This article offers a critical assessment of the conception of ethics underlying the growing constellation of ‘new materialist’ social theories. It argues that such theories offer little if any purchase in understanding the contemporary transformations of relations between mind and body or human and non-human natures. Taking as exemplary the work of Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti, and Karen Barad, this article asserts that a continuity between ethics and ontology is central to recent theories of ‘materiality’. These theories assert the primacy of matter by calling upon a spiritual or ascetic self-transformation so that one might be ‘attuned to’ or ‘register’ materiality and, conversely, portray critique as hubristic, conceited, or resentful, blinded by its anthropocentrism. It is argued that framing the grounds for ontological speculation in these ethical terms licences the omission of analysis of social forces mediating thought’s access to the world and so grants the theorist leave to sidestep any questions over the conditions of thought. In particular, the essay points to ongoing processes of the so-called primitive accumulation as constituting the relationship between mind and body, human and non-human natures.
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