sciences. The group focuses on how European new materialisms can rework the ‘Two Cultures' gap... Read more

Working Group Three

New Materialisms Embracing the Creative Arts; brings together European researchers, artists, museum professionals, and other activists with a keen interest in the material... Read more

Working Group Four

New Materialisms Tackling Economical and Identity – Political Crises and Organizational Experiments... Read more


A space for COST Action members to share reading material and experiences.

Explore entries below or find out how to contribute here

COST Action IS1307

New Materialism —
Networking European Scholarship on 'How matter comes to matter’

An intergovernmental framework for European Cooperation in Science and Technology
European Union
COST is supported by the the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020

Website by Second Cousins