An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism

This post below is reblogged from Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî, written  on It is posted here because “ontology,” “vibrant matter,” “new materialisms,” and other terms that mark the Ontological Turn in theory appear regularly in discard scholarship, almost always without reference to its precursors in Indigenous thought. The ontological turn covers a broad range of ideas in different disciplines, but is basically focused on a being-ness, liveness, or agency of non-humans. It’s about how things are in relation with one another, regardless of whether they are human.

The post has a great–and essential–critique of a major issue in scholarship when it comes to borrowing (or kidnapping) terms, ideas, and cosmologies from other peoples, and what an ethics of writing about ontology ought to account for. One of the things that has always bothered me about “vibrant matter” and the idea that “everything is, in a sense, alive” (Bennett 2009, 117) is not that it is basically animist (believing that non-humans have life, spirit, etc), but that animism has a whole set of ethics attached to it and those are left out of academia. If you posit that everything around you is alive, you’d better act like it and mind your relations.

Zoe Todd’s post has a short video primer on some of the ontological ideas of various Indigenous scholars, to which I would add:

Blaser, M. (2014). Ontology and indigeneity: on the political ontology of heterogeneous assemblages.cultural geographies, 21(1), 49-58.
Cameron, E., de Leeuw, S., & Desbiens, C. (2014). Indigeneity and ontology. Cultural Geographies, 21(1), 19-26.
Hunt, S. (2014). Ontologies of Indigeneity: the politics of embodying a concept. cultural geographies, 21(1), 27-32.
Todd, Zoe. (2015). “Indigenizing the Anthropocene” in Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and EpistemologiesDavis, H., & Turpin, E. Open Humanities Press. 241-254.


Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî

by Zoe Todd, PhD Candidate, Social Anthropology, University of Aberdeen

Personal paradigm shifts have a way of sneaking up on you. It started, innocently enough, with a trip to Edinburgh to see the great Latour discuss his latest work in February 2013. I was giddy with excitement: a talk by the Great Latour. Live and in colour! In his talk, on that February night, he discussed the climate as sentient the climate as a ‘common cosmopolitical concern’ [thank you to commenter Philip for pointing out my error in my recollection of the nature of Latour’s assertion about the climate — discussion of this in the comments below]. Funny, I thought, this sounds an awful lot like the little bit of Inuit cosmological thought I have been taught by Inuit friends (friends who have taught me that the climate is an incredibly important organizing concept for many actors). I waited, through the whole…

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